SBC Life Articles

More Than Pocket Change

Tucked in a mountain valley in northeast Tennessee is the town of Erwin.

There's a certain romance about living in Erwin, near the edge of Cherokee National Forest's pristine grandeur. There are certain restrictions, too. Like being landlocked by federal property and the town next door.

When Mike Womack arrived in Erwin in 1982 as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, he was underwhelmed by the University of Tennessee's flat-to-negative growth projections for that corner of the world.

His own surveys revealed seventy-five churches for Erwin's 16,000 people, and a high concentration of Baptists living within a 100-mile radius of Erwin, almost all with traditional church ties.

Even so, Mike and Calvary's 225-plus active members achieved an astounding growth statistic: In 1982, the church gave about $3,500 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

In 1996, $39,000.

But that's not all. They've "adopted" missionary families, written to them, prayed for them faithfully, heard them speak when they were home on furlough, and gone to help them on short-term volunteer projects.

God used one of those projects to call a Calvary family to career missions.

How did all this happen? Four dollars at a time.

An Idea and a Challenge

For the first few years of Mike's ministry, the church averaged $4,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Then in 1985, Mike got an idea he calls the "maximization and personalization of missions" — a multifaceted plan that revolutionized the way Calvary members understood and supported missions.

Mike reviewed 1985 missions receipts and challenged members to adopt a consolidated missions offering, with the money to be divided up between the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the other Southern Baptist missions offerings.

Then he suggested a 1986 goal of $7,000 — several hundred dollars more than the church's total missions giving the year before. They exceeded the goal by a thousand dollars.

The consolidated missions offering idea was successful and infectious. The next year's goal of $10,000 came in at $11,547.

"We really didn't have a way of figuring out a goal. We were just making it up as we went along," says Mike. But he pointed out in a church newsletter that Calvary members were moving from a "pocket change mentality of missions support to one of planned giving."

A deacon suggested doubling the goal for 1988, and the people gave $20,506. Mike's excitement grew when the 1989 goal nudged to $25,000. It had increased six-fold in four years.

Then one day he got the idea to ask Calvary members to give two weeks' pay to the offering. Along with the idea came what he calls "the $4 plan."

Mike encouraged members to save $4 from every hundred of take-home pay. At the end of fifty weeks, the amount saved would equal two weeks' pay.

Once again, they passed the goal. But the rocket ride had only just begun. Ultimately, the twin boosters of maximization and personalization propelled the church to reach 1996's consolidated offering goal of $60,000.

Missions is More than Money

Just challenging members to give more money didn't capture their hearts for missions. Mike personalized missions for Calvary members. He taught them to pray for foreign missionaries by using a variety of resources from the International (Foreign) Mission Board.

"Since we Baptists call our Wednesday night service 'prayer meeting,' I figured that's what we ought to do: pray."

For about thirty minutes every Wednesday night, the people pray for the missionary families they've adopted, and use International Mission Board resources to focus prayers on missionary needs worldwide.

"When we read about the (February 1996) car wreck the Wattses had in Peru, we prayed for healing. We prayed for that daddy (Wade) to wake up from the coma," Mike says. "And when we read that he did, there was not a dry eye in our service.

"I believe we had a direct part in that."

Calvary members had another direct part in missions: short-term volunteer trips. They have joined the work of their adopted missionaries in Kenya, Germany, Venezuela, Romania, and the Philippines.

The 1990 Philippines project — which Calvary members supported with a $5,000 offering over and above regular giving — convinced one family that God wanted them as career missionaries. They now serve with the IMB in West Africa.

Missions a Part of the Job

So how did Mike get turned on to missions? He's not sure. Maybe it was his mother's teaching him to pray for missionaries, or the influence of seminary professors. Or a combination of the two.

"I guess I've always thought that missions was just part of a pastor's job," he explains. "So, I capitalized on that — the one thing all Southern Baptists can agree on: missions.

"God began to show us where He was working long before I ever knew of Henry Blackaby's concept of going to where God is working.

"Blackaby has his stories of what happened in Canada. And we've got stories from right here in Erwin."

One of those stories is about what happened in Mike's heart.

"I used to give to Lottie whatever Christmas bonus a church would give me. And that really didn't cost me anything."

Today he leads by example as he gives to the $4 plan he initiated. And he rejoices to see how missions changes people's lives.

In a community that already was strongly Baptist, Calvary's Sunday School has grown and the auditorium is full at worship time.

And in a local economy that is historically volatile and dependent upon a couple of large industries, the church and missions budgets have grown from $177,000 to more than $400,000 in little more than ten years.

On the inside of Mike's office door is posted a familiar saying: "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."

For Calvary Baptist Church, the main thing is missions. Everything else has fallen beautifully into place.


The $4 Plan

Here's how it works. If your take-home pay is $500 per week, then save $4 out of every hundred, or $20. After fifty weeks, that equals $1,000, or two weeks' pay for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

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  • Norman Miller