By Ann Lovell
Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, received its largest one-day offering for Great Commission causes in the church’s history in a special collection Nov. 3. The offering, which totaled $5,104,848.09, honors outgoing pastor Bryant Wright and his wife, Anne, for 38 years of service and is totally devoted to fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission.
“I am speechless,” said Clay Smith, Johnson Ferry’s incoming senior pastor. “I’m a younger pastor, and we are new to the church. We have never participated in anything quite like this.”
The church voted Aug. 4 to call Smith to succeed Wright, who is the founding pastor of the nearly 40-year-old church in an Atlanta suburb. Smith preached his first sermon as incoming senior pastor Sept. 1.
“This is giving with very little strings attached,” Smith said. “It isn’t tied to a building campaign or a specific capital project. It is giving as an act of worship to reach people around the world with the gospel.”
Members of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church come forward to give their offering for local, national and international missions at the end of the service Nov. 3. The church gave more than $5.1 million exclusively to Great Commission causes. (Photo provided by Johnson Ferry Baptist Church)
Putting the Great Commission first
The receipts will be divided among the International Mission Board (IMB), the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the church’s ministry budget, Smith said. Not only will the offering be used to further the Great Commission around the world, Smith and Wright also hope it will motivate churches to set similar record-setting goals for their mission offerings this year.
J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, thanked Johnson Ferry for their leadership and the example they have set for fellow Southern Baptists.
“D.L. Moody famously said that the world had yet to see what God could do through one man fully surrendered to him,” Greear said. “I believe the world has yet to see what God can do through one congregation fully submitted to Him, too. While the amount of money the people of Johnson Ferry gave is inspiring, what it represents about the surrender of their hearts to the Great Commission is even more so. I am grateful for their leadership and pray that many more of us will follow in their footsteps of putting the mission of Jesus first in our hearts.”
Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director of the national Woman’s Missionary Union, stressed the unity that results from a clear vision for the nations and how unity within a faith community inspires generosity.
“What unites us as Southern Baptists is our passion to take the gospel to the nations,” Wisdom-Martin said. “When you challenge your congregation with God’s proclamation mandate and make them aware of God’s work in the world, people will respond. And more will hear the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Accepted with gratitude
With the tagline, “Make History. Reach the World,” the church set a goal of $3 million — the largest one-day offering in Johnson Ferry history. Actual receipts of $5,104,848.09 exceeded the $3 million goal by more than 70 percent.
Johnson Ferry’s church leadership decided to give two-thirds of the offering to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® for international missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® for missions in North America. Of that two-thirds, 80 percent — more than $2.72 million — will go to Lottie Moon, and 20 percent — more than $680,000 — will go to Annie Armstrong. The remaining one-third — nearly $1.7 million — will be given to local and community mission efforts through the church’s ministry budget.
IMB President Paul Chitwood and NAMB President Kevin Ezell, whose organizations receive the majority of the funds, expressed gratitude for the gifts.
“We praise the Lord for the incredible gift the members of Johnson Ferry have given to support missions around the world,” Chitwood said. “The gift signifies a commitment by this church to do its part in getting the gospel to those who have never heard it, to help achieve the vision the Lord has laid out in Revelation 7:9. We pledge to faithfully steward this gift — and every gift given by Southern Baptists — toward this worthy goal.”
Since 1845, the IMB has partnered with churches to send missionaries to live and work among those around the world with little to no access to the gospel. As of Oct. 31, 2019, IMB has 3,678 Southern Baptist missionaries serving around the world, supported by the Cooperative Program and 100 percent of gifts given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
“This offering is the largest gift to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering we have ever received from an individual church,” Chitwood said. “Thank you, members of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, for setting an example of how we all can stretch ourselves to give obediently.”
The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provides half of NAMB’s annual budget. All Annie Armstrong Offering funds go directly to the mission field. These gifts are used to pay missionary salaries, fund new church plants, and purchase equipment, material and other resources used on the field. The Annie Armstrong Offering also helps pay for orientation, training, coaching and care for missionaries and their families.
Ezell said the gift is the largest single offering to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering as well. “I’m incredibly grateful for Bryant Wright and Clay Smith and the priority they have given to the mission field,” Ezell said. “It reflects where their hearts are focused. For all of our churches who so faithfully give, I hope this will encourage and challenge them to continue to focus resources on changing lives with the power of the gospel.”
Make history, reach the world
Typically, when a tenured pastor retires from Johnson Ferry, the church takes a love offering for the pastor and his family. Wright announced his retirement in Nov. 2018. In June 2019, he and his wife suggested to church elders that they forego receiving a love offering on their behalf and instead promote an offering for Great Commission causes. The elders readily agreed, and momentum and excitement began to build.
“It was like God was saying, ‘Yes. This is good,” Wright said.
The offering was scheduled at the end of the service, and the pastors called the church to come forward to give their offerings.
“They came in droves,” Smith said. “Deacons were carrying out bags of offerings.”
“It was an amazing Sunday,” Wright said. “We are overwhelmed with thanksgiving and what this can mean in carrying out Christ’s Great Commission.”
Appreciate the past, accelerate the future
Wright, who will hold the title “outgoing senior pastor” through Dec. 15, is working through a transition period with Smith. Together the two men began a six-week series in mid-September titled, “ONWARD: Moving Forward with the Great Commission.”
Johnson Ferry has always taken its commitment to the Great Commission seriously, Wright said. The church sends about 2,000 people per year on 70 to 80 mission trips around the world. To encourage participation in these short-term trips, the church covers half the cost for each participant, but members may only participate in a short-term mission trip if they have been trained in evangelism during that year.
“This has been life-changing for our church,” Wright said.
With missions positioned at the forefront of the church’s vision, participating in the Great Commission offering was an easy ask.
“The six-week series Clay and I did together helped prepare the way,” Wright said. “We’ve had other large one-day offerings for various capital campaigns, but this is the first time we’ve set aside a day to give exclusively to the Great Commission. The congregation embraced it.”
“The offering is a wonderful act of transition,” Smith said. “It highlights the truth that this church is bigger than Bryant Wright and bigger than Clay Smith. It is about the Great Commission.”
Wright and Smith hope the offering will serve as a catalyst for other churches within the Southern Baptist Convention to set large goals for their missions offerings. Every church, regardless of its size, can set a goal to achieve a record offering for missions, Wright said.
“Through this offering, we want to see people reached for Christ like never before,” Wright said. “Our prayer is that churches of all sizes will say, ‘If Johnson Ferry can do this, why can’t we give the largest offering ever in our church’s history to Lottie and Annie?’”
Smith agreed, “Together as Southern Baptists, let’s make this the largest year ever for mission offerings.”
Ann Lovell is editorial design manager for IMB.
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® are registered trademarks of Woman’s Missionary Union.
Published November 11, 2019