As the first of the Baby Boomers turns 50 next year, it's time to ask about their commitment to missions funding.
Most people agree with the premise that America's senior adults support charity more than do their children. Sociologist and author George Barna, for example, reports in "What Americans Believe: An Annual Survey of Values and Religious Views in the United States" that senior adults are the most generous when it comes to aiding people overseas.
Just over half of those 65 or older responded positively when asked by Barna if they would volunteer "time or money to help needy people living in other countries." The survey also shows senior adults are about twice as likely to volunteer their time and money for people overseas (i.e. for foreign missions) than those 26-44 and almost three times as likely as those 18-25 years of age.
Although the survey was not focused on Southern Baptists, it does raise some tough questions re-garding the future of the Cooperative Program — particularly as the responsibility for missions funding passes to another generation. How can Southern Baptists between 18 and 44 years old be encouraged to participate more fully in the denomination's unified missions funding plan?
Ironically, America's retirement capital, Florida, may provide one model. When asked about the future of the Cooperative Program, Bill W. Coffman, director of the Florida Baptist Convention's Cooperative Program Department, said, "It's bright."
Coffman says the state convention has a "good chance" of raising $25 million this year — $1 million above the established goal. He says Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, "want to know personally those doing the missions. If we're going to be successful with this age group, we must personalize missions, or others will do it."
Missions awareness can be personalized when a church decides to increase the number of home and foreign missions speakers it schedules in a typical year. The speakers ought to be inspirational as well as informational, says Coffman. And frequently discussing partnership missions, such as Florida's with Tanzania and the Caribbean, will focus younger generations on the need for missions involvement.
It also helps to set challenging goals for missions giving. Just ask the members of Elizabeth Baptist Church of Monticello, a rural farming community east of Tallahassee, FL. Comprised of mostly blue collar workers in their 30's, the church is being honored by the Florida Baptist Convention for giving 25 percent of its income last year to the Cooperative Program — the largest percentage of any Southern Baptist congregation in Florida.
"We're so small that there's no way we could send a missionary on our own," says Elizabeth Baptist's pastor, Bill Floyd. That's why the congregation enjoys being part of a larger effort, the Cooperative Program that supports some 9,000 missionaries in more than 100 countries.
Over the past 10 or 12 years, the Monticello church increased their Cooperative Program giving by one percent a year until they reached their current 25 percent mark. Over the same period, the church has been growing because they have been emphasizing family activities, says Floyd. In 1994, they gave $30,283 to the Cooperative Program. In addition, they give 4 percent a year to the Middle Florida Baptist Association and 1 percent to a local "assembly ground" that is supported by several churches.
Elizabeth Baptist Church also supports the denomination's traditional missions offerings at Christmas and Easter, but "we teach the importance of missions and support missions year round," Floyd says. The church members, three-fourths of whom are under age 65, decided to stick with the high Cooperative Program percentage despite the need to repair their building after a termite attack and despite the need for a new air conditioning system. "It's been a time when we have had to reach down deep to support missions, but so far so good," says Floyd.
Checklist for Missions Support
First Baptist Church — Orlando, a 10,000-member congregation, gave $881,807 last year to the Cooperative Program. That represents about 13 percent of their undesignated income. It takes a pastor with a heart for missions to involve young and middle-aged church members in cooperative giving, says Wayne Johnson, Orlando's minister of media. "What happens in the pulpit is usually what happens in the pews," adds Johnson.
He also says churches can develop strong missions givers if they:
• are willing to keep giving despite other urgent expenses. FBC-Orlando is debt free despite moving to a multi-million-dollar campus 10 years ago.
• emphasize missions by scheduling a special program or event. FBC-Orlando annually sponsors a month-long MissionsFest, featuring many missions speakers.
• increase the opportunities for those who want to spend a vacation as a missionary. FBC-Orlando recently sent members on an Amazon River missions trip.
• engage in local missions that make a difference in the lives of neighbors. FBC-Orlando supports House of Hope for troubled teen girls.
• use a missions commitment card. FBC-Orlando's commitment card asks for prayers, volunteers for missions, and for financial contributions.
• have a furloughing missionary live in their community and become part of the church's life. FBC-Orlando operates a missionary guest house.
• develop a giving-church attitude. "If you have a healthy missions program, you probably have a healthy church," Johnson says.