For five years we had three Sunday morning services back to back (1986-1991). It was exhausting and exhilarating. But it couldn’t last. At least I couldn’t. We tried a Saturday night service in 1985-86. There was a faithful core of people who came. But it did not enable us to avoid three services Sunday morning. We spent six months exploring a merger with First Baptist Church across town. We pondered a church plant that would take away half the church to another site. Anything but build. Anything but debt.
I think it was the years of agonizing effort to explore every alternative that eventually unified the church on October 25, 1987, in the decision (97%) to build a new sanctuary. To balance the crucial need for relief and the distaste for debt, we raised about half the $3.6 million before we borrowed. This amount included the purchase of the MasterWorks building five doors west on Seventh Street which has been put to great use by Tim Glader in urban ministry.
Our $1.8 million debt will stand at about $1.1 million in October of this year. This also includes the dirt parking lot just purchased immediately to the west of the church on 8th Street. The payment on our debt is about $25,000 a month, or close to $300,000 a year.
The number one priority of the Master Planning Vision was the reaffirmation of 2000 by 2000—the sending of 2000 of our people into vocational or short-term missions and church planting by AD 2000, and the winning of 2000 people to Christ through our networks here at home.
The Foreign Missions Committee informed the Elders that the price tag on the sending half of this vision would be about $388,000 annually by the end of the decade. That’s new dollars annually on top of the present $350,000 annual foreign missions budget. God amazingly keeps raising up missionary candidates preparing to go from Bethlehem. These are the people we would need the $388,000 to send.
You can probably see immediately why the Elders hit on the idea that Freeing the Future from debt is directly connected with the Mission Vision of 2000 by 2000. The debt costs us $300,000 annually. 2000 by 2000 will soon need $388,000 annually. Freeing the Future seemed to us the simplest and fastest way to move toward what our Master Planning Vision mandates.
It is very simple: On March 17, this year, we will ask people to pledge one single gift toward eliminating the entire indebtedness of the church. This pledge would not be paid until October 6-20, 1996. And here’s the powerful difference from all previous campaigns: No commitment will be paid until the sum of the commitments is enough to pay off all of Bethlehem’s Debt.
There will be one morning service on March 17 at 10:00 AM and no Sunday School. (Child care will be offered for children preschool-age and younger.)
Watch for the special call for prayer and fasting. We are looking to God and not ourselves for the supply of this ministry: “My God will supply all your needs” (Philippians 4:19).