WOODSTOCK, Ga. (BP)–Church buses, pick-up trucks, vans and automobiles transporting thousands of men were converging on First Baptist Church Woodstock Feb. 5 for the second mammoth men’s conference in consecutive weekends. Yet on the threshold of a tremendously busy weekend, Woodstock’s senior pastor, Johnny Hunt, wanted to talk about the Cooperative Program.
It would be difficult for anyone to question Hunt’s passion for souls, heart for missions and church planting or his love for the people of his church, but some have questioned his church’s percentage of giving to Southern Baptists’ lifeline of missions support, the Cooperative Program.
Those critics might want to take another look at the CP giving record at Hunt’s church. When he went to Woodstock in 1986, the church was struggling to survive and gave $30,000 to the Cooperative Program. In 2009, the church gave $525,000 to the Cooperative. That is an increase of over 1,600 percent.
However, for 2009-2010, the church has budgeted $900,000 for the Cooperative Program — a 90 percent increase in just one year. That will put First Baptist near the top of all Cooperative Program giving churches nationwide.
Although First Baptist Woodstock is currently behind on budget receipts by $400,000, the church has given $293,269 to the CP in the first four months of their fiscal year.
“No one on my staff last year received a raise, but we increased our CP giving by 11 percent,” said Hunt, who is in his second one-year term as Southern Baptist Convention president. “This year, although our directors got a cost of living raise, not a senior staff member received a raise, but we are giving 90 percent more to the Cooperative Program.
“Even though we are under budget, we have decided to make the CP a priority,” Hunt said. “Now, if we gave a percentage we would be giving less, but we are going to give up some other things in order to give this a place of preference.”
The Woodstock church also has increased its giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. In 2006, the church gave $150,000 for the December missions offering. Their current LMCO offering is an impressive $504,000.
Hunt’s philosophy of stewardship focuses on growth in giving, rather than making 10 percent a litmus test for denominational acceptance.
“As a pastor I certainly believe that 10 percent is the tithe that a Christian is to give to the Lord, but the tithe is what I call ‘the training wheels,'” Hunt said. “That is the best place for a Christian to start, but they shouldn’t stop there. We should ask people to seek the Lord and respond to the challenge to give more.
“I want to say, ‘Thank God’ for every church that gives 10 percent or even more to the CP, but we should not use that as the only badge of honor,” Hunt added. “If a church gives 10 percent to the Cooperative Program, but never plants a church, never sends any of its members on a personal mission trip, never sends a person to serve as a career missionary with the International Mission Board, never has anyone work in Disaster Relief and never baptizes anyone, should that church be singled out above other churches as worthy of special merit or recognition?
“We need to be careful that we do not give the impression as a denomination that a church that gives ten percent to the CP is the epitome of what a Southern Baptist church is supposed to be,” Hunt said. “I don’t think we mean to do that, but sometimes it comes across that way.”
Hunt continued: “I want us to be able to celebrate growth in giving. We ought to celebrate a church that says, ‘We’ve not been where we ought to be, but we want you to know that we have increased our CP giving by 1 percent’ or ‘We have increased our CP giving by $10,000.’ But if we set as a standard 10 percent, and that is all we talk about, we may contribute to our own demise.”
First Baptist Woodstock’s mission ventures are manifold. A team of 35 people had just returned from Haiti to provide aid and help to that impoverished and calamity-stricken country. “One of the doctors we sent delivered twins and said that he amputated more limbs than he could count,” Hunt said.
The Woodstock church will be sending mission teams to Haiti for the next five weeks. “There will be Southern Baptists going and Southern Baptists giving,” Hunt said, “but that will be in addition to our support of the Cooperative Program.”
Hunt, who also has a heart-felt desire for starting churches, has led his congregation to plant 81 churches during his ministry in Woodstock. They have planted three churches in New York in the past year and Hunt envisions working with Southern Baptist seminaries and state convention to plant 1,000 churches in the Empire State in the next few years.
However, the SBC president’s primary message to Southern Baptists on Feb. 5 was to promote the Cooperative Program by both exhortation and example.
“In the whole world, I don’t know of a better delivery system to touch the nations than the Cooperative Program,” Hunt said. “There is nothing even close to it. I want to become an advocate.”
J. Gerald Harris is editor of the Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.