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Turnaround in missions proves any church ‘can do this’

ALEXANDRIA, Ala. (BP)–How does a pastor take a church that struggles financially from week to week and get it excited about participating in an Acts 1:8 aim toward reaching “the uttermost part of the earth”?

Pastor Mike Holcomb pondered that question as he considered expanding Westwood Baptist Church’s focus. It was a question that was answered with a challenge by a friend and a mentoring program.

“I was worried about how to take a church with a missions budget of zero [beyond the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong missions offerings] and how to get it interested in Acts 1:8 overnight,” Holcomb said, referring to the Great Commission as stated in that verse.

“Overnight turned into 15 months” of planning and preparation by the Alexandria, Ala., church, along with mentorship by Global Focus, an organization that partners with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and Woman’s Missionary Union to help churches hold Global Impact Celebrations.

Such missions events, whether in partnership with an organization like Global Focus or with a church’s state convention, are important, said Reggie Quimby, director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions’ office of global partnerships and volunteers in missions.

“… [I]f a church does not have ongoing missions awareness and education, how is it going to do missions effectively?” Quimby asked.

Reaching out has rarely been a problem for Westwood Baptist, which consistently has been ranked in the top 25 in evangelism among Alabama Baptist churches. The problem, however, came when it was time to look beyond the city borders, Holcomb said.

But a friend, Doug New, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Carrollton, Ga., challenged Holcomb to look into the rest of the Great Commission.

“You can do this,” New told Holcomb. “The problem is, Will you do it?”

With that question, Holcomb realized he was guilty of disobeying God’s command, and he decided to do something about it.

For that change to happen, Holcomb said he had to start with himself. The pastor told his church family of 20 years, “I have been disobedient.”

Holcomb said that, although he has not been called to missions as a missionary, he was at fault for not leading the 500-member church to have a heart for missions.

New invited Holcomb to a Global Focus leadership conference in the spring of 2004, which led to the signing of a 16-month partnership with the organization. Twelve months into the partnership, Westwood held its first-ever missions conference last October.

Westwood hosted 18 speakers and missionaries serving in ministries and missions on every level, from Sid Nichols, director of missions for the area’s Calhoun Baptist Association, to Earl and Mona Hewitt who serve in Ghana, Africa.

As part of its Global Impact Conference, Westwood also signed three-year partnerships with ministries in Las Vegas, Venezuela and South Africa entailing commitments of prayer, finances and volunteers for short-term missions trips.

In early 2005, for the first time in a very long time, the church sent a missions team overseas, when seven members ventured to Venezuela. Another team traveled to Las Vegas, while Holcomb and Rodney Gardner, Westwood’s minister of education, traveled to South Africa in December.

Westwood’s turnaround in missions is solely grounded in God and is possible for any church, Holcomb said, noting, “This isn’t just another good old missions church that was successful. Any size, any church, can do this.”

In the process, the church has seen changes in the lives of its members. In his years as Westwood’s pastor, Holcomb lamented, the church had never had an invitation specifically for those who felt called to missions work. On the last day of the missions conference, however, a three-phase invitation was held: one for those called to fulltime missions work, a second for those called to short-term missions trips and to work with missions partnerships and a third for those needing to make other decisions, such as following Christ.

Fourteen people responded to the call to fulltime missions and 140 to the call to short-term missions, while 50 more made other decisions.

“Our people have been walking on a cloud,” Holcomb said, noting plans for representatives from both the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board to come to the church to counsel with those who committed to fulltime missions.

And the problem of a missions budget that was at zero has turned into a pledged missions budget of $137,333 to be given from last November until March 2007. Holcomb noted that budget is above and beyond what the church will give through the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering or the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.

But those two offerings will not suffer, the pastor said. The church has increased its Lottie Moon goal for international missions from an annual average of $6,000 to $24,000, while upping the Annie Armstrong goal for North American missions from an average of $3,000 to $13,333.33.

“Global Focus put us on the right track,” Holcomb said. “We have a missions field called Jerusalem,” he said, using the biblical word for missions in the community, but now the Acts 1:8 door to missions in the state, nation and world now is “wide open.”
Erin Webster is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention, on the Web at www.thealabamabaptist.org.

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