November 2015

Generous mission support

November 30 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

What does generous giving look like? Jesus pointed out a great example in Mark 12:41-44. As He watched people put money in the temple treasury, He took note that rich people gave large sums. But the gift that Jesus held up as most outstanding was from a widow who gave two mites. He said the poor woman gave more than all others because she gave out of her poverty. She gave sacrificially.

With our mission dollars dwindling, Southern Baptists need more of our flock to give as this woman gave. It’s time to fan into flames the fading embers of international mission support.
 
I hope those among us who have great resources will give generously. But our international mission strategy has always depended on the sacrificial gifts of ALL Baptists, not just the “rich” ones.
 
We printed two formats of the churches in North Carolina who were the top givers to the 2014 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) for International Missions. In one format we show the churches that gave the largest dollar amount. The other list shows the churches that gave the largest gifts on a per capita (per person) basis. Please examine these lists.
 
Churches who model generous giving in these lists are to be commended. Not all churches can make the list of the largest gifts. But every church can give generously and show up on the list of churches that lead in per capital giving. In fact, many smaller churches are leading the way in generous per capita giving.

 
LMCOgiving300-(1).jpg

Click on the graphic to access the full chart.

There are two observations I want to underscore from these reports. First, 10 churches were in the top 20 of both lists. This is exceptional. We don’t know if the majority of members in these churches are giving sacrificially or someone in the church gave a large gift, making the rest of the people look generous.
 
In either possibility, these churches have done well. They are:
  • Central Baptist, Henderson
  • Parkwood Baptist, Gastonia
  • Grey Stone Baptist, Durham
  • Mount Vernon Baptist, Boone
  • First Baptist, Durham
  • First Baptist, Cary
  • Denver Baptist, Denver
  • Calvary Baptist, Winston-Salem
  • Green Street Baptist, High Point
  • First Baptist, Hickory
Second, churches that are models of generous LMCO support are typically giving an amount that is three to six times their weekly budget offering. I looked into the giving standards of churches on the per capita list. Their pattern is a good model for all churches. Consider a LMCO goal for your church that is three to six times the weekly budget needs. If that is too great to consider at the moment, is your church at least giving an amount to LMCO that equals your weekly budget offerings?
 
I’ve noticed that many churches believe they are giving generously when they are not. A quick view of the pricy cars in the church parking lot reveals that not many “widow’s mite” gifts are going to LMCO. If missions is a priority for Southern Baptists, we need to give accordingly. Now is the time to practice what we preach. 
11/30/2015 2:21:57 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 1 comments



CP’s strengths and weaknesses

November 17 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

What is the most effective way to support missionaries? Is it the method often called “faith-based support” of individual missionaries, or is it the Southern Baptist way of support through the Cooperative Program (CP) and special offerings like the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO) and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions?
 
To be fair, there are strengths in each method, and there are weaknesses. I strongly favor the cooperative way of giving, but I believe we can improve the way it works, beginning with the local church.
 
Prior to launching CP as the primary, unified plan of mission support in 1925, organizations and individuals appealed directly to Baptist churches to raise support for their cause. The CP page on the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) website, SBC.net/CP, identifies the problems churches and ministries had with the direct-appeal method, or the “societal approach to missions.” It resulted in “severe financial deficits, competition among entities, overlapping pledge campaigns, and frequent emergency appeals which greatly hampered the expanding ministry opportunities God was giving Southern Baptists,” the site explains.
 
In response to some recent editorials I wrote about CP, a faithful reader of the Biblical Recorder raised some legitimate questions through email correspondence with me. He offered some good insight about CP that warrants further discussion.
 
The reader wishes to remain anonymous, but I will describe him. George (not his real name) has a 39-year background as a member of Baptist churches, and joined a Southern Baptist church more than four years ago. He and his wife recently retired from decades of international missions through independent mission agencies. The couple continues to be involved in overseas mission trips through their church and other partners.
 
George is now active in a N.C. Baptist church that has a strong record of CP giving. His church shows videos and distributes information to the membership regularly that explains the broad mission and ministry support of CP. In very complimentary terms, he described his pastor as one who supports CP and consistently educates the congregation on its value to kingdom ministry.
 
He described his church as “an awesome mission-minded church,” that takes teams to a specific country where they are “engaged with a specific people group and specific missionaries on a long-term basis.”
 
The tone of his email was clearly not negative or caustic. He wants CP to become more effective. So he offered some thoughts for consideration.
 
George said, “Your article was very informative, especially as to how well the [Baptist State Convention of North Carolina] is doing in its many and varied ministries. I don’t want to devalue the CP or even sound negative, but ... despite the many advantages that have been mentioned about the CP’s financing approach for missionaries, I believe it lacks one important ingredient.
 
“Since my personal experience as a church member has been mostly in non-SBC churches, the biggest difference I ‘feel’ is the lack of church members’ personal relationship with individual missionaries.”
 
If missions is going to be the heartbeat of a local church, George believes the church members should finance individual missionaries. He adds, “If you ... visit churches that do faith missions well, you [will] see the energy expressed as individual missionaries ... give personal reports and reconnect with the people that support them in that church.” When there is a strain on the church budget and cuts are considered, church members attach names and faces to the dollars under consideration and are reluctant to reduce mission support of people they know.
 
Since every Baptist church is autonomous, each has the right to organize missions as they deem most appropriate. “The SBC has been very successful with missions for a very long time,” he added. “My wife and I have experienced its fruit on the foreign mission field while serving with other organizations.”
 
George proposes that international missionaries provide more “personal stories, relationships and testimonies with the local churches [as] a continuing way to have missions be on members’ hearts all the time.”
 
He also suggests Southern Baptists should “... consider replacing percentages and ratios with missionary faces when talking about increasing or supporting missions. I believe this would add a new enthusiasm for church members as we face these challenging times. I am suggesting this change for the IMB not the state CP. I agree totally in the partnership and structure of supporting statewide ministries.”
 
There is a natural connection to state and local ministries because they can be easily seen, felt and understood, he said. In other words, the people and ministries in the state are close enough to be personal. For example, we are locally involved in disaster relief, church planting, church revitalization and the work of organizations like the Baptist Children’s Homes. So, we relate to this work and respond quickly when needs are known.
 
But international missions is another story, George said. The distance can disconnect churches from missionaries. “That is why I think replacing percentages/ratios with faces will enhance personal understanding and involvement. We don’t have an easy way to build relationships with missionaries ... Churches give and pray for the CP, but don’t have a way to connect individual missionaries with that giving and praying.”
 
Is George right? Is there adequate, ongoing conversation or communication with our missionaries? If not, what needs to change?
 
This is not the first time this conversation has been on the table. I invite our readers to reactivate this discussion. What is your opinion on the effectiveness of the CP strategy? More important, how can CP and special mission offerings be more effective in reaching those who do not know Christ?
 
From my experience, churches that send out their own members to international missions have a much higher rate of support for CP and LMCO. Church members know the missionaries personally, they communicate regularly and are more involved with each other. So, George’s point is “well taken.” But most Southern Baptist churches do not have one of their own on the international mission field.
 
It is important to know that most international missionaries deeply desire personal involvement with stateside churches. Missionaries that I know are men and women who really want to have quality relationships with churches and the people in them. They are thankful that they do not have to expend their energies in return visits to the states to raise support. But they do not wish to be disconnected from people who support them.
 
So, let’s talk about it. What can we do to increase support for CP and LMCO? What is your church doing?
 

LMCO, Advent

Sun., Nov. 29 is a big day in at least two ways. First, it is the beginning of the week of prayer for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO). Pray! Ask God what amount He wants you to give to this year’s very important offering. Second, it the first day of Advent – a time of personal preparation and worship in celebration of the first coming of Christ. Learn how your family can use Advent as a time of praying for missionaries and seeking God’s direction for your family’s gift to LMCO. Visit BRnow.org/advent.

11/17/2015 10:53:43 AM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 3 comments



Continuing the conversation: giving

November 2 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Giving is an essential ingredient in the ministry of the New Testament church. Without basic resources we have no place to worship, no materials like Bibles, no missionaries, no resources for “care ministries” like disaster relief and pregnancy centers, no Christian educational institutions, and the list keeps going.
 
Giving and material resources are not the “main thing” in the believer’s life or in church life. I don’t want to imply that it is. But we cannot ignore a subject that the Bible addresses so heavily. It can be an uncomfortable discussion in a highly materialistic culture, and we don’t want to offend the super-sensitive, but Bible truth is not for the faint of heart. We need to courageously and convictionally talk about money without apology.
 
We are fully aware of many false prophets of the popular, self-focused prosperity gospel, which is no gospel at all. Of course opponents of the faith like to say these religious shysters are typical of all Christians. The terminal critics and mockers of the faith are like the poor who Jesus described in Matthew 26:11, they will always be with us. So, let’s put them aside for now and stop worrying about what they think.
 
We need to talk about giving. More specifically, I want to continue a conversation that is streaming steadily through Southern Baptist life at the moment – giving to missions.
 
Will Hall, editor of Louisiana’s Baptist Message, recently shared the results of some research he did on Southern Baptist giving patterns since 2004. He highlights some very interesting trends.

  • Both Cooperative Program (CP) gifts and designated giving, which includes the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO) and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions (AAEO), trended upward toward their peak in 2007 and have trended downward since.

  • Through the year 2012 CP was always higher than the designated gifts that were reported through the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee.

  • In 2011 the amount of CP and designated gifts were virtually equal.

  • Since 2011 designated giving has increased by almost $4 million annually while CP gifts declined by $2.6 million annually.

  • In the last five years (2010-2014), CP giving dropped by a total of $8.9 million (adding the five years together). Over the same period LMCO received a total of $20.5 million more dollars, and AAEO received a total increase of $8 million.

It is important to state the obvious – when CP declines ALL mission agencies lose resources, including IMB, NAMB, the seminaries and ministries of the state conventions. The damage to Kingdom work could be compared to falling dominoes.
 
Hall’s research also examines the giving patterns of SBC churches. One of his conclusions is that “... metrics reveal Southern Baptists are not even approaching anything close to a tithe of their total income.
 
Southern Baptists teach tithing, but whatever we are doing is not connecting with our people, and we must urgently find an effective way to communicate the importance of tithing – not for funding SBC missions and ministries, but for obedience to God.”
 
He said if Southern Baptists tithed, the undesignated receipts that come to local churches would be from three to five times higher than what the dollars actually were in 2014. Could your church use three times more dollars for ministry? If IMB saw their gifts from SBC churches increase three times the current amount, they would not be asking missionaries to consider an early retirement.
 
Every Southern Baptist seminary is experiencing record growth, yet their resources are not matching enrollment. Ministries in the state conventions are seeing unprecedented potential, but much of it goes untapped due to limited resources. Local churches struggle to find dollars for the missions and ministry opportunities they envision. Associations are on life support due to lack of funding.
 
Giving must be addressed in order to complete our Great Commission mandate.
Hall is quick to say that the point of his analysis is not to position CP against the special offerings for IMB and NAMB. He simply wants to illustrate the duress of the cooperative system that Southern Baptists have used for 90 years to successfully fund local and worldwide missions and ministries.
 
“Fortunately, IMB and NAMB each have a special offering to offset lost support from the Cooperative Program,” he said. “But data shows even those funding streams are under extreme pressure, and it is no stretch to suggest that as the Cooperative Program declines, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering will follow.”
 
Part of the giving problem in local churches may be attributed to the steep increase in solicitations from non-church organizations. Solicitors are using mail, email, web and the telephone to directly contact the same people who sit in your church services. By the time church members and attenders walk in the church door, they have little left to give – especially if they have not set aside the tithe.
 
Do you know the facts on how those organizations use the dollars gained? Please read the editorial I wrote titled “Where did your donation go?” You will find it in the Jan. 31, 2015, print edition of the Biblical Recorder or posted online Jan. 27, 2015. In that article I shared some shocking information about where those monies end up. You’ll find it hard to believe.
 
My plea to fellow Baptists is that we tithe and give generously through our local church. No system is more efficient or more important. Accountability and integrity are built into the mission funding paths of local churches, associations, state conventions and the national convention.
 
Most immediately, don’t overlook the privilege we have to give through this month’s special offering for the stellar work of the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina. Read their stories in the Biblical Recorder, and stand strong with them with a generous gift through your local church.

11/2/2015 12:50:01 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments