By Francis Nash
While studying history and broadcasting, which became my eventual full-time profession, I found myself behind the pulpit in 1968 at Sugar Grove Christian Church in rural Bath County, Kentucky, six miles from any town. My interest in mission work was ingrained by my childhood love for geography and the mission displays I had visited every year while attending the North American Christian Convention with my family.
As a congregation of mostly middle-income families numbering around 85, Sugar Grove—which I continue to serve—had not been exposed much to mission work. I detected a reluctance to commit to other groups, and especially to pledges that circumstances might prevent them from fulfilling, as most were farmers whose yearly income was often unknown.
More than 44 years ago we started a “Dime a Day” for missions, and set up a separate committee to handle the funds and choose the groups to support. At that time, a bottle of the favorite soft drink in that area was 10 cents. My challenge to them was, “Can you give up just one refreshment a day to help a missionary?” I figured we could start with at least $200 a month. We began marking October as mission emphasis month, when we would propose a mission budget for the next year and describe each missionary project we would support. After that, we received a mission offering on the last Sunday of every month.
While we no longer call for dimes, this basic process continues to this day, with monthly offerings, and October goals approved by church vote and administered by a committee. Each year we select a mission theme based on a Scripture.
How Giving Increased
We gave less than $3,000 to missions that first year, but giving began to increase every year, and even the most skeptical began to respond. We ultimately decided to include the annual Christmas offering as the December mission donation. The Christmas mission offering now averages $16,000, while the monthly mission offerings now total more than $20,000 yearly.
The method bears resemblance to faith promise. We set goals, announce budgets, keep the offerings separate, and pray to exceed our goals so we may have extra for special gifts.
The key to continued growth was bringing in as many mission guests as possible and allowing them the entire day—Sunday school, worship, and youth groups—to tell and show their story. We always set aside special offerings for guests. We keep two bulletin boards full of material, regular mission moments from the pulpit, and preach and teach fervently on world evangelism and benevolence.
Mexico and Beyond
A big change came in the late 1980s when my daughters began taking mission trips to Mexico, and the church eventually followed. Starting in 1992, we began taking yearly trips. This was a huge step for many folk who had never left the state, let alone boarded a plane to a foreign country. Enthusiasm for missions soared with each trip, specifically support for the people of Mexico and construction projects there. People saved to take their “vacation work trip.” Ninety-five different members of the church have been to Mexico, and we have taken more than 150 from other congregations with us through the years.
The concentration on Mexico led our elders to agree to a plan by veteran Mexican missionary Clinton Looney to form Workers for Mexico Mission in 1996. Brother Looney had taken his family to Mexico in 1961 with only a few dollars in support, but determined to start churches. Fifty-one years later, he is still laboring there, and together with our new group, has expanded the work. My wife and I serve as volunteer executive director and treasurer, respectively, helping to promote Looney’s mission and solicit help from other churches and individuals, many who had been to Mexico.
Workers for Mexico Mission now has more than 120 contributing churches and individuals supporting 37 Mexican ministers monthly. Their giving underwrites the work of clinics, camps, training and evangelistic programs, a school for the deaf, feeding centers, and benevolent work in nine states of Mexico.
Helping to start Workers for Mexico Mission did not reduce help to other missions around the world, although WFMM obviously became a part of our budget. This move led individuals in the church to support WFMM and the several other missions Sugar Grove supports. Sugar Grove’s members annually contribute an average of $30,000 directly to WFMM coffers; the congregation’s annual giving to all missions generally approaches $70,000, and one year exceeded $100,000. In addition, many Sugar Grove members have adopted needy children with monthly gifts.
An Ongoing Commitment
As Sugar Grove’s attendance grew, often to more than 150 on a Sunday, and remodeling and building expansions took place, the church never borrowed money. In 2001, however, members voted to construct a separate community center building that required a mortgage. I worried that such obligations might cause mission giving to be reduced, as is often the case with churches.
I told the elders the congregation should seek to avoid that, and suggested the church show its commitment to foreign missions by taking up a special Easter offering. That offering exceeded $15,000, and the church went on to pay off its building in six years, without any change in missions giving.
The regular Sugar Grove budget recently underwent a revision when the elders decided to define only money going to cross-cultural or evangelistic programs as missions, and to place added emphasis on reaching unreached people groups.
This removed such programs as our own local Hispanic health outreach, children’s homes, social services, etc., from missions, thus allowing an increase in foreign work; at the same time, we established a separate benevolence committee to support local groups. The general fund takes care of these programs and also requests for assistance from needy families of the community.
Sugar Grove is hard to find on the map, but we keep the map of the world front and center in our lives. We believe in being centered in Christ, honoring him in worship and life, and focusing on all people of every nation for which he died.
Francis Nash serves as minister with Sugar Grove Christian Church in Owingsville, Kentucky, and as executive director of Workers for Mexico Mission. He is also a broadcaster and general manager of WGOH/WUGO Radio and TV 14. For more information, see www.sugargrovechristianchurch.org and www.workersformexico.org.