FROM THE STATES: Ga., Tenn., Fla. evangelism/missions news; Correlation between WMU presence and CP support called 'staggering'
Today's From the States features items from:
The Christian Index (Georgia)
Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)
Florida Baptist Convention
Georgia WMU remains backbone
of strong missions giving
By Joe Westbury
DULUTH, Ga. (The Christian Index) -- From Ellabell to Fayetteville, Tifton to Winder, missions support is a primary focus of many Georgia Baptist congregations. And because of that strong view of missions beginning first in Georgia and leading to the uttermost part of the earth, inroads are being made in reducing lostness in the Peach State.
The common denominator, according to a research report just released by the GBC, is the presence of a strong Woman's Missionary Union in those churches.
State missionary Tom Crites, who oversees the state convention's Research Services, said the document affirms the long-held belief that WMU is the lifeline to missions support, both prayerfully and financially. What is surprising, he said, is just how strong that connection is.
"The research reveals that churches with WMU groups give nearly 80% of all gifts to the Cooperative Program. That is a staggering amount," he concluded.
The report, which studied missions giving during the past five years, traced $33 million of the state budget's $41.8 million back to churches with the woman's organization. At the same time, the report revealed that congregations without WMU groups actually reduced their Cooperative Program giving by 48.72%, or nearly half.
"The economy has admittedly been hard on churches during the past five years due to the Great Recession. But the report shows that even in the hardest of times, churches with a strong missions support group maintained that commitment.
"The bottom line is that, with some exceptions, a strong WMU presence equates to strong Cooperative Program support," Crites added.
And that means more funds for first reaching Georgia for Christ and then North America and the world.
70% are lost in Georgia
Georgia currently numbers 10,000,000 residents. But about 70% of those, or 7,100,000, are believed to be lost without saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. That's where Cooperative Program giving and related offerings like the Mission Georgia state missions offering is making inroads to reach the lost within the state's borders. Without a strong base of believers at home, resources wane -- monetary as well as individuals being led to Christ who eventually surrender to fulltime mission service through the North America and International mission boards, Crites adds.
GBC Executive Director J. Robert White appreciates the healthy relationship between church WMUs and their pastors.
"There is no doubt in my mind that WMU in the local church helps to strengthen commitment to giving to missions through the Cooperative Program and the various missions offerings. The primary focus of WMU is missions education and inspiration.
"I am confident that the reason the churches I have served as pastor were so willing to make increased commitment to the Cooperative Program and to our missions offerings was the good work and ministry of the Woman's Missionary Union in our church. The WMU director was always one of my best cheerleaders and anxious to assist in blessing my ministry in our church and in the community," he said.
"There is no way that Southern Baptists would have enjoyed the worldwide expansive missions and ministries that have been a hallmark of our work for many decades had it not been for the missions leadership of the WMU at both the local and national level. I would encourage every pastor who is interested in increased commitment to missions giving and missions education to consider seriously initiating WMU in his local congregation."
State missionary Beth Ann Williams, who serves as executive director-treasurer of Georgia WMU and Women's Enrichment Ministries, works closely with the state convention in setting missions giving goals. From her statewide perspective she sees firsthand the value the women's group brings to missionary support.
"WMU began in 1888 to stir the missionary spirit in the hearts of Southern Baptists and to help collect the funds necessary for the work. It is no surprise that WMU was instrumental in the recommendation of the Cooperative Program to the Convention in 1925," she said.
"Through the years WMU has remained a committed advocate for cooperative missions giving. Our relentless focus on personalizing missions continues to connect all ages to the vital role the Cooperative Program plays in transforming lives for Christ at home and around the world."
Olive Branch – a church with a missions heartbeat
Olive Branch Baptist Church sits surrounded by farmland in southeast Georgia. It isn't a congregation that makes front page news due to the launch of massive building programs or large numbers of individuals joining the church.
But percentage-wise it stands heads and shoulders with congregations in more prosperous areas of the state.
"We are an humble country church without a lot of financial resources but we are faithful to what the Lord has given us," soft-spoken pastor Clint Sullens says.
Last year Olive Branch bumped up its giving through the Cooperative Program from 9.9% to 12.2% – an increase of $3,672 to a total of $22,659. The congregation, which averages 180 in Sunday worship, reported $236,569 in total receipts on its Annual Church Profile.
Sullens praises the role of the WMU in keeping missions at the forefront of the church's evangelism and ministry efforts.
"The WMU does an excellent job of showcasing compassion as only women can do. They are the very heart of the Christian home and use their gift of compassion to urge us to see our mission fields at home and abroad," he says.
"We believe that we, have a calling to reach every segment of our world and that begins here at home. It begins in our immediate community, then expands to Georgia and then to North America and the world."
Sullens says the Georgia Baptist Convention "does an excellent job of being good stewards of the funds we send them. I am proud that they only keep half of the CP funds in Georgia and forward the rest to our agencies.
"We believe we should share with others what we have been given. We make an attempt to increase our CP giving by 1% a year but don't always do it, but it's our goal as the Lord provides. We hope to reach 14% before too much longer."
Nikki Groover, assistant WMU director, says the group works to set challenging yet achievable goals.
"We work to keep the needs of the mission field in front of our people and remind them of our shared responsibility to meet those needs," she says.
"We begin sowing the seeds of stewardship through missions education with our children, teaching them the value of sharing whatever God has given them. We feel we are building tithing and giving habits that will last a lifetime."
Exactly 218 miles away in Fayetteville, Flat Creek Baptist Church gives 19.8% through the Cooperative Program and, in the spirit of Olive Branch, strives to do better.
Flat Creek – 'God has blessed us'
"Every time I look at the lesser amounts other strong churches give I leave with somewhat of a sense of disappointment. God has blessed us and we want to multiply those blessings,” pastor Jerry Cross says.
"Even with giving 20% or more there is no way we, as one church, could do what all of us are doing together throughout Georgia with our partnership. Cooperative missions is in our DNA.
"The mission field is not just outside our borders but first, right here in our state. We are grateful to be part of a financial outreach that provide a variety of ministries on our college campuses, among our ethnic groups and others, and through the resources that are provided free of charge to smaller churches.
"The WMU is front and center of what we do in missions and ministry. We are blessed to have them as a viable partner in our work."
In Tifton in south central Georgia, Wayne Roe has never pastored a church without a Woman's Missionary Union, and if he had his druthers he would prefer not to.
The Atlanta-area native, who has served the church for 18 years, knows the value of the women's group when it comes to keeping the Cooperative Program and other Southern Baptist missions offerings front and center with the congregation.
"Our WMU is the lifeline of missions in our church. Not only do they set our Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offering goals and keep bumping it up every year, but they are directly involved in missions outreach in our city and neighboring community and in North America and internationally," he states.
The steadily increasing offering goals "keep stretching us and keep us from becoming complacent," he says with a chuckle.
Part of the reason First Tifton is a strong supporter of those missions offerings as well as the Cooperative Program is because one of their own members and his family are serving in Mozambique through the International Mission Board.
Chris Nalls grew up in the church and went on a trip to the African nation as a youth. He affected his life so strongly that after he eased into adulthood and marriage he and his wife, Katie, surrendered to career missions and returned to the field.
First Tifton – 'the face of missions'
"For us, the Cooperative Program is very personal because of Chris and Katie and their children; the CP has their face on it when we set our budget Roe explains. For the current year First Tifton channels a near-record $155,830, or 6.6 percent, through the CP.
"I am personally grateful because my seminary education was partially paid for by the Cooperative Program. I know what it has done in my life and I'm grateful and loyal to it. Southern Baptist churches really can do more together than they can separately."
WMU director Ina Claire Webb has been a member at First Tifton all her life, beginning in 1954. She wanted to join WMU because of the spiritual growth she noticed in the lives of the women she encountered.
But WMU is more than personal spiritual growth, she says, as she lists numerous outreach ministries in the community from working in soup kitchens to assisting at shelters for battered women to sewing ministries and providing scholarships for Camp Pinnacle.
And then there is the support for the Cooperative Program.
"Everyone needs to be involved in missions, and if they can't go then they can give so others can go. Going and giving are both valid expressions of our gratitude for what Christ has done for us."
First Winder – 'missions begins first in our community'
At First Baptist Church in Winder, pastor John Talley says the WMU "has consistently set the bar high, challenging the church not only in missions funding, but hands-on mission action. From providing a Bible study in a women's detention center to launching medical mission projects, they are not only the church's conscience for strong Cooperative Program giving, but local Great Commission serving."
The congregation, located northwest of Atlanta, provides 9.6%, or $144,749, through the CP.
Longtime WMU member Evelyn Blount, who has served on the state and national level and helps set the offering goals, said the Great Commission "is the sole purpose of Woman's Missionary Union. We believe missions begins first in our community, spreads across Georgia, and then reaches North America and overseas.
"WMU has historically provided more information on the Cooperative Program, on an ongoing basis throughout the church year, than any other SBC agency. We emphasize that you don't give to the CP but through the CP."
Back in Ellabell the Wednesday night dinner winds down and nearly 70 children out of the 100 people attending the meal are ushered back to classrooms for GAs and RAs. Most of the children are brought to the church through vans and cars that go throughout the rural community, picking up children who would otherwise never hear the name of Jesus.
Jerry Butler, a member at Olive Branch for 35 years, watches the parade of rambunctious children pass by his table and makes a quiet, heartfelt observation. Then he sums up the church's missions giving and missions education efforts through the WMU and Brotherhood.
"You know, they can be a rowdy group and a real handful, but you never know which one of those kids will be missionaries when God gets 'a hold' of them."
And when that occurs, he and Olive Branch will be the first ones to rise to support them through their Cooperative Program gifts.
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index.
Long Hollow reaches
By Lonnie Wilkey
HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (Baptist & Reflector) -- In 2013 Long Hollow Baptist Church became the first church in the Tennessee Baptist Convention to baptize at least 1,000 people in a single church year.
Last year 1,051 were baptized at Long Hollow as a result of their outreach efforts, said Jeff Lovingood, next generation pastor at the church.
What's more, he added, the church is on target to exceed 1,000 baptisms again in 2014, he added.
Lovingood noted 2013 was a challenging year for the congregation as they watched their pastor (David Landrith) battle cancer.
Yet, even with all that, the church experienced its best year ever in not only baptisms, but giving and attendance as well, Lovingood said.
"You can't deny the good hand of the Lord being upon you and the Holy Spirit moving," he observed.
In the midst of a tough situation with their pastor's health issues, "the Lord used it for His glory," Lovingood added.
In addition to the main campus, the church has four satellite locations in Springfield, Gallatin, Nashville (near the fairgrounds), and Madison.
Each location has a campus pastor but each congregation hears Landrith's message. "We try to keep a consistent DNA on our campuses," Lovingood said.
He estimated that about two-thirds of last year's baptisms took place at the main campus.
Lovingood believes the surge in baptisms is the result of an intentional effort by the church to reach the next generation with the gospel and stressing the need for their members "just to live life with folks in their neighborhoods, their businesses, and their schools.
"If each person does that, hopefully people will see the difference in your life and you can tell them about what God is doing in your life," he said.
As to reaching the next generation, he cited statistics noting that most people accept Christ before the age of 15 and that over half of the world's population is under the age of 20.
"How crucial is that to the children's, middle school, and high school ministries?" he asked.
With so many people under the age of 20 in the world's population it makes sense to target them, he noted. "Do you want to fish in a pond with a lot of fish or just a few fish?'
Lovingood said Long Hollow has a strategy to reach children and youth. By reaching children for Christ, they will become young adults who are Christians, he said.
He observed that many churches focus on reaching adults. While there is nothing wrong with that, he is convinced children should be the first target.
"If you can reach the kids, you can reach the parents."
The strategy apparently worked because he estimated that out of the church's 1,000-plus baptisms in 2013, 75 percent of them were children and youth.
Lovingood noted that when a youth or child accepts Christ he or she is given a booklet they have to complete with their parents before they are baptized,
That process has had a ripple effect, he said. "It's amazing how many parents come to know Christ after going through the booklet with their kids," he said.
Lovingood acknowledged that his church does not have all the answers.
"We make a ton of mistakes," he admitted.
"But hopefully we're more fearful of missing an opportunity than fearful of failing."
The church has made a lot of changes over the years in order to be where it is today. "It's been a blessing to be part of a church that has allowed us to go after the next generation," he said.
Despite recent successes in reaching people for Christ, Lovingood is well aware that "there are still a lot of people to reach.
"There is a great opportunity to make an impact on the next generation by reaching them for Christ," he concluded.
TBC evangelism specialist Steve Pearson noted he was not surprised to see Long Hollow's historic accomplishment.
"The greatest character trait in an evangelist church is compassion," Pearson observed, noting that Jude 22 says, "and some having compassion making a difference."
"Pastor David Landrith's ministry has always been marked by his heart full of compassion."
This article appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist & Reflector.
Gainesville's River Cross church
invests in challenged public school
By Barbara Denman
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (Florida Baptist Convention) -- James Silvers lowers his lanky six-foot-two frame into a kid-sized chair in Mrs. Chappell's class, quickly engaging third-grader Donteau in the day's lesson. Asking probing questions about the content, in just a brief time he helps the youngster absorb the meaning of his assignment.
A member of River Cross Church in Gainesville, Silvers is involved in the church's seven-year partnership with the school system's Business Partner Program that ministers to students, faculty and administrators at Gainesville's Lake Forrest Elementary School.
"For me, this is a joy," said the local businessman who takes time away from his work at Nationwide Insurance to tutor the children on a regular basis.
"I love being with the kids and hanging out with them. I love to see excitement on their faces when we go into the classroom. I'm able to see how meaningful our work is to them."
Lake Forrest Elementary School, labeled as an "F" school based on its Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests (FCAT) score, has "challenges," said Principal Diane Hill, explaining that 96 percent of the primarily the African-American student body qualify for free or reduced-price lunches; which may be their only meal all day.
A high percentage is involved in the school's exceptional student educational (ESE) program, requiring specialized instruction. Many live in a home where their grandparents are guardians and lack basic school supplies. As such, the school has difficulty drawing volunteers from its community.
River Cross Pastor David Patterson believes that is where the church can step up to invest in the next generation, children who struggle in this needy community, located on the other side of town from the church's Haile Plantation location.
At the beginning of each school year, the church collects money to buy school supplies which helped 120 students this year. Not only do members volunteer to spend time in the classrooms as tutors, they sponsor, coordinate and chaperone field trips.
Church members serve on the School Advisory Committee, giving input into decision making and operations of the school. At Christmas food and gifts are collected for both the child and a special person in their lives. Healthy snacks are distributed during FCAT testing week and appreciation gifts are given to teachers at the end of the year in recognition of the sacrifices they make.
As a result, several of the teachers have visited and participated in church activities, including Principal Hill.
"It's been such an asset having River Cross as our partners," said the principal. While other groups are involved at the school, the church is "consistent and continual and that means a lot to our kids, our staff and our environment."
The church is able to have access to the school, the principal said, because "their purpose is here to help children and staff."
The church, she added, is making "a huge difference because they reach out in so many areas. If you mention River Cross, you can see from the look on my teacher's faces that they are appreciated."
River Cross became involved in the ministry because Patterson believes as more Christian families leave public schools, "the darker the schools become spiritually. We felt the burden to be a light in that darkness and see how God can lead us to impact students, families, and staff."
"The people in our church are hungry to give back to kids, and invest in their lives. Over the years, we have been able to help with more and more needs. And there is joy in that," the pastor said.
Giving comes naturally to Patterson. The former successful engineer/businessman was caught up in chasing the American dream and did not see any relevance to church, he said. Later in life, after discovering he was on the wrong path, he felt called to ministry. Quitting their jobs and selling their house, he and his wife, Jan, moved back to Gainesville, where they had previously lived, to plant the church on the west side eight years ago.
With the mantra, "Leading people to think eternally and act presently," he said the church's ministry to the school is, first and foremost, the right thing to do. It's living out our mantra." It is also a way to demonstrate the church's relevance to the unchurched who probably have similar life questions that he once had.
In planting River Cross, now with nearly 300 in attendance, Patterson partnered with the Florida Baptist Convention, receiving church planting assistance, and working under the tutelage of church planter strategist Nevi Townsend, who died last year.
He was coached and mentored in this new role, he said, by Bob Bumgarner, lead strategist of the Convention's Church Health group. Now Patterson leads conferences for other church planters and churches interested in the school ministry.
Bumgarner calls the pastor "a spiritual entrepreneur, not afraid to reverse engineer ministry. He doesn't just start with, how can we get them to come to a gathering? He asks how can we meaningfully be where they already are?"
"David is a true missionary church planter. He is not in love with his church model. He is in love with the people of Gainesville."
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.