Benton—”Can we really do that?”
This must have been one of the questions in the mind of members of First Baptist Church of Benton, when Pastor Don Wilson first proposed that the church should set a goal of giving enough to the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering to pay a salary for an IMB missionary for one year.
At the time of Pastor Wilson’s suggestion, the church was giving about $10,000 a year to the annual missions offering, and the annual salary published by the IMB for a missionary was $46,000. The vision seemed almost unreachable.
Wilson was motivated to lead in missions giving because an IMB missionary couple were members of First Baptist. Kevin and Jessica Cartwright, then missionaries to Niger, were a treasured family at the church. Kevin had grown up at First Baptist and had been a member of Wilson’s senior high Sunday School class. Kevin and Jessica both served through the IMB’s Journeyman Program. They married in 2005 and were appointed to the mission field in 2006.
In 2008, Wilson started talking to the leadership about giving enough to pay the salary for the Cartwrights. The church gave $15,000 toward the annual international missions offering.
In 2009 and 2010, the church gave about $25,000 to the Lottie Moon Offering each year. In 2011, the amount jumped to $32,800, and in 2012, they gave $41,585.
Each year they were inching closer to their goal of supporting a missionary for a year. In 2013, the salary cost had increased to $50,000, while giving reached $48,800.
Last year, after a big push, they reached their goal and gave $52,650 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. For a church with 275 people in Sunday School, giving more than $52,000 to a single missions offering is a great testimony to financial faithfulness.
When asked how he led the church toward such a sizable goal, Wilson noted several actions that could be practiced by other pastors and church leaders.
1. Lead by example. Years ago Wilson began the practice of “giving the best Christmas gift to Jesus.” He would determine the price of the most expensive Christmas gift he would purchase, and then he’d give more than that amount to missions. His next personal step was to match the total Christmas purchases of his family in missions giving.
2. Caste the vision. As he was casting the vision for matching a missionary salary through Lottie Moon giving, Wilson also was showing practical ways that church members could meet the goal. He broke the salary down to show how members could support a missionary for a week, for a day, or for an hour. He also encouraged members to make the Lottie Moon offering part of their weekly or monthly giving.
3. Make the missions offering personal. Pastor Wilson continued to make the connection to the church that they were not supporting an anonymous missionary family that they did not know. Instead, they were ministering to members of their own church. The connection with Kevin and Jessica Cartwright made the giving personal for the congregation.
Reaching the missions giving goal has had several side benefits to the church. Members have seen that a mid-sized church can have a great impact through its giving. The emphasis on giving has transferred also to an emphasis on going, with the church taking multiple short-term missions trips each year.
Members have also become more concerned about the world in front of them, as well as more aware of needs in their own backyard.
The Benton congregation has also grown in a spirit of generosity and realized that they can sacrificially support missions without taking away from the needs of the church.
At a time when IMB missionaries are being asked to consider early retirement due to challenges in missions funding, First Baptist Church of Benton is showing that there can be a better way. Instead of pulling back on missions giving, it may be time to re-double our efforts to reach the world for Christ. (WR)