By Eric Atkins
Pastor, New Friendship Baptist Church, Cleveland
Several months ago our church received a certificate and letter from the International Mission Board congratulating us on reaching one of the four Lottie Moon Challenge Levels. New Friendship has received these certificates before so I wasn’t surprised to receive another one. This year, however, it is starting to feel much different. In the weeks since, news about the IMB’s Voluntary Retirement Incentive was released. Missionaries that are close to our church have faced the challenging decision of staying on, or retiring from the field. The immediate questions of “Pastor, what can we do?” sent us to our knees in prayer and God began to move our church to do even more in the area of giving.
In working through this process, we asked some difficult questions. Should we increase our Cooperative Program (CP) giving? Do we take a special offering? Do we increase our goal for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering? As we were discussing these questions, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention continued their emphasis on the 1% Challenge to increase CP giving. We were also encouraged learning that Cross Church in Arkansas exceeded the $1 million mark in CP giving for the year. I am grateful for Ronnie Floyd’s leadership to take Cross Church from $32,000 in 2005 (0.26 percent) to this year’s record amount (which is closer to the national average of 5.4 percent). Obviously, the 1% challenge is working as many churches are reinvesting in CP, but it doesn’t make sense for New Friendship.
New Friendship gives 12.5 percent of our undesignated receipts to CP. The 1% Challenge, although important, is not a motivational factor for our church. What inspires us to give is knowing that every dollar given will be helping someone in the field and will ultimately lead to someone hearing the gospel and responding in faith. The IMB was short almost $20 million dollars last year. In Tennessee, $0.21 of every dollar given through the CP reaches the IMB and nationally the average is only $0.19. Using the national average, it would take over $100 million dollars to make up the yearly deficit in the IMB. Of course, this type of increase would also benefit state conventions that are being squeezed, as well as, the other entities of the SBC. (This also helps us see the need for other state conventions to follow the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s lead to reevaluate and reallocate CP dollars more efficiently.) So what did we decide to do to help?
God has blessed us with a very generous congregation. For the last two years we have met and exceeded the Lottie Moon Manchuria Challenge, which is named after the ship on which Lottie Moon died after 39 years of committed service to her Lord. This challenge is to give $100 or greater per worship attender. Since 2012, we have increased our LMCO giving by almost 47 percent and also increased our overall missions giving by almost 40 percent. We want to be sacrificial in our giving. Our finance team recommended that an additional amount should be added to our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering from our savings and encouraged our WMU leadership to set our LMCO goal to at least the level of last year’s giving, which exceeded last year’s goal by 26 percent. This recommendation passed without objection.
We understand that the 2015 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering will not insure that current missionaries will stay on the field, but it will make the statement that we are willing to sacrifice to see more missionaries commissioned and sent. This is a challenge to our church and for other churches. Let’s make an effort to make the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering a priority in 2015 and set our giving goals to a sacrificial level.