ABILENE, Texas—First Baptist Church in Abilene has a long history of involvement in missions—starting churches, supporting missionaries and meeting community needs. That commitment moved to an even higher level last year when the church held a capital campaign to raise money for missions and set a $5 million goal.
“Our church has a history of seeing problems, dreaming of answers and going for solutions that no one else has done. And we also have a great heritage of involvement in missions,” said Bob Ellis, one of the campaign directors.
The Faces & Places capital campaign for missions focused on three components—20 percent to renovate the 30-year-old family life center the church uses for community ministries; 20 percent to fund near-term mission projects such as a Friendship House operated in connection with Connecting Caring Communities, meeting disaster relief needs and support of missionaries sent out from the church; and 60 percent for an endowment to continue those ministries “and things we don’t even know about yet,” Ellis explained.
The portion set aside for near-term missions project also was intended to encourage church members’ involvement in mission efforts.
“We want to make it possible for every youth in our church to have an international mission experience,” Ellis said. The fund was not intended to pay 100 percent for any individual but to make the cost reasonable for everyone.
“One of our questions was, ‘In this economic time, is it crazy to do this?’” Ellis admitted. “But we felt as a church, this is what God is calling us to do, and this is the right time.”
Pastor Phil Christopher acknowledges he also was concerned about how the campaign would affect regular budget giving. Some church members asked him if the time was right.
“But what it came down to was, ‘If not now, when?’” he said.
He believes the campaign has aided giving to the regular operations budget.
“I think it has strengthened us in people’s understanding of stewardship, and it gave us an opportunity to present that—especially to some of our younger adults,” he said.
Currently, giving is running about 96 percent of budgeted receipts.
“It hasn’t shown up with our giving running 110 percent of what was budgeted, but I wonder where we would be if we hadn’t had this campaign,” Christopher said. “I think it really has given people a sense of how God empowers us at that point. This was a stepping out on faith.”
He emphasized that giving to the campaign was above and beyond giving to the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance, which last year totaled about $150,000 from the budget. In addition, the church’s global mission offering last year totaled an additional $60,000, and this year’s goal is $100,000.
At the end of the two-month Faces & Places campaign in spring 2010, members had pledged or given $3.67 million.
“So, we didn’t reach our goal, but that’s a really good start,” Ellis said.
In addition to that amount, a foundation in the city gave $600,000 toward the family life center renovations. Plans still are being made for the gym renovations.
A couple has been hired for the Friendship House and is working in the community, although a house for them to live in has not yet been secured.
The campaign will provide the majority of financial support for three couples appointed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Jimmy and Anjani Cole began serving in Spain last year. Caroline and Josh Smith will go to South Africa in the fall, and Jeff and Alicia Lee will begin serving in Macedonia next year.
The church engages in four to six mission projects in a typical year. So far, most participants are paying their own way, but the church has been able to provide the materials needed through the Faces & Places funds. Pictures of participants engaged in missions are displayed throughout the church.
“We want to keep our mission endeavors as a church—and the Faces & Places campaign—in front of our people as reminders so they will be able to give their money and fulfill their pledges with enthusiasm,” Ellis said.
“A lot of churches, especially a lot of very old, established, downtown churches, sometimes fall into the trap of looking inward, and what has happened for our church is that we started looking outward and at ways we can give ourselves away.”
The campaign’s three components helped different segments of the congregation find areas they were passionate about supporting, Ellis said.
“Some people like the bricks and mortar part of remodeling the family life center—it’s been there 30 years, and they’ve ministered there and they catch that vision,” he said. “Others just really got on fire about sending out missionaries. Others were thrilled about the notion of an endowment so that you don’t have to come to the congregation every other month saying we need money to keep this missionary on the field, but instead, you’ve got the money to keep it going.
“It was quite a different kind of campaign. ... Faces & Places meant that it was a campaign in which we dreamed about the places we might go and the faces of the people with whom we might share the gospel of Jesus. You can’t hold an architect’s drawing of that, but we were able to paint that picture of those faces and imagine the things we might do.”