200-member rural church raises 9 times its budget in 3 months

WEDGEFIELD, S.C. (BP)--While most churches' capital needs campaigns raise one to three times their normal budget, a rural South Carolina church with less than 200 members and a bivocational pastor reached nine times its budget.

At the same time, Wedgefield (S.C.) Baptist Church increased in worship and Sunday school attendance, missions giving and designated gifts to other causes.

Pastor Darryl Davids just shakes his head and gives a perplexed smile, expressing his own pleasant surprise. "It's just God, is all I have to say," he said. "He's just really working in our church and community."

The church, located in the small community of Wedgefield, about 15 miles southwest of Sumter, began its capital needs program last August, with the goal of raising $550,000 for a new sanctuary and classroom space, using Challenge to Build, a capital needs program developed by the state Baptist convention, and a convention-trained consultant, Jackie Branham.

Davids admits he was nervous.

"Our church had never done commitment cards before, and there were some real fears about that," said the pastor, who is also a human resources manager at nearby Gold Kist Inc. "And there were anxieties about the size of the campaign. We're a pretty small church. Also, any given Sunday, half of the people in worship are under 18 years old -- not exactly those who make the greatest financial contributions."

But God handled every concern, said Tim Maggard, the deacon chairman of the campaign's steering committee. "We just wore out our knees in prayer, and we encouraged everybody who was nervous about making pledges to just pray about it, and God took care of all those fears."

Adapting the capital campaign materials to their church, the committee launched into the program last September. At a kick-off banquet, they presented a booklet to church members of proposed building plans.

"We wanted everybody to know everything up front, answer their questions as soon in the process as we could," Davids recounted. "I think that made a big difference when we started talking about prayer and testimonies and commitment cards."

The results were astounding: $225,000 was given before commitment cards were turned in, while 95 commitment cards at the conclusion of the program netted $271,000. Wedgefield thus will begin a $550,000 project with $496,000 already accounted for.

Even more astounding is the amount of "extra" money that's been given throughout the Challenge to Build program:

-- $3,500 for a new sound system.

-- $3,500 to paint the existing sanctuary.

-- $17,000 to put a new roof on the current educational building; ("The feeling was, 'Just because we're moving into a new one doesn't mean we should let our original buildings deteriorate,'" said Davids, throwing his hands in the air in a mock "What can a pastor do?" manner).

-- $65,600 to pay off current debt on a three-year-old fellowship hall.

-- An increase of 16 percent in regular offerings.

-- Additional undesignated gifts of $55,000.

The total amount raised throughout Wedgefield's capital needs emphasis: $585,000 -- 10.6 times regular undesignated gifts.

"It's truly just amazing what's happened at Wedgefield," said Russell Patterson, director of the state convention's church stewardship department. "The record in South Carolina is 6.3 times a church's normal budget."

The money, Davids said, is only part of the picture. More wonderful to him is the spirit of revival he sees in the congregation.

"We've struggled through this, worked very hard at it and seen God bless us in so many ways," he said of the church he's pastored since 1994. "We are emerging from the Challenge to Build program a stronger church, moving forward even more than we were."

One youth in the church turned in money from her part-time job that she normally used on her personal telephone bill -- and testified about her decision one Sunday morning. One young married woman took on a second part-time job at her husband's company and donated all of that paycheck to the Challenge to Build campaign.

The personal home visits to deliver prayer cards were another key to recent growth in the church -- including the record number of baptisms over the last five months, Davids said.

Some older members of the congregation, he said, were very emotionally attached to the small white frame building on the property that had to be moved to make room for the new building.

"Some of our folks really, really struggled with what to do with that building," Davids said. "Then our mission church down the road began to need Sunday school space, and we decided to donate that building to them.

"So one Sunday morning our whole congregation gathered outside, around the building, laid hands on it and prayed, dedicating it for further spiritual growth, in a new location. We were all crying. It was a beautiful, touching moment for us. It signified that we really are committed to growing our future."

That future will include a new sanctuary, new classroom space and -- if members keep up the pace -- kingdom growth all around.

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