For two N.C. Baptist churches, a commitment to stewardship and an emphasis on missions have made the “Acts 2 church” a reality in their communities.
Members paid for a family’s hospital bill after a mother gave birth and faced complications from delivery. They covered costs for someone’s prescription medicine and another’s car repairs.
“Nobody’s worried about who’s needing what,” said Virgil Dwyer, pastor of Ives Memorial Baptist Church in Pinebluff.
When Kevin Drake’s parents and brother were sick, and later when his father died, Drake considered the possible need to resign as pastor of Hephzibah Baptist Church in Princeton or lose part of his income. But deacons encouraged him to take as much time as he needed to care for his family.
“You take care of mom and dad,” they said. “We’ll take care of the church.”
Hephzibah Baptist, which will celebrate 110 years of ministry this year, has seen a 14% increase in missions giving over the last year. The church surpassed their goals for both the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. From 2018 to 2019, they saw a 56% increase in giving and 47% increase in volunteers.
Drake, who is also a professor of biblical languages and theology at Carolina Baptist Institute and Seminary, said, “I have always believed you cannot out-give God.”
When he became senior pastor in January 2015, the church had not increased missions giving in several years.
“After the first year, I encouraged them to increase this and see what God would do. We did, and God has certainly blessed [us],” he said.
Hephzibah focuses on a different mission emphasis every month, including their local crisis pregnancy center; the Kennedy Home, which is part of the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina; the North Carolina State Veterans Home in Kinston; and local men’s and women’s shelters.
On Sundays they share personal videos from missionaries with whom they’re connected. Drake has found that people are more likely to respond to stories they know.
“What motivates our members is their love for Jesus.”
When Dwyer became pastor at Ives Memorial in 2015, the church, which had a long history of being the only Baptist church in Pinebluff, was in decline and facing financial challenges. He encouraged them to look ahead.
“God started bringing new families and growth,” Dwyer said.
They saw a “renewed emphasis for discipleship” and baptisms happening more consistently, after years with an empty baptistry. Soon members started giving more, too. Every year for the last seven years, Ives Memorial saw a 12-17% increase in giving. They reallocated funds toward discipleship and instruction and set a goal to designate 20% of the annual budget to missions.
The church decided to remove benevolence from the budget and instead began taking up a benevolence offering in December, which deacons administered throughout the year to meet needs. Every month, members gave more and more.
“We haven’t budgeted benevolence in probably over five years, and we’ve never run out of financial means to do benevolence work,” Dwyer said.
Seeing the impact
Ives Memorial has 86 members and a recent average weekly attendance of about 96-101 people. Dwyer describes the congregation as made up of young and elderly families, many of whom work blue-collar jobs in a rural area.
“We see a spirit of generosity in our people because they believe in what they’re seeing as fruits of the ministry.”
In 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic caused food banks and meal delivery services to temporarily close, the church decided to amplify their Wednesday night food ministry. They already had volunteers in place and a commercial kitchen to use. They realized they could “become an outlet for feeding the community during COVID when no one else is providing meals.”
They had $9,000 in benevolence to start with. Dwyer encouraged the deacons saying, “When we run out of money, God will provide.”
Every day for 14 weeks, volunteers cooked and distributed meals through a drive-up service at the church. After serving more than 7,000 meals, they still had $8,300 in the benevolence fund.
“Our people saw God’s hand at work, feeding, and provision coming in,” Dwyer said. “People were giving generously.”
Two years later, the benevolence fund at Ives Memorial continues to be one of the healthiest missions giving funds, and they have started looking for new opportunities to meet needs in the community.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade, the church strengthened their support of Life Care Pregnancy Center in Moore County, with which they already had a partnership. In addition to recent donations of supplies, they give to the center every year as part of their missions giving, in an effort to minister to mothers, the preborn and newborn children.
Pastors and church leaders can help foster generosity by examining their stewardship of time, finances, facilities and other resources, Dwyer said.
He has seen churches frequently cut discipleship and missions funding amid financial struggles. When that happens, “they’re cutting off their lifeline. We stop doing the very thing Jesus gave us in the Great Commission.”
He encourages leaders to model a desire to be “good stewards of every aspect of corporate worship.”
Drake also encourages pastors to live out their heart for missions.
“I can’t stand in the pulpit and say, ‘We have this mission trip, and you all need to sign up, and you all need to go, and I’m going to stay home.’
“When the pastor begins to demonstrate the necessity to support missions not only in word but also in deed, the church will then begin to see the need to support missions.”