On Thursday, October 28, I sent this letter out to the congregation:
Dear members and friends of First Baptist:
For the past few weeks I’ve been telling you that the church in America is in trouble. It is. But I’ve also been telling you that I’m not worried—not worried about the church of Jesus Christ in the world, that is. If it dies out in one place it will spring up in another; if it falters in this country it will flourish in places like Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In fact, it is:
- 28,000 people a day are coming to Christ in China
- A dozen new churches are being started each week in Cuba
- Church growth in some parts of Africa is exploding
My question to you has been: “If the church is going to thrive somewhere, why not here?”
By any standard of measurement First Baptist is already a thriving church. But I am convinced now more than ever that our nation needs a church like this one, and for that reason I’m asking you to do everything in your power to keep it thriving. I want you to come, and pray, and give, and serve.
This Sunday, October 31, we will take up the offering at the end of the service, inviting those in attendance to come forward and lay their gifts on the altar. You may know that we are currently more than $200,000 behind in our budget giving, largely due to the economy. Suppose we took up an offering of $250,000 this Sunday, or $500,000, or even a million dollars. Think of how that would change our outlook. For that reason I’m asking you to give generously, sacrificially, this Sunday. I’d like for us to prove that this is one of the places in the world where the church of Jesus Christ is going to thrive.
With gratitude for your partnership in the gospel,
Jim Somerville, Senior Pastor
On Sunday, October 31, the members and friends of First Baptist came, and they brought their offerings with them. At the end of the service they streamed forward and laid their gifts on the altar. Sometime that afternoon I got a call from Billy Burford, church administrator, who told me they were still counting, but thought the offering would be over $200,000. By Tuesday morning the total had reached $221.867.76. By Tuesday afternoon it was $234,546.00. I’m writing this on Wednesday morning and wondering if we’re through counting. I have this funny feeling that if I walk to work one of our homeless neighbors might give me money for the offering.
I can’t tell you how proud if am of the church, or how encouraged by this outpouring of generosity. It has the marks of God’s blessing all over it, as if the windows of heaven had been opened, and his goodness came raining down. Maybe he knows how much Richmond needs a strong and healthy church. Maybe he’s just trying to help us get ready for the next big thing.