KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Members of First Baptist Church of Concord, Tenn., doubled their gifts to the church’s annual missions offering Oct. 21, pledging $1.5 million.
God used personalized, hands-on involvement in missions to move the congregation to a dramatic new level of missions support, said senior pastor Doug Sager.
“Planting with Passion” was the theme for the Knoxville-area church’s fourth annual Missions and Evangelism Expo. The original goal for their Faith Commitment missions offering was $840,000. However, in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Sager challenged the congregation to raise it to $1 million.
Members gave more than $700,000 to the offering in 2000. About 2,500 people worship at First Baptist each Sunday.
“I challenged our people to make a statement in response to the events of Sept. 11,” Sager said.
The people met the goal, and exceeded it by $500,000. In the end, “God made a statement,” said Phil Nelson, associate pastor of missions.
Members gave above and beyond the normal tithe, and all the proceeds will support local, state, national and international missions efforts. Of the original $840,000 goal, the church planned to give more than $500,000 to international missions projects and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. With the goal far surpassed, even more funds will support overseas work.
“There’s no shortage of ways in which to engage a lost world,” Nelson said.
Last fiscal year — from November 1999 through October 2000 — the church gave $252,252 through the Cooperative Program, ranking them number six in the state in CP giving.
Their total giving — including pledged funds and budget support — to Southern Baptist missions last year totaled $1,381,725. This year’s total missions giving could top $2 million.
“They’re strong supporters of Annie and Lottie,” said Gary Rickman, ministry coordinator for the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Southern Baptists’ Annie Armstrong Easter Offering supports missions in North America. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering funds missions efforts overseas.
The people of First Baptist Concord understand missions firsthand. In the past year, about 200 members participated in 15 short-term missions projects. The church has 22 international projects scheduled for next year. Four families have left in the past year for long-term overseas missions service.
During the Missions and Evangelism Expo, the church hosted more than 20 international missionaries and a dozen ministry partners. Members heard the heart of missions as missionaries slept in church members’ homes, ate at their favorite restaurants, spoke in their Sunday school classes and visited the church’s Christian school.
Through these personal encounters the people of First Baptist have learned what Nelson stresses: “Missions and evangelism are the responsibility of every believer, not just those who are vocationally set apart.”
Believing that God has given believers a variety of skills and gifts, when people leave for short-term or long-term work overseas Nelson gives them the same advice: “Go and be yourselves.”
“And that’s what our people have done,” Nelson said.
First Baptist is intentional about the mission work it does.
“We don’t simply do missions,” Nelson said. “Our church desires to close the gap that remains in fulfilling God’s Great Commission by strategically and creatively addressing areas that are spiritually neediest and darkest.”
Part of this strategy includes a city in East Asia that has not been reached by the gospel. The church has adopted the city and, over the next several years, will work to develop a strategy and take Christ’s message of hope to the people there.
Additionally, the church will coordinate with Southern Baptist missionaries and other Great Commission Christians overseas, partnering with them to meet specific, essential needs in various regions.
First Baptist hopes to help others catch their vision for missions. Their plan includes establishing and staffing a Great Commission Network Center — in conjunction with the International Mission Board — from which they can partner with individuals, churches and organizations. Sager serves as an IMB trustee. The congregation is one of 856 churches in the IMB’s Global Priority Church Network.
“They want to help their people be involved in missions, and churches need that challenge. A lot of churches do give to missions and do pray for missions, but they don’t go and do,” Rickman said.
A church’s vision and enthusiasm must reside in the heart of the pastor, Sager said. He encourages all pastors to participate in a mission project — but to go with a layperson. Then, he urges pastors to pray that God would put a burden for missions on their hearts. Finally, he advises them to free and encourage their congregations to do mission work on their own, both at home and abroad.
“You run a risk when you do that,” Sager said. “But, man, look what happens — we have new ministries started every week.”
“Get in the game,” Nelson challenged other Southern Baptist churches. “We need collectively to be more intentional. Roll up your sleeves and get personally involved. It’s a call back to the churches to be involved in what churches can do.”
Roten is an intern in the IMB’s publishing department.