by Kevin Ezell
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — We are grateful for every dollar Southern Baptists give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. Sometimes you might feel far-removed from the results of the offering so let me remind you of a few.
What you give to Annie helps Southern Baptists start new churches where they are needed most. In 2014 Southern Baptists planted 985 new churches. That’s up 5 percent over the previous year and in some places increases were even more dramatic. In Ohio, 37 new churches were started — an increase of 20 over the previous year. In New York there were 42 new churches — an increase of 22. And in the Northwest Convention, which includes Oregon, Washington State and parts of Idaho, 27 churches were started — 24 more than the previous year.
All of these dramatic increases came in states outside the South where Southern Baptists have not been as strong. It’s a privilege to work alongside churches and our state convention partners to get these new congregations going. Your giving to the Annie Offering makes these new church plants possible. These are churches that are reaching new people for Christ right now and our prayer is that they will be doing so for years to come.
The offering also helped place nearly 1,800 student missionaries on the North American mission field last year. This number is up from only a couple of hundred students a few years ago. It is encouraging to see because we need a new generation of missionaries to meet the growing needs in North America.
In all, there are more than 5,600 church planters and other missionaries in North America who receive some kind of support from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the Annie Offering is the way we are able to do most of that. More than half of the funds we have available each year come through this offering.
The need is great and growing. We need thousands more churches in and around large cities where more than 81 percent of North Americans live. In an effort to narrow the widening gap between population and the number of churches in these areas, NAMB is giving special emphasis to 32 of these cities.
Church planting in our cities is expensive. Renting or buying worship space is very costly. Housing for our church planters is prohibitive in many places. Church plants usually take several years before they are fully supported by their own congregations.
The Annie Offering helps us plant churches beyond cities as well. Maine — a largely rural state — is experiencing more church planting activity than has been seen in years. Alaska averaged about two church starts a year but in 2012-13 that number shot up to 19.
Your prayers for these missionaries mean so much and your giving is truly making a difference. Thank you for your partnership in pushing back lostness in North America.