Reaping what they sow

Change of missions-giving approach and emphasis on "being a better Christian" gave rural church new life, bountiful missions offerings, Warren, TX, Bethel Baptist, Southern Baptist

A few recent years of economic uncertainty have led to a decidedly consistent downturn—or stagnancy at best—in tithes and offerings among many churches. Yet one South Texas congregation, small in number but mega in heart, belies that trend and joins a small group of outliers, reporting a 300-percent increase to its missions offerings through a revamped giving schedule over the past three years.

Fay Carter, financial secretary at Bethel Baptist Church in Warren, about 90 miles northeast of Houston, recalls that before Pastor Larry Staggs led the church in overhauling its missions giving plan, the congregation had a missions speaker in to address the church three times a year to rally giving through three missions efforts: Annie Armstrong, Reach Texas and Lottie Moon. The congregation set church-wide goals for each, aiming to give $1,500 through both Annie Armstrong and Reach Texas and $2,000 through Lottie Moon.

“Larry said, ‘We can do better than that. We should do better than that,’” Carter recalled.

The timing of those large, goal-setting mission emphases strained the pocketbooks of the members. They wanted to give, but when each offering came around on the calendar, so did other financial obligations.

“Annie Armstrong comes at a time when all of our people with little kids have got to buy new Easter outfits,” Carter said. “Reach Texas is in September, and everybody’s got to be buying school supplies—and it costs a small fortune to buy school supplies. Lottie Moon comes at Christmastime, and Christmas is expensive.”

So Staggs, who accepted the call to pastor Bethel in July 2010, implemented a year-round, monthly missions giving approach he calls “4M: My Monthly Missions Ministry.”

With this approach, Staggs emphasizes the importance of missions and supporting missions the first Sunday of each month. So church members give to missions monthly instead of waiting for a few big pushes each year. Carter said the people don’t miss the $40 or $50 each month as they did the money they used to shell out in only three concentrated chunks. She said the church is excited about how their collective giving has increased and says that excitement continues to fuel more giving.

“I think each time we made a report, they have been encouraged,” Carter said. “They see the report in our monthly financial report, so I think that’s the reason it’s increased every year. They’re excited about it.”

The increase has been substantial. Carter reported that between September 2009 and August 2010, the church gave $1,615 to Annie Armstrong, $1,360 to Reach Texas, $2,172 to Lottie Moon and $0 to World Hunger. The following year trended similarly.

But between September 2011 and August 2012, the church gave $4,707 to Annie Armstrong, $4,707 to Reach Texas, $4,707 to Lottie Moon and $1,631 to World Hunger.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention also recognized Bethel this year, for the first time ever, among the state’s top 50 Reach Texas givers. Carter added that the church also gave nearly $7,000 to its food pantry ministry and that general undesignated offerings have not suffered because of the increased missions giving but have continued to increase as well.

Membership, too, has risen, she said.

“From the day that [Staggs] and his wife joined until the end of our church year, we had an even 100 new members,” Carter said. “From 2009 to 2010, we had a record number of baptisms.” Carter credits much of the missions giving increase and membership increase with which the Lord has blessed the church to the work and leadership of her pastor.

“We have a jewel,” Carter said of her pastor, “a God-sent jewel. He has made being a better Christian a priority. I can’t thank the Lord enough for all our growth and the Lord sending [Staggs] to us.”

Staggs, who pastored seven churches before accepting Bethel’s call, says any church can adopt the year-long missions giving approach.

“It’s not anything new,” Staggs said. “It’s something I’ve done at a couple of other churches, and it wasn’t even my idea. This is a rural community and a rural church, primarily of senior adults. This kind of thing can happen anywhere, and the Lord will bless.”

Staggs said to make the monthly giving approach work, he works to emphasize missions from the pulpit and to keep the need for giving at the forefront of members’ minds.

“We have to make a diligent effort to make sure missions is on everybody’s heart. They’re more conscious of missions [now], and it has really blessed our church.” Staggs said of Bethel, which was on the brink of closing its doors a few years ago.

Carter agreed and said the encouragement she and other members receive from the pulpit and the life of their pastor helps to remind them that each dollar they give reaches the world.

“It’s not just an offering we send to Grapevine,” Carter said. “It goes to the world.”

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