In its one hundred and seventy-year history, the largest missions offering First Baptist Church of Cumming, Georgia, had collected was $44,000 for the 2004 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Entering the 2005 annual international missions offering campaign, the seventeen-hundred-member church north of Atlanta faced its own ministry budget shortfall due to the cancellation of a couple of Sunday services earlier in the year because of snow and ice.
So what was Senior Pastor Robert Jolly thinking when he proposed a $150,000 end-of-year missions offering goal?
"We were at a finance committee meeting and everyone knew we needed to do something, but tripling a goal at the end of the year kind of scared us," said Jolly, pastor at First Cumming since 1994. "It was just a goal, but we didn't want to fall way short of meeting the goal."
The church had already adopted a $50,000 international missions offering goal. It had also committed to help First Baptist New Orleans' hurricane recovery efforts through the North American Mission Board's (NAMB) Adopt-A-Church initiative. And there were mission opportunities in the church's community that needed funding as well.
The church's twelve-member finance committee quickly realized the proposed missions offering goal, nearly four times the amount collected the previous year, was more than a challenge — it was an Acts1:8 Challenge.
So they earmarked the first $50,000 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and designated $50,000 each to First Baptist New Orleans as well as local mission efforts.
The first Sunday in November of last year, Jolly and the finance committee launched the church's inaugural Acts 1:8 Challenge Offering campaign by inviting the entire congregation to take an envelope — containing a $1 bill — from the offering plate and pray how God might have them multiply the gift for missions.
Already in the midst of preaching an eight-week sermon series about faith, Jolly delivered a message from 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, challenging church members to give generously and cheerfully, and trust God to meet their needs personally and corporately.
"When in need, plant a seed," Jolly exhorted the church. "Plant a seed with a plan. With a plan, watch God work."
Each of the finance committee members had joined Jolly in contributing $100 as "seed" money for the church-wide $1 bill distribution. "We put a face on the offering by telling our people where the money would go and how it would be used," Jolly said. "They got excited about helping out with these projects and making an eternal difference in people's lives throughout the world."
A month into the campaign, a church member anonymously pledged to match dollar for dollar all donations up to the $150,000. Another church member sold privately-owned stock shares to a buyer who paid 40 percent more than its value at the time after learning the dividends were going to the missions offering. Children sold baked goods, handmade hair bows and jewelry, and donated the proceeds to the offering. One donor, who was a member of another church out of state, contributed to the offering after learning about the cause from a member of First Cumming.
By the end of the year, more than $329,000 had been collected, and the offering total climbed to nearly $336,000 in January 2006 even though the campaign officially ended in December. Meanwhile, weekly giving to the church's 2005 ministry budget finished strong, netting a surplus over expenses.
"In addition to the adults doing their part," Jolly said, "I have been amazed at the way the children of our church have been involved in giving their money to God and watching it grow.
"Thanks to our church's generosity and sacrifice for our Acts 1:8 Challenge Offering, First Baptist Cumming is blessed to have given $75,000 to our church planting partnership in Ethiopia; nearly $87,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions; more than $80,000 to First Baptist New Orleans; and nearly $87,000 to local mission efforts which includes a $75,000 sponsorship of a Habitat House for Humanity scheduled to be built by First Baptist Cumming volunteers later this year."
Building on the lessons learned from last year's missions offering campaign, Jolly cast a vision for the church in January declaring the next ten years as "The Decade of Generosity."
As part of First Baptist Cumming's effort to fulfill the Acts 1:8 Challenge to tell Jesus' story and share His love in its community, state, continent, and world, the church has adopted as its motto: "The Church That Gives Itself Away."
This spring, First Cumming gave nearly $40,000 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, exceeding last year's record amount of $30,000. In late March, First Baptist Cumming hosted First Baptist New Orleans' ministerial staff and families for a week-long retreat at a church member's lake house. And in April, a group of twenty-four volunteers, ranging in age from twelve to sixty-nine, spent their spring break gutting flood-damaged houses in New Orleans and feeding other volunteer mission groups. It was the church's fourth trip since November.
David Crosby, senior pastor of First Baptist New Orleans, said First Cumming's passion for missions through giving and going is both inspiring and encouraging.
"Their teams have been here with their HAZMAT suits, respirators, and rubber gloves and rubber boots," Crosby said. "First Baptist Cumming has helped in so many ways. They've been a tremendous blessing."
First Cumming is also in the third year of its partnership with the Gullele Addis Kidan Baptist Church in Ethiopia. Jolly has led FBC members on week-long mission trips in the spring and fall of the year to do leadership training, evangelistic outreach, dental hygiene clinics, and literacy classes. He is now working to help establish a medical clinic.
In addition to the church's local weekly outreach efforts through visitation, phone calling, and letter writing, about one hundred and fifty church members will have served on mission this year in the Atlanta Metropolitan area, New Orleans, Utah, Puerto Rico, Thailand, Hungary, and Ethiopia.
Last summer, First Cumming, which ranked eighty-seventh in Cooperative Program giving out of 3,580 Georgia Baptist Convention churches, expanded its eight-member ministerial staff to include its first associate pastor of evangelism and missions.
Last fall, the church began sponsoring a Southern Baptist Korean church plant.
"Our ministry staff is committed to leading our church to be both mission-minded and mission-active whereby Acts 1:8 is part of our church's DNA," he said.
Lee Weeks serves as associate pastor of evangelism and missions at First Baptist Church of Cumming, Georgia.