By Al Quartemont, Special to the Message
ALEXANDRIA – To hear John Hebert tell it, the numbers mean everything.
The State Missions and Ministry Team Leader for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, Hebert knows what those numbers say – nearly three-fourths of the state’s population is within 20 miles of Interstate 10 or south of it.
Only one-fourth of the LBC’s churches fall in that same area. Stating it simply, three out of four Louisiana people are being served by only one out of four LBC churches in the state.
And in the areas where population is growing faster than church membership, specifically New Orleans and the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, the need for reaching the “unchurched” population is growing more critical every day.
“I like to call them ‘not-yet- Christians,’” Hebert said of those numbers. “For the most part, our churches are deeply committed to missions, but this is something, that within the last 10 years, is getting a higher emphasis than we have ever given it before. We are making progress, but we need to enlist new churches to get involved.”
Fortunately, the LBC has the perfect vehicle for that involvement – The Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering. Named for the first executive director of the Woman’s Missionary Union, the offering’s annual Week of Prayer is set for September 11-18. The theme for this year is “Seeds Sown in Tears, Songs Sung in Joy” inspired by Psalm 126:5-6.
This year’s offering goal is $1.8 million, a number that seems large on paper, but when broken down by individual church (nearly 1,600 in Louisiana) and individual members (more than 545,000), the goal becomes completely realistic.
“It’s a way most people can be involved,” said Janie Wise, Women’s Mission and Ministry Strategist. “We could reach our goal if every Louisiana Baptist gave the cost of a Happy Meal.”
For starters, that kind of giving would help the Georgia Barnette Offering to easily reach its goal for 2011 and set the tone for next year’s goal of $2 million, which will come in the year that the LBC celebrates its 200th Anniversary.
Thus, the two-fold theme. “Seeds Sown in Tears” represents perhaps the greatest challenge for meeting the offering goal – awareness. Hebert said the “lostness” found in South Louisiana is something of which church members across the rest of the state are often not aware, as well as their ability to help change that through the State Missions Offering.
“The biggest challenge is connecting with our existing churches to impress upon them the need to do it,” Hebert said. “Only 900 of our 1,500 churches gave to the offering last year.
“We all must learn to connect the dots because the resources for mission work in Louisiana come from the churches.”
Hebert said immediate plans for this year’s offering will include the implementation of an aggressive plan for church planting. This comes on the heels of a North Shore Baptist Association survey (spring, 2011) that found less than four percent of the population attends a Southern Baptist Church on any given Sunday.
While the “average” church member in other parts of the state may not feel he/she has the ability or time to commit to church planting, the State Missions Offering actually opens the door for anyone and everyone to do just that.
“We are creating an environment where any person in this state can be involved in church planting in some way,” Hebert said.
“Whether they are on the field helping the church planter or helping in some other way, we want to include giving to the Georgia Barnette Offering in their involvement. In fact, we need people giving and praying as much as we need the other,” Hebert said.
If there is a strong increase in those who give to the State Missions Offering this year, Hebert and Wise said the second part of this year’s theme, “Songs Sung in Joy,” will be the ensuing result leading up to next year’s goal.
“All the cooperative efforts in which we work together become the basis of not just giving on a regular schedule, but it sets the foundation for what we do through the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering,” Wise said. “Together, we can do more to reach our state for Christ than what just one church can do. We are all part of it.”
By Al Quartemont, Special to the Message