fbpx
News Articles

Personalized missions drives First Baptist Woodstock


WOODSTOCK, Ga. (BP)–For Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., missions is not a sideshow, it’s the main event.

“It’s not something we do ‘in addition.’ As a matter of fact, we don’t even refer to it as missions, we call it ‘the mission,'” Hunt said. “It’s just singular in that this is what the church is all about — the Great Commission is getting the Gospel to the nations.”

When Hunt became pastor of First Baptist Woodstock 21 years ago, the church was 150 years old, gave $30,000 to missions each year, and had no record of anyone ever going into missions through the church’s ministry.

“It’s just where we were. But we were a five-star church. We had WMU, we had Brotherhood, we took Lottie Moon, we took Annie Armstrong,” he said. “But the thing is, if your church does that and nobody ever produces, you’re out of business. I don’t care what you give. There’s nobody there that needs it.”

When Hunt traveled to Mombasa, Kenya, in 1989 and saw 5,000 people a day baptized as revival swept that heavily Muslim city, his heart was captured for missions and he wept as he reported to his church how God had moved. From that point, he said, his congregation caught the vision and became a church saturated in missions work.

Woodstock supports SBC missions through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified giving plan for national and international missions and ministries. In addition, the church has given millions of dollars in designated missions contributions to SBC causes.

When asked what he would say to the pastor of a church of about 300 people struggling to decide where to give their missions money, Hunt said, “I would say to that young pastor, ‘Lead your church to be committed to the CP.'” He went on to indicate that if the pastor wished to further personalize missions, he would invite him to go with one of Woodstock’s Sunday School classes on a vision trip.

THE GLOBAL MISSION

During the past two decades, the Atlanta-area church has seen more than 120 of its own families planted in positions around the world as career missionaries, mostly with the International Mission Board. In a good year, they’ll send 900 laypeople on mission assignments of varying lengths to places where those individuals sense a personal call.

“What I’m trying to say is, it’s not something that every now and then you can come and catch it, but it’s the DNA,” Hunt said of missions. “It’s the heartbeat.”

The church has ongoing partnerships through the IMB focusing on various unengaged people groups particularly in the 10/40 Window (the area extending from West Africa to East Asia, from 10 degrees north to 40 degrees north of the equator), and the World Impact Center at First Baptist Woodstock is a state of the art training facility for educating Southern Baptists about missions.
Through these partnerships, the church has been able to establish vital relationships with indigenous churches and pastors in strategic areas of the world.

“When we do these partnerships, we bring in the IMB person that represents that part of the world, and we sign contracts before the church,” Hunt said. “So we really try to keep everything out before the people so they just know that they’re as informed as they desire to be. You can come into our kiosks, type in a country, and it will tell you if we’re there, who the contact person is, and when the next trip is going to be.”

When Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, wanted to involve more large churches, he called Hunt. Because of Hunt’s network, he was able to gather up several megachurch pastors and take them overseas for a vision trip. Some of those pastors saw what was possible, and now their churches are heavily involved in spreading the Gospel and planting churches instead of simply writing checks with no actions attached.

First Baptist Woodstock recently adopted the Kurds, the largest unreached people group without a homeland, and now about 15 Sunday School classes are taking mission trips to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Armenia specifically to reach the Kurdish people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and help start indigenous churches, Hunt said.

One Sunday School class has developed a special interest in the Kurds of Armenia, he said, so the class is financing the translation of the New Testament for the Kurdish people in that country.

“Sometimes, in my Sunday School class, they’ll pass the hat three times to underwrite missions work,” Hunt said.

THE NATIONAL MISSION

First Baptist Woodstock is not merely looking to minister overseas. Church members also are working with Kurds who live in the Atlanta area.

“We think it’s a little hypocritical to be so engaged with the Turks or the Kurds in Turkey and you travel and raise all that money to go there and you don’t even notice them when there are tens of thousands in your own country,” he said.

The church also has focused its attention on some of the major metropolitan areas of the United States. This year they’re shepherding 24 church plants with an average combined weekly attendance of 2,100 from New York to Las Vegas.

“If we ever reach America, we will have to first of all reach our major cities. You can’t do it rural,” Hunt said. “The majority of Southern Baptist churches are rural, but the majority of our people live in urban and suburban areas.”

Hunt noted that the church plants have strong personal connections to First Baptist Woodstock.

“Several of these pastors were saved in this church, baptized in this church, raised in this church, sent out to be educated by this church, and now they’re one of our church planters,” he said.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Hunt said church members wore the staff out by calling to ask, “What are we going to do?” They badly wanted to help the victims, and they were eager for guidance, Hunt said. So the following Sunday, he wrote a check and urged members to join him in giving money for relief efforts.

“I said, ‘We don’t know what all we’re going to do yet, but we know that there are more needs than we’re going to be able to deal with.’ We gave around $250,000 in cash, unannounced, for an offering,” Hunt recounted.

At Thanksgiving that year, Hunt’s family decided to give their holiday week to helping those who were suffering after the hurricane. When church members heard about their plans, 250 laypeople joined them on a trip to Biloxi, Miss., where they gave out 20,000 turkeys.

THE REGIONAL MISSION

First Baptist Woodstock also is focusing heavy resources on reaching its own Jerusalem and Judea. Georgia’s population, for instance, is just under 9 million people, but 5 million are in the Atlanta metroplex. According to the church’s literature, Woodstock is sponsoring or partnering with seven mission churches in its own state of Georgia.

“You can’t reach the state without reaching Atlanta,” Hunt said. “In a 35-mile radius of our church, there are more people in our mission churches than there are on this campus on Sunday morning.”

Each Thursday, more than 40 volunteers from the church lead what they call “Church on the Street,” where as many as 600 people struggling with poverty are given blankets, a warm meal and a Gospel presentation.

First Baptist Woodstock has the largest food and clothing ministry around, and the majority of people who visit the church for assistance are Hispanic, Hunt said. The church has hired people from Argentina, Costa Rica and Ecuador to work in that ministry, reaching out to their own ethnic groups.

Hunt indicated that the people who come for assistance are required to make an appointment.

“So instead of us being a social service where we go out and feel good about it, they come in 30 minutes early and they sit down, and we tell them why we do it and we give them the Gospel,” Hunt said.

A Spanish church on campus averages 250 in attendance each week, and about the same number of people participates in an ESL program, representing more than 20 countries at any given meeting.

Another popular ministry of the church is the Upward Basketball program in Clarkston, Ga., a community with a large population of refugees from other countries including Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan.

“If we blindfolded you and took you there today, you would think you were in Iraq,” Hunt said, based on the ethnic stores, food from other cultures, the abundance of mosques and people in traditional dress.

For seven years, First Baptist Woodstock has taught basketball to about 300 refugee children a year, all the time modeling the love of Christ and presenting the Gospel message.

THE PASTORAL MISSION

Not only has Johnny Hunt led First Baptist Woodstock to reach the lost locally, nationally and internationally, he has led the church to offer special assistance to those in ministry.

The City of Refuge is a restoration ministry at the church, and it entails giving pastors and other ministers a safe haven to recuperate after a significant setback.

“Say a pastor gets dismissed, or while he’s in ministry he starts having trouble with his children, he has a moral failure, financial impropriety, just gets beat up and it hurts his marriage and all,” Hunt said. “We bring them in. We give them a place to live and pay their bills and put them in professional counseling.”

In about eight years since starting the program, about 300 families have been ministered to in the City of Refuge, Hunt said.

Through the Timothy Barnabas Ministry, Hunt has trained thousands of pastors in the United States and other countries. One of the most exciting aspects of the program is that most of the other nations are third world countries where people are eager to learn how to minister.

FULL CIRCLE

These ministry emphases have empowered First Baptist Woodstock to complete the mission cycle, helping members to see and reach beyond their own geographical and cultural boundaries.

“We’ll have our first Hispanic team that we’ve been training for many years launch out into the 10/40 Window to Central Asia next year,” Hunt said. “If all goes well, we may have an Argentine engaging the Kurds.”

And with that kind of enthusiasm for accomplishing the Great Commission using all types of people and methods, First Baptist Woodstock hopes to inspire others toward finishing the task.
–30–
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. This article first appeared in SBC Life, journal of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.

    About the Author

  • Erin Roach