The church is the most powerful gift God has given the world. Given that, the most powerful gift you can make to the church is a gift that funds our general budget. If everyone who has given in the last year increases their giving by just 10% - if the person who gave $10 chooses to give $11, and the person who gives $10,000 chooses to give $11,000, and so on - we can fund a year's worth of life-changing and church-changing ministry. Before you return your covenant renewal form in worship on May 3, I hope you will pray and discern how God can use your generosity to empower the ministry of the whole church.
Last week, Kristi Harms was talking to the director of Children in Crisis, a residential style foster care neighborhood in Okaloosa County that gives a loving home to up to 58 kids at a time. Kristi was calling to see if our youth could serve at CIC during our Youth Mission Camp in June. The director listed a few routine tasks our youth could do. "Could we throw the children a party? Could we bring a bounce house and play games with the kids?" asked Kristi. "Oh. Wow. Absolutely. No one does anything like that for these kids," was the reply. No one else does it, so we will.
About once every two weeks, I get an email from Pastor Kris, a United Methodist minister in Ilawa, Poland. He tells me of the prayers that his church offers for us. He tells me about his ongoing battle with a severe shoulder injury, and his daughter's recovery from a devastating car accident. He tells me of the joys and the glory sightings that break through as he offers the gospel in a land that still has not recovered from the spiritual oppression of decades under communism. We support his church indirectly through the United Methodist mission agency, but we also send a little extra directly to Pastor Kris' church every month to help them bring light in the darkness.
Last November, a man walked into my office on an uneventful Thursday afternoon. "I haven't been to church in 50 years or more," he said. "Would it be ok if I came to worship on Sunday?" Of course I said yes. He was there that Sunday, and has been for almost every single Sunday since. When I began teaching a lunchtime study group, there he was. Two weeks ago, he started attending a Sunday School for the first time, and last week he told me with a big grin that he was headed back to class again. On Sunday, at Coffee With the Pastor he gave witness of how this church has been an anchor for him since losing his mother last fall. All of that in just 6 months. Who knows what the another 12 months will hold?
Go check our church's calendar - pick any month of the next 12. You will see that on every single day, somebody will be on our church's campus. Every single day, someone will open a door and flip a light switch to welcome people to Mother's Morning Out or our Soup Kitchen, to our Yarn Ministry or our Bible studies. We are a home to Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Girl Scouts. We offer the highest ranked pre-school in the area, and every student in that pre-school worships God in our chapel once a week. I will put the variety and talents of our musical groups against any church in town: whether its our chancel choir, contemporary band, our handbells, or our vocal and instrumental soloists. As I write this, we have new volunteer leaders to start musical groups for our children and youth as well. Every day, someone is doing something amazing at First UMC.
Speaking of amazing... Let me tell you the amazing thing that is going to happen at Christmas this year. On Christmas Eve, there will be a family looking to rediscover that "O Holy Night" when Christ was born. This family won't have a church they call their own, but when they receive a direct-mail invitation that includes a picture of our sanctuary from last Christmas Eve - pews filled with folks standing shoulder to shoulder in candlelight - and they will say "that's what we've been looking for." And when they come and share in that beautiful Christmas Eve service with us, they'll discover the body of Christ is alive and dwelling with us, and they were made to dwell with us as well. All they need is to know they are welcome.
These stories give only the smallest hint of where the ministries of our church are headed. For the last two months, our Finance Committee has been worked with the leaders in all our ministries to plan for our new budget year that begins in June. We have gathered dreams and plans for missions, and youth, and children, worship, and more. We have counted the costs of offering these ministries, and the costs of getting the word out by every means possible. We have planned in great detail to save every dollar that we can, but also to use every dollar that can change lives and announce that Jesus is Lord.
The upshot of all this is that right now, we expect to have a budget that saves more than 7% compared with our current budget. (Our final budget will be presented for a vote of the church council on May 13). Despite these savings, in order to cover the real cost of our core ministries, we need our general offerings to grow* by 8%, starting in June.
Whenever someone joins the church, I say our goal is to be a church where every member gives at least 10% of their income as an offering to God. That's where we are headed, one day. The good news is we can do amazing things even before we arrive at that day. If everyone who has given in the last year increases giving by just 10% - if the person who gave $10 chooses to give $11, and the person who gives $10,000 chooses to give $11,000 - the daily, life-changing ministries of our church will have all the resources they need to thrive and flourish, and we will have the resources we need to publicize everything God is up to at FUMC. But without these resources, key ministries of the church get put on hold. Rather than acting when the time is right, we wait until the money shows up - and all our preparation and plans are for naught.
At the end of this week, we will send out itemized giving statements as we do every quarter. With this mailing, we will also include a covenant renewal form that invites each of us to consider how we will honor our covenant to offer God our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Before you return this form in worship on May 3, I hope you will pray and discern how God can use your generosity to empower the ministry of the whole church. I am convinced that the church is the most powerful gift God has given the world. Given that, the most powerful gift you can make to the church is a gift that funds our general budget - such a gift contributes to all the ministries of this church that unites us across all ages, nations, races, and experiences.
Our church has no lack of dreams and plans. But dreams don't change lives until they become actions. Your gifts take our dreams off the paper and into the world that needs to see and hear the gospel. That's where we're headed.