Church increases gifts through Cooperative Program, retires debtby C. Walter Overman
When Brent Thomas became pastor of East Flat Rock Baptist Church in June he inherited a situation every pastor desires – a debt-free congregation.
“We burned the [mortgage] note my third or fourth Sunday as pastor. It’s an awesome situation that I walked into,” he said.
Thomas credits the previous pastor and the congregation’s generosity for their debt-free status, which will allow the church to expand ministry efforts in the community and abroad.
“There’s a freedom of being able to do exactly what God has called you to do without the worry of this debt hanging over your head,” he said. “It frees up a lot of possibilities with what you can do in regards to ministry.”
Three years ago East Flat Rock, just a few miles south of Hendersonville, was burdened with nearly $400,000 in debt. But the church committed to retire the debt by setting aside $46,000 a year in the annual budget toward debt repayment, and through a fundraising campaign.
In addition, the church made a commitment to give 10 percent of the funds collected through the fundraising campaign to missions – eight percent to the Cooperative Program and two percent to the local association.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this before,” Thomas said. “We give percentages from the annual budget to the Convention and local association, but in addition to that, the congregation tithed on the money they raised through the building program.”
In three years the church raised more than $240,000 through the fundraising campaign and paid the remainder of the debt through its annual budget. In the process, East Flat Rock also tripled its annual gifts to the Cooperative Program.
Thomas believes the ability to retire debt and simultaneously increase financial support for missions illustrates God’s faithfulness.
“God honors those who give back. He blesses us individually and I believe He blesses us as a congregation,” he said.
Cooperation for the Kingdom
Thomas said the church’s gifts to state and local missions reflect their desire to glorify God through stewardship and through cooperation with other believers to advance God’s Kingdom.
“Our folks are incredibly loving and generous, but their greatest qualities are their passion for Jesus and their willingness to do their part in furthering the gospel,” he said.
Churches often encourage individuals to tithe, but Thomas said churches can do better when it comes to planned giving and good stewardship.
“We talk about tithing individually, but we as a church need to give back through our budgets,” Thomas said. “The Cooperative Program is a great way we can do that and connect with other churches to further the gospel.”
In 2011, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President and CEO Frank Page urged all Southern Baptist churches to accept the 1% Challenge, an initiative that encourages churches to increase their giving to the Cooperative Program by 1 percentage point of their budgets. On the state level, an additional $6 million would be raised annually if every North Carolina Baptist church increased their Cooperative Program giving by 1 percent.
Thomas believes every church can participate in the 1% Challenge, regardless of size or financial need. In some cases, churches may need to shift funds from inward focused ministries to help support missions abroad.
“I think the problem with many churches is an inward mentality that says ‘we are the Church; this is who we exist for.’ But the Cooperative Program helps us understand that it takes all of us working together.”
Thomas encourages church leaders to inform their congregations about the Cooperative Program and prayerfully consider how they can increase their annual support.
“The Cooperative Program enhances ministry and furthers God’s Kingdom,” he said. “That’s the key – furthering His Kingdom and not our own.”
To learn more about the Cooperative Program visit www.ncbaptist.org/cp