Members of Lake Junaluska First Baptist Church (FBC) are catching a vision for becoming a sending church.

This hasn’t always been the case. As Pastor Nick Smith explained, the church only recently began to explore the possibilities of sending members to be on mission.

“This church, in its history, has never sent out an actual team on a foreign mission trip and, as far as I know, in its history has only done one other mission trip,” Smith said.

When Smith became pastor of Lake Junaluska FBC in 2017, he knew he wanted that to change. A former church planter with N.C. Baptists, Smith saw the need to emphasize missions to his congregation — and so, over time, the church looked for opportunities to get involved in a type of “Acts 1:8” ministry. 

“[In 2022] we got to that point where we did a lot of roundtable discussions, [saying,] ‘Hey, it’s time. We’ve got to start going, sending teams out,’” Smith said.

We’ve got to start going.”

As a result of this posture, leaders decided to present to their congregation the opportunity to join “Coats for the City,” an annual initiative where N.C. Baptist churches donate winter apparel and send teams to New York City to distribute the clothing — and, ultimately, the gospel.

Collectively, Lake Junaluska FBC donated over 70 coats and raised nearly $7,000 for a team of 16 to travel to New York.

“I had a couple that had never even flown before,” Smith said. “Several of those folks had never been on a mission trip.”

It’s time. We’ve got to start going, sending teams out.

Nick Smith

On Dec. 2-3, 2022, Lake Junaluska FBC joined 21 other churches from North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama to distribute nearly 5,100 coats and 2,100 sets of gloves, scarves and hats across various neighborhoods in New York. As with other church teams that traveled, Lake Junaluska FBC partnered with a local church, Queens Church in Astoria, and worked together at a distribution site in their borough. 

Despite harsh weather conditions, people from an array of backgrounds and ethnicities lined up to receive coats and other winter clothing, giving volunteers the opportunity to pray and share the gospel with recipients.

A “life-breathing” experience

Smith called “Coats for the City” a “life-breathing” experience for the church.

According to Smith, “Coats for the City” gave the entire church — not just those who traveled — a vision for cross-cultural ministry. In recent months, church members have prayed for unreached people groups weekly, now having a picture in their minds of what it means to minister across ethnic and cultural boundaries.

“You do meet so many people [from different backgrounds]. In our context, we’re here in the mountains of North Carolina. We’re not exposed to a whole lot of different ethnicities all the time,” Smith said.  “Just to go, get on a plane and go, [where] the coats are already there, your partnerships are already there, just to get on the streets and start talking with people … I think it’s one of the better things I’ve been a part of. It made it simple to get the people in my church onto the mission field.”

In addition to praying, Lake Junaluska FBC has now set its eyes on becoming a sending church, one that partners with churches across the street and around the world for the sake of the mission.

“We’re already looking now at local, national, even international partnerships,” Smith said. “We’re probably going to try going on an international trip next year. The ball is rolling, and a lot of that is because of ‘Coats for the City.’”

But the end game? I want us to be involved in church planting. Whether that’s nationally or internationally, I’m wanting our church to be able to say, ‘Hey, we helped plant a new church in an area that needed it.’

NICK SMITH

Lake Junaluska FBC has begun to find partnerships already. After “Coats for the City,” Smith discussed with Larry Mayberry, pastor of Queens Church, the possibility of joining together for future ministry, including through prayer support and mission trips. The two churches are now looking for opportunities to partner together to reach Astoria.

But for Smith, the church is now finding a vision that encompasses more than simply sending mission teams.

“Definitely the goal has been … on a regular basis to have teams going onto the mission field. Primarily, too, I’m wanting to send a team out internationally,” Smith said. “But the end game? I want us to be involved in church planting. Whether that’s nationally or internationally, I’m wanting our church to be able to say, ‘Hey, we helped plant a new church in an area that needed it.’”

A partnership opportunity

Janet Packard, executive assistant for the N.C. Baptist Mission Catalyst group, mentioned she has noticed a common benefit for those who participate in “Coats for the City.”

“More than anything, [Coats for the City] is a good partnership project for churches looking to get involved internationally for the first time,” Packard said. “Most of the people that you meet [during Coats for the City] are internationals … For someone wanting to get a taste of what it’s like to do international outreach without leaving the country, it’s a good way to start.”

Smith had a similar observation, saying, “It’s easy, it’s a great entrance into the mission field. But at the same time,  I don’t think you should overlook it, either. When I say it’s easy, I don’t mean it’s shallow. It’s easy [because] it’s approachable.”

This year, N.C. Baptists have set a goal of collecting 10,000 coats and seeing 40 churches send teams to participate in “Coats for the City.” Lake Junaluska FBC will be among those churches, sending a new group of volunteers to continue this vision of being on mission.

“I can’t recommend it enough,” Smith said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about “Coats for the City,” visit ncbaptist.org/coats.