By David Dawson
COLUMBIA — In most instances, a “love offering” is a one-time gift.
At Connection Church in Columbia, however, it turned into much more than that. It was the gift that kept on giving.
Over the past several months, the church has used the combination of sacrificial giving and acts of service to make a major impact for Christ in Maury County. The movement was fueled by the church’s “I love my community” campaign, which raised over $77,000 — more than four times the amount that was set as the original goal — and included more than 300 church members taking part in various volunteer duties throughout the area.
“It wasn’t just an offering; it was so much more than that,” said Eric Nichols, lead pastor at Connection. “It was a mobilization of God’s people into our community.”
The concept behind the “I love my community” campaign began to develop this past spring, Nichols said, when the church decided to take a new approach.
In years past, Connection Church had taken up an offering in the month of March called ‘I Love My Church,’ to help pay for renovations or repairs for the church facilities, Nichols said. But over the past couple of years, the church has been able to save enough money to pay for any repairs or renovations needed in 2022.
“So, this year, we decided to change the name to ‘I Love My Community,’ ” said Nichols. “We said, hey, let’s take up an offering and just give it away. That sounds like a whole lot of fun. So, that’s what we did.”
The church originally set the goal of collecting $15,000, which was to be divided evenly among six selected ministries/organizations — the Boys & Girls Club, Thrift Love, Bright Apple, OneGenAway, Family Center and MUM (Maury United Ministries).
But not long after the campaign started, the church decided to aim higher: They doubled the goal of the offering to $30,000.
“We kind of set that goal on a whim,” Nichols said, noting the new goal would enable the church to give $5,000 to each ministry. That goal was quickly reached, too.
Nichols said when the members started to personalize each ministry — and envision how each dollar was helping someone who needed it — it became very easy to get excited about giving.
“You take a step back and you think, wow, (this money means) we can pay for five trucks for OneGenAway,” said Nichols. “That equates to 250 kids who will get a snack for the entire year. Then you just go, ‘Wow. Praise God!’ We get to be a part of providing for a need.”
But the offering wasn’t simply about providing financial help around the community. It was about putting in some work, too.
For example, more than 70 members of Connection Church committed to donating thrift items or serving as volunteers with Thrift Love (a store that employs and mentors special-needs and disabled adults), while 44 others committed to serving with OneGenAway (a ministry that provides food to in-need families and individuals) and 19 committed to serving with Bright Apple (which provides snacks for students in public schools throughout Maury County).
“These relationships that we’re building, they’re not superficial,” said Nichols. “They’re genuine. When people are giving — isn’t that what love is really about?”
Nichols said being actively involved in the community — and thereby reaching people for Jesus — should be the core objective of every church. He noted that the emphasis shouldn’t be on inviting people to church; it should be on going to them. “It’s a totally different thing,” Nichols said. “Jesus said, ‘go.’ He didn’t say, ‘ask them to come.’ ”
Nichols said “meeting people at their point of need” is the key to effectively reaching the community. “And what is the one need that everyone has in common? The need for a savior.”
One of the directors of the Boys & Girls Club has come to know the Lord in recent days, and Nichols said he believes the director’s new relationship with Christ was sparked by the church’s generosity to the club.
“I think it had everything to do with that offering,” he said. “The director showed up the day that we announced (that the church was donating the money), and he continued to worship with us each Sunday. And now, I have the joy of baptizing him. It’s awesome.”
Nichols said he was excited to see the church roll up its sleeves, so to speak, in their efforts to point people to Christ.
“As churches, we sometimes try to build the biggest building and have the biggest event,” he said. “Our thinking is, if you build it, they will come. But that wasn’t the model that Jesus gave us. The model He gave us was ‘Go ye therefore.’ ”
In addition to the recent wave of service projects and financial support, Connection Church hopes to be able to reach the community in another way this fall: By planting a church.
“We are excited to announce that the official launch date for Connection Church at Richland High School, in Lynnville, will be Sept. 25,” Nichols said. The staff will include Brian McDowell (lead pastor), Caleb Holtz (worship minister) and Jennifer White (childrens’ minister).
Nichols said the “I love my community” campaign was successful because the church members focused their attention on meeting needs on multiple levels.
“The Bible says that Jesus had favor with both God and man,” added Nichols, “and we have seen the beautiful thing of having favor with people in our community — and what that does to advance the kingdom.” B&R