United Mission Matters

1st Edition, November 2023


Welcome to the first edition of the “United Mission Matters” newsletter. This publication will be released on a quarterly basis, aiming to share the valuable insights of our Regional Executive Ministers, local churches, national partners, and others on matters related to Discipleship. In these pages, you'll find a wealth of resources, inspiring stories, and insights into how churches throughout the United States are dedicated to instructing and engaging with their communities to align with Jesus’ mission in our neighborhoods.

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Covid 19 Effects on Our Churches

By Rev. Dr. Al Fletcher, Executive Minister, ABC of Maine

Recently, the Office of the General Secretary called for a study task force to look at the effects of Covid-19 on our churches. While I am no expert on Covid in American Baptist churches across the country, I am familiar with the effects of Covid on American Baptist Churches in Maine.

Here are several things that I’ve noticed which may create opportunities for our churches to reinvigorate their mission and ministries, especially in the area of discipleship and evangelism.

1. Covid forced churches to rethink the purpose of gathering on Sunday mornings. Pre-Covid gatherings in our churches were often a result of habit. Church attendance on Sunday mornings was something that happened. Most folks just “did” it. Post-Covid there was a noticeable drop-off in church attendance and even to today about two-thirds of the pre-Covid attendees are back in worship, but one-third is noticeably missing.

There are several reasons for this decline:

a. Many churches said good-bye to faithful church members. The circumstances of Covid left many congregations deeply grieving. Old friends died and there was no way to mourn their death. This disruption made attending church for some “too difficult”, “too painful.” There remains a lot of grief that affects local churches today.

b. Many folks got out of the habit. There was an “excuse” and once the habit was broken other venues filled the gap. The need filled by church attendance was replaced with something considered more valuable.

c. Many local churches went through leadership changes that affected the dynamics of the congregation. Willing folks stepped forward and filled spaces vacated by those who traditionally held them. As always, a change in leadership does have consequences.

d. Many folks questioned where God was during the crisis. Cultural expectations about God are current in congregations and while many folks would not outright state their concerns, disappointment remains prevalent for some.

2. Covid invited politics into the congregation. While politics is a reality with which we all live, the dynamics of Covid continue to exacerbate an already politically charged culture to further divide. Many churches felt that they had to decide which political voice to follow. Several churches grew during the pandemic by capitalizing on their choice of voice. Their rallying cry was, “We aren’t like those churches.”


3. Covid provided an opportunity for the church to move beyond program and back to a relationship-based ministry. Pastoral care and presence were cherished by congregations during Covid. The need to be together, even if that meant only by computer, was important and valued. When congregations could gather again, the dynamics of care and presence also impacted the preaching of the Word and the climate of worship.

4. Covid brought prayer back into our churches. Every congregation was impacted by Covid. While not all deaths or sickness were Covid-based, the climate made our congregation members assume the culprit was Covid and where fear dictates, prayer dominates, congregations during Covid, renewed their prayer life.

5. Covid brought people back to church who were searching for answers and longing for relationships. Evangelism became invitational again. Evangelism is inviting someone who is isolated into a caring community where that individual might come to experience the love and grace of God in Christ. The personal touch of neighbors and friends became heightened by a congregation that willingly embraced the stranger. Covid made it easier to penetrate the “holy huddle”.

6. Covid provided a renewed emphasis on relational discipleship. Content-based discipleship often dominated our churches pre-Covid. People wanting to grow in their faith and faith practice were often handed books and sent away hopefully blessed. Covid didn’t take the books away but provided a relationship context which helped guide those seeking to grow through personal investment among others. Folks felt free to be in the presence of others who were asking the same questions and seeking to find answers together.

7. While this list is by no means exhaustive, local churches that made crucial relationship with God, with congregation members, and with their community began to see a renewed emphasis on worship, fellowship, and personal devotion. Loneliness, isolation, and depression are a result of Covid’s ongoing effect which many folks deal with daily in our local communities. Churches that have renewed their relational “capital” have much to offer to hurting neighbors.

8. The importance of regional ministries that encouraged relationships, supported pastoral ministry of presence and care, and opportunities for people to share, gather, and wrestle with the dynamics of Covid were provided by mission support given through United Mission. United Mission is the American Baptist Churches way of supporting the whole family through times of plenty and times of crisis. Be sure that your local church supports the work of United Giving. For more information, your regional office can help you serve others through supporting United Mission.

We are United in Christ, Together in Mission!

We are American Baptists.

A Generosity Project Reflection: Generosity is Learned

By Rev. Stacy Emerson is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, CT and the Stewardship Consultant for ABCUSA.

I was recently introduced to the work of Professor Christian Smith from Notre Dame University who is studying the science of generosity. This is his working definition of generosity:

“Generosity is the virtue of giving things to others freely and abundantly. It is a learned character trait that involves attitude and action entailing both the inclination and actual practice of giving liberally. It is not a haphazard behavior but a basic orientation to life. What generosity gives can vary: money, possessions, time, attention, aid, encouragement, and more but always intends to enhance the true wellbeing of the receiver. Like all virtues, generosity is in people’s genuine enlightened self-interest to learn and practice.” ~Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame

What is striking about this statement is that generosity is not something inherently unique to certain individuals with the right genetics or disposition, but something available to everyone to learn. Generosity, like faith, is something that is nurtured and formed over time.

Think about what you were taught as a child about money or giving. What are the images and phrases that come to mind?

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Finding Our Sweet Spot as American Baptist Churches in a 6-Lane Highway

By Rev. Brian Johnson, Executive Minister, ABC of Michigan

If we were to envision the religious landscape as a six-lane highway, it becomes apparent that the outer lanes are currently congested. The far-right lane represents a form of Christian nationalism that marginalizes women, neglects the duty to address racial injustice, attempts to legislate morality, and willingly turns a blind eye to significant transgressions in pursuit of power. It is difficult to envision Jesus leading people forward in that particular "lane." Similarly, the far-left lane exhibits equally concerning trends. Here, a borderless set of truths only seems to validate those in that lane they deemed to be marginalized. This lane promotes individual autonomy in determining their own truth and demands adherence to it. Again, Jesus does not appear to be leading the way in that "lane."

What about the center lanes? In our present cultural context, those outside lanes unanimously agree that the center lanes represent compromise and a lack of conviction. This fragmentation has fostered a fallacious assumption that if you are not radically aligned with a particular ideology, you are not making a meaningful difference in this world. However, our very history as American Baptists reveals that we have thrived in the "center lanes" for several centuries, making a significant impact with Jesus, who seems at ease traversing these lanes.

Occupying the center lanes entails embracing a truth with defined boundaries and a humility that acknowledges God speaks through a multitude of individuals, not solely oneself. At our best as American Baptists, we demonstrated a willingness to reside in the tension of the center lanes by creating space for those who possess diverse perspectives and uphold an orthodox understanding of Christianity. Embracing this position on the highway has led to the establishment of numerous churches, the dispatching of missionaries worldwide to share the whole Gospel with all individuals, the baptism of millions of people, and the development of hospitals, orphanages, schools, and countless other ministries that exemplify the transformative power of a lived-out Gospel.

Our opportunity as American Baptists lies in avoiding, at all costs, the gravitational pulls of extremism. Generation Z and Millennials yearn for a Gospel that regenerates individuals' hearts and the cities they inhabit, not one at the expense of the other. This is where American Baptists can rediscover our sweet spot. We must never hide from, shy away from, or spend ourselves on anything more than the call to make disciples of Jesus Christ by inviting them to follow Him and find eternal life. The cost of neglecting this mandate would be to forfeit God's blessing. Simultaneously, the Gospel that breathes new life into individuals is often evidenced by its transformative impact on people, places, and entities around them. Neglecting this vital work would also constitute a forfeiture of God's blessings.

The center lanes represent the spaces and places from which revival will emanate in this generation as we passionately proclaim Jesus Christ's supremacy through our words and actions, providing glimpses of God's reign as we earnestly strive for "on earth as it is in heaven." Therefore, I invite you to contemplate the question: "What might God accomplish through the American Baptist Churches in this generation if we steadfastly adhere to the call to evangelize the world, disciple believers, and demonstrate the fullness of the Gospel through the pursuit of justice, as God’s Word defines it?"

To move with intention in those center lanes, we must prioritize foreign missions, evangelism, discipleship, church renewal, church planting, advocacy, and faith-based entrepreneurialism. We can find inspiration and guidance in Henry Blackaby's book, "Experiencing God," which challenges us to discern where God is actively at work and join Him in His endeavors. I would submit to you today, He’s in the center lane, and He’s inviting you to join Him there to impact this world with the hope that is only found in Jesus.

A Generosity Project Reflection: When Gift-Giving Isn’t Generous Giving

By Rev. Jill Harvey, pastor of the Niantic Baptist Church in Niantic, CN and a cohort facilitator for The Generosity Project.

Some people feel that a large gift is automatically a generous gift. Others feel that a gift is generous only if it’s large. My feeling is that any gift has the potential to be generous; it all depends on the spirit in which the gift is given. That said, are there times when giving a gift isn’t really about generosity?

One church had very basic light fixtures in the sanctuary. The family that had generously paid for the sanctuary to be re-wired and updated decades prior hadn’t installed a chandelier. One prominent church member often criticized the fixtures, saying that they looked “cheap.” When her mother died, she gave a large sum of money as a “memorial fund.” She then ordered a very beautiful (and expensive) chandelier and directed that her mother’s fund – which just happened to hold the exact amount needed to cover the cost – be used to purchase it and install it. From the point of view of dollars and cents, this was a very generous gift. But, in spirit, it was the antithesis of generosity. Why? Because the gift was given to “correct” someone else’s gift, and the donor was quite outspoken about that “correction.”

Matthew 6:2-4 reminds us that our giving should never be about our being honored by others. Rather, we should give “in secret” so that our “left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing.” And when we learn to give quietly, without seeking recognition for our gift, that is when we are practicing true generosity.

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Visit our United Mission Toolkit

United Mission offers a straightforward yet purposeful way for American Baptists to actively contribute to a collective fund dedicated to mission and ministry. A significant portion of United Mission funds directly aids the mission initiatives and ministries of the 33 ABC regional entities, the Office of the General Secretary, and the Board of General Ministries. These entities operate under the guidance and input of our member congregations. United Mission funding serves to bolster endeavors at every level within our denomination, extending to our common mission fields. Moreover, specific portions of United Mission are allocated to support essential services provided by our national ABC partners.

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