By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — Giving by Tennessee Baptists to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions is up from last year about 5 percent — from $6 million to about $6.3 million as of Jan. 31.
Early reports are that giving has been both sacrificial and creative.
Some Tennessee Baptists intentionally sought to increase LMCO gifts this year due to the financial situation of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention that receives the offering.
In August 2015, the IMB announced the need to reduce personnel and offered a voluntary retirement incentive to missionary and stateside workers.
The IMB oversees the work of 4,707 appointed missionaries.
A sampling of churches and their giving include:
- First Baptist Church, Sevierville, has almost topped giving for the past five years. In 2010 church members gave $395,900, in 2014 $487,013 — the largest offering in the church’s history, and in 2015 $486,346.
The church draws about 1,800 people to Sunday morning activities. That means gifts per capita were about $270.
Dan Spencer, pastor, said, “It is exciting to serve with a congregation that understands the power of cooperative missions giving combined with the power of the gospel. We hope to be part of a revolution of generosity in our convention.
“Along with our sister churches, we want to see the day when Southern Baptists send a record number of missionaries to a record number of nations,” he stated.
- First Baptist Church, Seymour, set a goal this past year of $51,400, which according to the IMB website is the cost of a missionary on the field for a year, reported Bruce Yates, pastor. This was more than the church had ever given before, he explained in an e-mail. In 2013 First gave $23,725 and in 2014 it gave $26,730. The church draws about 400 people to Sunday morning activities.
“To put a face on the offering we used the prayer card of a young couple serving in Asia. As a child, the wife was a member of our church and many of our church family know her family,” wrote Yates.
Amazingly, the church gave almost $60,000. “To God be the glory,” he added. That means gifts per capita were about $150.
Church member Ronnie Erwin, an IMB emeritus missionary who served in Brazil for 37 years along with her husband, Bob, said the church didn’t do much special to raise the money. “Our church is very missions-minded,” having sent teams to Nigeria, Italy, and New York City (three times) in the past four years, she reported by e-mail.
- First Baptist Church, Joelton, more than doubled its offering in 2014 of $22,488 to $47,000. The church draws about 800 to Sunday morning activities so that means gifts per capita were about $59.
David Royalty, senior pastor, said one reason for the “wonderful response” is that recently retired missionaries Mike and Jan Bennett who served from 1999-2014 in Venezuela through the IMB are from their church. Mike Bennett, who also was an attorney, died recently so Jan spoke at the church to kick off the emphasis.
Also, a pair of Mike’s shoes sat on the podium during December and folks were challenged to give the cost of a pair of shoes and recall Mike’s ministry. Then at the end of the emphasis, Jan returned to a worship service during which she was presented Mike’s shoes and learned of the amount given.
Jeff Land, a member, expressed his views on a Facebook post. “With the financial constraints the board has faced this year, our church set a goal … which is double the goal last year. … I’m thankful for First Baptist Church, Joelton, and for the work of our Southern Baptist missionaries around the world!”
- Maple Springs Baptist Church, Medon, is “a small, rural church,” reported Becky Collins, Woman’s Missionary Union director, which draws about 80 people each Sunday morning.
Collins said she was shocked to learn recently at a state WMU meeting that the IMB was asking missionary families to “come off of the field” after all they had done to be able to serve in another country. “It just made me weep,” she said.
To promote the offering, Collins worked with Walter Taylor, interim pastor who is retired director of missions, Knox County Baptist Association. Maple Springs Baptist heard Anna Marie Deschenes of Jackson, who served recently overseas for two years as an IMB journeyman, speak during a morning worship service.
Church members also provided its annual LMCO post office.
For the first time, a LMCO Christmas Tree was decorated during the morning worship service by children based on giving. In other words, $100 given by the congregation “bought” a strand of garland, explained Collins. This served “as a visual aid of where we were.”
Finally, the church concluded its giving by holding the annual Missions Walk during which each member files by the offering baskets which are sitting on the altar.
Maple Springs Baptist gave $3,435 up from $1,708 given in 2014 or up about 50 percent. That means gifts per capita this year were about $43.
- West Hills Baptist Church, Lebanon, saw its WMU groups, including Women on Mission, Girls in Action, and Royal Ambassadors, lead activities to raise gifts to the LMCO. As a result, the church gave $6,580, up from $3,929 given last year or up 40 percent. West Hills Baptist draws about 200 to Sunday morning activities. That means gifts per capita were about $33.
WoM and GAs constructed a quilt which they offered through a silent auction at the church over about four weeks. A church member won the quilt with a bid of $400. Then the industrious lady who won the quilt resold it for $400 so she could give $800 to the LMCO.
Also, the RAs had a movie night during which they sold concessions. Proceeds from the concessions were donated to the LMCO.
Finally, the GAs held their annual post office. They requested 25 cents to deliver each card, which was donated to the offering, reported Cindy Gibbs and Rebecca Case.
- Mount Olive Baptist Church (South), Knoxville, saw two deceased members recently give about $320,000 to the LMCO through their wills.
Carroll Golden, interim pastor, reported that because of the timing of one gift church leaders released the information “as a motivator to reach our in house goal, which was larger than last year.”
- Black Oak Heights Baptist Church, Knoxville, increased its gifts by 28 percent from $6,527 in 2014 to $9,020 in 2015. Because the church draws about 450 to Sunday morning activities, that is $20 per capita.
Todd Stinnett, senior pastor, wrote by e-mail that the church changed the way it was funding Southern Baptist missionaries through the LMCO and supporting other missionaries so that it was clear what members were giving to.
Also, “we promoted the LMCO from the pulpit, showed the missions videos for several weeks, and hung posters throughout the church reminding members of our $10,000 goal, which I hope we meet and surpass next year,” the pastor reported.
- First Baptist Church, Woodlawn, saw its gifts rise about 30 percent from $979 in 2014 to $1,398 in 2015. The church draws about 150 people on Sunday morning.
Jody Kilburn, pastor, said he believes in challenging the congregation which has grown, gaining younger people as members. So he believes in setting a challenging goal each year for the LMCO though the church failed to meet the previous year’s goal.
“We’ve mostly been intentional about increasing our giving. A lot of churches … have very low expectations of their church members,” explained Kilburn.
“We’re still a long way from where we need to be but we understand we’re making progress so we’re happy with that,” added the pastor.