AUSTIN—Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin has cultivated a culture of generosity as it focuses on accomplishing the Great Commission locally and throughout the world, pastor Danny Forshee said. Recently, that included helping people pay off medical debt amid COVID-19.
The church gave more than $50,000 to a ministry that pooled resources to pay off $4 million in medical debt for 4,000 families in Central Texas, Forshee told the TEXAN. “It was such a blessing to be able to do that. Now we’re starting to get thank you letters from these people. It’s so encouraging,” he said.
When the pandemic began, a Great Hills church member gave a check for $25,000 and said, “Help our people. I know some of them are really going to need help,” Forshee recounted. The church used that money to help people with rent, groceries and other needs.
“Our church is just so generous,” Forshee said, marking a new day for a congregation that declared bankruptcy in the ‘90s.
Great Hills has a history of taking the gospel to the nations, the pastor said. They adopted an unengaged people group in India about eight years ago and have sent teams each year except 2020.
“Outside the Cooperative Program, they receive probably most of our financial support,” Forshee said. “There were no known believers in this people group in India, and now there are many believers, and churches have been started. That just thrills me.”
Great Hills gives 7.5 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program, which amounts to around $300,000, the pastor said. “Our goal is to keep going up incrementally until we reach 10 percent.”
When Forshee arrived at the church nearly 11 years ago, it had a $7 million debt, but “God worked miracles,” and a couple of years ago the debt was eliminated. “That absolutely liberated us,” he said, adding that now they’re able to give more to missions.
“We try to have a giving culture where to whom much is given, much is required, and we try to be a conduit,” Forshee said. “God blesses us, and we bless the nations.”
Forshee recently served as chairman of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Board, giving him a closer look at how the 45 percent of Cooperative Program receipts that stay in Texas is spent.
“The SBTC says they support church planting and missions, and I’m telling you they do,” he said, commending the convention for forwarding 55 percent to national and international missions and ministries—the most of any Southern Baptist state convention.
When Forshee recently reminded the Great Hills finance committee of the many ways Cooperative Program dollars help reach the world for Christ, he said it was “an easy sell.”
“I always like to share my testimony of, ‘Look, I don’t know that I could have gone to Southwestern Seminary in the ‘80s. Ashley and I had just been married 10 days. We had no money, and here we go moving to Fort Worth, Texas, and I was able to enroll and have half of my tuition paid for,’” he said.
A ministry at Great Hills that has been successful at reaching people is their English as a Second Language effort, Forshee said. The volunteers “do a great job of teaching English and building relationships with people from all over the world. I think there were 25 nations represented in the last class before
Another ministry that was going well before COVID was Respite Care, which helps the families of Alzheimer’s patients. Each Tuesday, the caregivers could take their loved ones to the church where a team of volunteers would welcome them, color with them, play games, feed them and “just love on them for a few hours” while the caregivers got a break, Forshee said.
Attendance at Great Hills was between 800 and 900 before COVID, and since then it has hovered around 500 people. The church suffered a setback in February when the building had a “catastrophic flood” during the winter freeze and the worship center couldn’t be used.
As the church moves forward, lives are being changed. In April, Forshee preached on baptism, and then a man accepted the invitation to receive Christ as Savior. As one of the pastors counseled him, the man said he wanted to be baptized right then. Though it was the end of the service and the baptism wasn’t planned, they went ahead with it, and people were cheering the man’s new commitment to Christ, Forshee said.
Discipleship is a vibrant emphasis at Great Hills, where men are being discipled in small groups with men and women are being discipled in small groups with women, Forshee said. Spurred by that, the lead guitarist in the worship band was able to lead his parents in Mexico to Christ via Zoom.