December 4 2009 by James A. Smith Sr., Baptist Press

    NAPLES, Fla. — In what he hopes will be a “game-changer in terms of the Cooperative Program and our whole relationship with missions,” Hayes Wicker has led First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla., to launch the “Great Commission Connection.”

    The initiative aims to personalize missions by linking church members with missionaries and others who serve the denomination while also boosting support for Southern Baptists’ cooperative missions funding channel.

    The project already has resulted in connecting 507 families in the Naples’ congregation with about 1,500 Southern Baptist missionaries, the Florida Baptist Convention and faculty members of Southern Baptist seminaries. In the coming weeks, especially as seasonal members return to Naples, the church anticipates additional families signing up as well.

    The Great Commission Connection concept asks church families to adopt a “missionary package” that includes one International Mission Baord missionary, a North American Mission Board missionary or combat chaplain and either a Florida Baptist Convention missionary or seminary faculty family. Congregants agree to establish contact with the three to ask about their prayer needs and be an encouragement to their ministries.

    Church members also commit to giving at least an additional $300 per year over their tithe, with some of them using a “Change the World” piggy bank to collect loose change throughout the year. The additional funds will complement the church’s budgeted allocation to the Cooperative Program in hopes it will generate an extra 2 percent giving from the church through the Cooperative Program.

    “In no way is this a substitute, but is a supplement for Cooperative Program giving,” said Wicker, pastor of the church since 1992. “And the exciting thing about this is it opens the doors for us to talk about how to pray for missionaries, how others are involved in missions that they don’t normally think about — like seminary professors, Baptist missionaries in our state and others.

    “I believe we have the greatest missions program in history. Our people need to know how wonderful it is,” Wicker added, noting the strength of the Cooperative Program (CP) is that it frees missionaries from the need to raise their own support. He said the CP’s weakness is “facelessness” and “lack of personal contact.”

    There is a need in the congregation, he said, to make First Baptist members more aware of Southern Baptists’ missionary efforts because many members come from a non-evangelical background in which they did not learn about the missions mandate, or they come from independent churches that support missionaries who raise their own support.

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Smith is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness.)
    12/4/2009 9:22:00 AM by James A. Smith Sr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments




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