By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SHELBYVILLE — “I knew God would provide and we would get along but I really didn’t imagine this thing would explode,” said Joe Thompson.
What “exploded” during 2014 at Southside Baptist Church is phenomenal. Though the church only draws about 130 people to Sunday morning activities, members have seen 350 people make decisions for Christ and have sent out 55 volunteer missionaries to Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, and five states. Of the missions workers, most are short-term but one family is serving long-term in Utah and another is in Nashville working long-term with the Muslim community.
Also, the church has increased giving to local missions, through the Cooperative Program to Tennessee Baptist and Southern Baptist missions, and to the Baptist association, said Thompson, who is pastor.
It all began at the first of 2014 when Thompson felt God leading him to challenge the church in three ways for the year.
“I wanted us to do things right. … I was looking at missions and what God wants us to do.”
The three parts of the challenge were to increase giving to Baptist missions efforts outside the church, increase giving to missions work directed by Southside, and see 56 people make decisions for Christ because the church would be 56 years old in 2014.
Then just a few hours after presenting the challenge and even before it was voted upon, several church members asked Thompson what he thought about Acts 2:47 and Acts 16:5 which say members were added to the first century church daily. He had been leading the congregation in a study of the first century church. These members suggested the goal be 365 new Christians — one a day during 2014 — rather than 56.
So Southside members took the leap and upped their goal to seeing 365 new Christians during 2014. They also unanimously adopted the amended challenge.
The giving part of the challenge was consequential. Thompson asked the church to increase giving through the Cooperative Program from 5 percent to 10 percent and giving to the New Duck River Baptist Association, based in Shelbyville, from 3 percent to 5 percent.
Amazingly, the church began increasing their giving within several weeks.
To meet the goal of 365 new Christians within 2014, church members needed to go outside of the church a lot more, Thompson and the congregation knew. Over the years the church has sent out many volunteer missions workers in the United States and to other countries, but mainly youth and college students.
This year 24 church members, including many adults, served 14 days in Provo, Utah, helping First Baptist Church there and former member Russ Robinson. Robinson, who grew up at Southside, is now pastor of First Baptist, Provo. Soon Zachary and Courtney Thompson of Southside, who are recent graduates of Union University, Jackson, will begin serving there as NAMB church planting interns.
Also this year, Southside Baptist sent six people to Alaska where they served for 10 days and sent 23 people to Nashville where they served at the Nashville Rescue Mission. Of course, church members also have ministered in Shelbyville doing missions work such as reaching out to homeless people there.
One reason they can report seeing 350 people become new Christians is because of their work in Provo, said Thompson. The area is so lost it is considered an unreached people group, a term used by the Southern Baptists to identify people groups (mostly in other countries) who basically have had no contact with the gospel.
The church is still confident of reaching its monumental goal of seeing 365 people become new Christians in 2014, reported Thompson.
“We are only 15 people away from our goal and I believe in the next few weeks we will see 15 more people make decisions for Christ.”
Their efforts outside of the church were made possible by the fact that they had the funds. Members additionally had increased giving weekly to “1-2-3 Missions,” Southside’s own missions fund, explained Thompson. Some gave $1 a week, others gave $12 or $23 a week and a few gave $123 a week.
All of this effort over the past year has been “a lot of hard work” reported Thompson, and though church members prepared themselves, they have endured attacks from Satan.
“We have faced them head on,” he reported.
Some of the attacks have been “very personal,” explained Thompson, and some have been against others.
For instance, the church lost some members who didn’t agree with its new direction.
“It was real hard, real hard. … These were painful, painful times.”
To be prepared for the three-part challenge and resulting attacks, the church “stepped up our discipleship work.”
Through all of this past year, “It has been a joy … being a part of something that has been amazing in its results. … He (God) has encouraged and protected us.”
One of the keys to the church’s success is that the initial challenge was financial and personal, said Thompson. “It started in their hearts.”
This part of the challenge was about giving “the first fruits.” Pastors ask their people to tithe off of the top or before they spend the rest of their money so the church should do that also, he explained.
Looking back, he sees that what God has “laid on my heart here” is to follow the pattern of the first century church and is “rooted in our tradition” and what “God is saying from all our leadership,” said Thompson, referring to Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist leadership.
“The disciple’s business is to make disciples. He goes out to make disciples. …
“If we’re sending out as many as we’re getting, we feel like we would be an effective congregation. …
“It’s hard to say how excited we are.”
Next year, “we don’t want to think small,” he stated.