Fairview Baptist Church averages only 150 people in worship on Sunday mornings, but the congregation gave more to international missions through the 2010 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering than any other church in the Southern Baptist Convention -- $832,821.37 to be exact. And it was one especially generous donation -- $800,000 from an anonymous church member -- that shot Fairview to the top giving spot.
Large gifts from churches like Fairview helped the International Mission Board bring in the fourth-largest Lottie Moon offering last year, topping $145 million. Named for Southern Baptists' most celebrated missionary, the offering supports nearly 5,000 IMB missionaries for their housing, salaries, medical care and children's education, among other needs.
In 2009, that support enabled missionaries and their national partners to baptize more than 360,000 people and start more than 29,000 churches overseas.
"We're here to invest in the Kingdom," Fairview pastor Matt Endris says. "We're not here to hoard money in storehouses.... We've got people who are faithful to Christ and they have a vision for the Great Commission, and as a result they're putting their money where their mouth is."
Fairview's $832,000 offering is nearly a 3,700 percent increase over the $21,375 the church gave to Lottie Moon in 2009. To be fair, Endris admits the church has a unique advantage. It's located in an area rich with natural gas deposits that geologists call the Haynesville Shale. Rising energy prices and new drilling technology have birthed a natural gas "gold rush" in the area, and local landowners are cashing in -- including some members of Fairview Baptist.
"We had some individuals in the church, who, out of what the Lord had given them, committed large sums of money to Lottie Moon," Endris explains. " just very generous people who've got a heart to give."
Endris is among a handful of people who know the identity of the donor who gave the $800,000, and arranged an email interview for this story. When asked why he or she chose to give such a large sum to support the work of Southern Baptist missionaries, the individual humbly responded by citing two Bible verses: 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, "... He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully ... for God loves a cheerful giver" and Acts 1:8, "... you shall be my witnesses ... even to the remotest part of the earth."
"It's a command, not a question," Endris says. "It's not 'if' we go, but 'when and how' we go, because we are to reach the ends of the earth. It starts at home and works its way out."
OTHER TOP GIVERS
Fairview wasn't the only big Lottie Moon giver in 2010, however. Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., raised more than $618,000 to support Southern Baptist missionaries serving overseas, placing second in overall giving. The church averages 4,500 in Sunday morning worship.
"Historically it began with our senior pastor ... Bryant Wright," Brian Fox, a missions pastor at Johnson Ferry, says of the church's commitment to missions giving. Wright, currently serving as president of the Southern Baptist convention has "set the standard that we've been blessed to follow over the years," Fox says.
"We want to do everything we can to get as much of our resources onto the foreign mission field, to see that unreached people groups around the world have an opportunity to hear the Good News," Fox adds. "That is why Lottie Moon and is such a priority to us."
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., also ranked among the top five giving churches to Lottie Moon last year, contributing $600,030 and $513,679, respectively. Both have held their top-five ranking for the past four years, giving a combined total of more than $4 million to the offering during that time.
"People talk about a purpose-driven church; we're a mission-driven church," says Prestonwood's executive pastor, Mike Buster. "The mission of Prestonwood flows right out of the Great Commission, and Dr. Graham has a heart for the fulfillment of the Great Commission."
In addition to supporting missionaries sent through the International Mission Board, Buster points out that Prestonwood sent more than 700 of its own people on short-term mission trips last year. The church's missions endeavors have started dozens of churches from the Amazon to Africa, he says, adding that "going" and "giving" go hand in hand.
Steve Hardy, associate missions pastor at Calvary Baptist, agrees.
"For over 40 years, we've been sending short-term teams to the field," Hardy says. "As our folks go to the field, they see the effects that Lottie Moon giving has in the ability of our missionaries to do what they're called to do. When our people give, they know why they're giving. They see the direct results of it."
MISSIONS NOT AN OPTION
While it remains uncertain whether Fairview Baptist can repeat its 2010 Lottie Moon giving coup for the 2011 offering, Endris is determined to keep his congregation focused on missions.
"Our goal is to be involved in each area of Acts 1:8 at the same time," the pastor says. "We're always looking for projects to invest in."
Endris thinks smaller churches sometimes use their size to justify a lack of missions involvement, but he says Fairview's example proves the excuse just isn't valid. In fact, Endris was interviewed for this story the day before he left to lead a nine-person volunteer team on a mission trip to Brazil where they'll be partnering with IMB missionaries.
"It's not just one big mega-church taking everybody -- this is a lot of small churches who are going together, pooling their effort and their money," Endris says of the trip. "The bottom line is that there's always a way to find yourself involved in international missions, even if you never leave the doors of your church.
"Without Lottie Moon, we wouldn't be able to do near the work we're doing. Of course, we need to do a lot more."
Don Graham is a senior writer at the International Mission Board.
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