By Jim Bird
What’s faith promise?
I had never heard of faith promise and now I was expected to lead it!
I became the lead minister at Fort Caroline Christian Church in Jacksonville, Florida, in summer 2009. Soon I asked how we fund our missions giving and was told we do it through faith promise giving.
It is an approach I didn’t know, but I soon decided I would preach two sermons on missions and stewardship, and then, on Faith Promise Sunday, our folks would make God-directed commitments to support our missions. With that in mind, I determined to learn what faith promise was all about!
Fort Caroline Christian Church was planted in 1968 by Englewood Christian Church in Jacksonville. Fred Smith Jr. was Englewood’s preacher and one of the early proponents of faith promise giving to support missions. Smith ministered nearly 40 years at Englewood and, because of his influence, a faith promise giving program for missions support became the norm in North Florida.
Understanding the Concept
I sought advice from Ken Gemeinhart, Smith’s successor at Englewood. Geimenhart has served the Englewood congregation for 20 years and was especially helpful explaining the history, purpose, and process of faith promise giving.
He told me faith promise is an agreement between the individual and God to give a specific amount of money to the cause of local and world missions through the local church. A faith promise is over and above regular tithes and offerings. It is not a pledge, but a promise based on faith. If God provides, you give; if God doesn’t provide, you don’t. The bottom line is that faith promise is a financial commitment that an individual believes God will enable him or her to fulfill.
Tackling the Task
I thanked Geimenhart for his sage advice, and soon realized the formidable task that lay before me. Our missions committee had established a goal of $70,000 (over and above tithes and offerings) to be promised for giving to missions. It seemed pretty significant for a church that was averaging about 250 in weekly worship, but I really didn’t feel any pressure because these promises were strictly between the individual and God.
In late February 2010, I preached on the importance of missions and stewardship, and then the first Sunday in March, the big day, arrived. After another sermon on giving, commitment cards were collected and tabulated. Moments before the total was announced, the chairman of the elders leaned over to me and whispered, “We just didn’t have enough faith.” The total commitment was $95,000; we surpassed our goal by $25,000. To God be the glory!
Over the course of 2010, faith promise commitments came in, and the people gave more than they had promised. We were learning you cannot outgive God.
As we began planning for the next year’s faith promise we felt we should give it even greater emphasis. We determined our relationship with our missions would go beyond financial support and become a partnership.
Individuals in the church were asked to learn as much as possible about a mission and then to share it with the congregation during monthly “missions moments.” We also included information about various missions in our church newsletter. We found it important to involve more and more of our congregation in missions. In addition, members agreed to pray leading up to our commitment Sunday, with many signing up to pray during the 24 hours prior to the big day.
In an effort to generate more excitement and awareness, we had an international dinner the Wednesday before commitment Sunday where our folks sampled delicious foods from around the world. We developed a faith promise booklet with information submitted by our faith promise partners. In the booklet we advised our church family what we had previously given to each mission and what we planned to give to each in the future.
Finally, we decided to invite a mission partner to speak on Faith Promise Sunday. We informed the speaker and our congregation that our missions committee had established a lofty goal. North Florida had suffered tremendously during the economic downturn of the previous year, and yet we were not going to underestimate God. The goal for 2011 was $100,000, and we surpassed it!
Recently we concluded our faith promise for 2012. We decided to keep the goal the same, and again God delivered.
I have become a big supporter of faith promise. It involves our members in reaching lost people around the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we know everyone benefits as we engage more and more church members in this faith-based missions support concept.
Jim Bird is lead minister at Fort Caroline Christian Church, Jacksonville, Florida