SBC Life Articles

A Pastor’s Heart

From An Interview with Stephen Swofford, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rockwall, Texas

SBC LIFE Steve you've pastored several churches that have been outstanding examples of missions giving. What would you say is the common dynamic in each of those places?

Steve The key factor is pastoral leadership. If the pastor doesn't have a burden for missions then it won't work. So many pastors are afraid to emphasize it because they're afraid it will interfere with other offerings. It's been my experience in the three churches I've pastored that a strong emphasis on missions giving never interferes with other emphases. In fact, in all the years that I've led this emphasis, the regular offering has never been under budget on the day we've received the World Mission Offering. When your people understand this and get into the giving, they're not going to rob Peter to pay Paul. I think the key is the pastor promoting it with everything that's in him.

SBC LIFE How long have you been doing this and what approach have you taken?

Steve The first church I pastored was the Trinity Baptist Church in Dallas. We ran about 100 and I think the most they had ever given in an offering until then was about $800. They were still doing the three separate offerings — Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and the state mission offering, and I promoted all three heavily. When I left the church about three years later we were up to about $3,500 in the Lottie Moon Offering alone. Then I went to Pleasant Grove First Baptist Church and we switched from three missions offerings to one main offering. The church was running about 350 in Sunday School and we went from giving between $6,000-$7,000 the first year to between to $78,000 or $80,000 my last year. When I came to Rockwall they had already switched to a single world missions offering. The first year I was here they gave between $8,000 and $9,000. Last year we gave $468,000 while running 950 to 1,000 in Sunday School.

We call it the World Mission Offering. We usually designate 70 percent to Lottie Moon, 20 percent to Annie Armstrong, and 10 percent to state missions. Of course, a church can divide it how ever it wishes. And we promote it heavily — something you can't do three times a year. To do it justice you need to devote at least one month to promotion. You just can't give three months out of the year to promote three missions offerings. But, if you combine the three, you can effectively promote it heavily for one month. Boom! You just hit it and go.

You hit it hard, but then the heavy promotion is finished until the next year. Of course, you keep the focus on missions before your people all the time.

SBC LIFE How do you approach it throughout the year?

Steve I start to emphasize missions in newsletter articles early in the year. We have a missionary house here and whenever missionaries stay there, I'll have them speak in church and tell what the Lord is doing in their country. We also use a lot of the International Mission Board videos and materials, which are done really well. We'll show a two or three minute video segment in church and that helps keep it before them at all times. We do that at least once or twice a quarter — sometimes on Sunday morning, sometimes on Sunday night — they don't take up much time. And then I'll stand up after the video and make a comment so they don't forget.

We actually receive the offering on the first Sunday in December, but we start focusing and preparing in October. On one Sunday morning in October I'll preach on missions in a general way. At the same time I start adding mission "tidbits" in our materials and services. The tidbits are just little paragraphs that tell something about the offering. It will say something like "Don't forget the offering on December 5! Your gift of $200 can provide …" or "Don't forget! Your offering of $500 can provide …." I try to show how gifts ranging anywhere from $50 to $50,000 can provide a variety of necessities on the mission field. When members get a sense of where their money is going and how it can be used it makes all the difference. We include those tidbits in the bulletins, the newsletters, and with the announcements on the screens in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings.

Then we designate November as Missions Month. We use the Lottie Moon emphasis materials to promote it — we have IMB materials plastered everywhere. I use anything that the International Mission Board produces. Twice in November we'll have a missionary speak on Sunday morning, usually the first and third Sundays. During the year I go to missions conferences looking for the right missionary speakers, and then we fly them in to speak to us. You've got to spend some money on promotion — but it will have a payback.

The speakers have the whole sermon time on Sunday morning — but I tell them that I don't want a geography lesson, I don't want them to preach a sermon, I just want them to stand up and tell our people where our money is going in their country and how it's being used to win people to the Lord.

Also early in November, I send a letter to the members telling them our goal and encouraging them to be ready, to prepare. Then the Sunday before we actually have the offering — the last Sunday in November — I preach on it. I remind them that this is the most important Sunday of our entire year because this is one way we can have an impact upon the entire world. I preach on it with everything that I have. I mail a second letter on Saturday, the day before I preach, so they get it on Monday. That letter encourages them to make sure their offering is there on Sunday, even if they are out of town. I want them to know how serious we are about getting it all in on that Sunday morning instead of dragging it out.

Then, on the first Sunday in December, we receive the offering — everybody brings it in, we take the offering, we go out and count it, and at the end of the last service we come back in with a report. Then everybody shouts and we have a wonderful time of praise and celebration together.

Then on the following Monday morning I write a third letter to the entire church saying "thank you." I tell them, "I don't know who gave or how much, but you do and God does." Then I usually conclude by saying that someone on the other side of the world will spend eternity with our Lord because they gave.

SBC LIFE You don't track the giving over the course of several weeks with the traditional thermometer do you?

Steve No, I believe this is better than the thermometer approach that many churches use. Let's say a church sets a goal of $10,000, and they watch the thermometer go up — but as soon as it hits $10,000, it's over! We set a goal and nobody knows what will be given — you don't know what I'm going to give, I don't know what you're going to give, we just all dump it in there together. If it goes two times over the goal, so be it! Praise the Lord!

SBC LIFE How have the churches done in reaching their goals?

Steve I was in Pleasant Grove for ten years and we missed the goal one year, just barely. In the fourteen and a half years I've been here we missed the goal one year, and it was right after we had just taken up a $2.5 million pledge for our building program — and we just barely missed it then.

By the way, just for the record, this is not instead of the Cooperative Program — our church gives 18 percent to the Cooperative Program.

SBC LIFE You really believe in the Cooperative Program, don't you?

Steve Big time! And we give to it big time. Plus, we give an additional 3 percent to local missions, so before we ever start the missions offering we have 21 percent of our budget going out the door for local, state, national, and international ministry. This missions offering is over and above that. Our people know that, they understand that.

SBC LIFE You mentioned missing the goal once because of a big building commitment that you just made. How much tension is there between the mission offering and other offerings and emphases?

Steve I don't see much because we only do it one time a year. Everybody on staff knows that and they plan financial projects with that in mind. That year, because of the necessity of building and the way it all unfolded, we ended up having our big banquet for commitments in October.

One month after we had taken up $2.5 million in pledges we had to come up with about $200,000 for the mission offering. We just barely missed it.

SBC LIFE Do you also encourage short-term mission trips and hands-on mission involvement?

Steve Yes, we do. We have both adult and youth mission trips and we've gone a number of places. We went to Austria last year; we have people who go to Brazil and some to South Africa. Of course, we've also done work in Mexico. Our youth go all over the United States.

SBC LIFE Suppose a pastor reads this story and says, "You know, I want to do more for missions, but I don't want to hurt the Cooperative Program giving and I don't want to hurt my building giving – but I want to try that." What would you say to him?

Steve I would say you have to take the leadership yourself and not give it to a missions committee or to the WMU. That's not to slam any of those organizations, but if it's going to work the way that we have done it, you have to take the bull by the horns — not assign it to a staff member or another committee. You have to be willing to lead this project yourself, because a key factor is the people seeing and knowing the pastor's heart.

    About the Author

  • SBC Staff