It was no coincidence their greatest gift was also their last.
One million dollars for international missions, given by a congregation of twelve. It is a story as much about change as it is faithfulness, a story that begins in another time — more than half a century ago.
This was the heyday of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in the mill town of Greensboro, North Carolina. Sunlit stained glass greeted the faithful on Sunday mornings as they filled the church's oak pews with their bodies and its cathedral ceiling with their praise. Sinner and saved alike walked the sanctuary's burgundy carpet during revival, at times crowding its balcony to capacity. Church members shared their love for Jesus door to door; neighbors were always kind enough to answer their knock, if not their invitation.
Don Smith was twenty-two years old when he first came to Sixteenth Street Baptist. Now 75, he remembers the pew where he sat and surrendered his life to Christ some fifty-three years ago. His mind still echoes with melodies of soul-stirring hymns and the sound of chimes from the church's steeple on warm summer nights. Smith married the church's organist, Audrey, and together the couple raised three children there. Smith was a deacon, a Sunday School teacher, and a choir member.
But while Smith's faith remained constant, the world around him did not.
As Greensboro entered the 1970s, the city began to change dramatically. Its identity as a mill town was gone. Neighborhoods from which the church once drew hundreds of worshippers transformed into transit communities. Church membership first began to decline, then plummet.
In 2001, Sixteenth Street Baptist changed its name to North Pointe Fellowship. The hope was to appeal to a more diverse community while retaining its Baptist faith and heritage. Still, membership continued to drop.
Soon, North Pointe's congregation was faced with a difficult choice. With only twenty remaining members, they could no longer afford to maintain the church's sanctuary or its five stories of educational space. Smith knew it would have to be sold.
He arranged for the congregation to meet in the basement of a nearby building during the transition. A charter school eventually bought the property for $1.8 million, and North Pointe began searching for a new home.
Church members met with contractors, drew plans, and looked for land. But Smith says the congregation realized that raising a new building would be foolish without anyone to fill it.
North Pointe's twelve remaining members prayed fervently for direction. Unanimously, they felt the Lord leading them to give the money from the sale of the church to missions. Some went to local ministries, but more than half was given to international missions, including $1 million to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering through the International Mission Board.
Bearing the name of one of Southern Baptists' earliest missions pioneers, the annual offering is used to support more than five thousand IMB missionaries serving worldwide. North Pointe's gift came at an especially significant time, helping the IMB reach its $150 million goal for the 2006 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering — a goal that stood unbroken for three years.
"We didn't know any better cause," Smith said. He explained that the decision was obvious given the church's past missions involvement, including decades of faithful Lottie Moon giving and even sending missionaries from among its own ranks.
"It was the biggest burden on my heart to think that we were sitting on this money that was drawing interest but wasn't saving souls," Smith said. "We've got to believe that more souls are touched through this contribution to the International Mission Board than anything this church could ever do."
Though it was given by a congregation of just twelve people, Smith points out the gift doesn't belong to them. Instead, he believes it represents all of the church's former members, including those who have gone on to be with the Lord.
As for the future of North Pointe Fellowship, Smith said the church is seeking God's will. Though many of its former members now worship with other Greensboro congregations, a small remnant continues to meet each Sunday. In May, they celebrated their 100th anniversary.
Record-Breaking Lottie Moon Offering
International Mission Board trustees rejoiced during their March 19-21 meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, that the 2006 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering was projected to exceed the goal of $150 million, which would be a record.
David Steverson, vice president of finance and treasurer for the International Mission Board, reported the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering was projected to exceed the $150 million national goal for 2006. A final report was scheduled to be released after the May 31 close-out date for the offering receipts.
Steverson expressed thanks to Southern Baptists for their sacrificial giving and growing passion for sharing the Gospel with unreached people groups through the offering.
In 1888, the first offering of $3,315.26 funded three missionaries' work alongside Lottie Moon, he recalled. Today, the offering — named for Moon — continues to help send and support missionaries to reach all peoples for Christ.