Georgia collects fewer backpacks in 2018 but overall, 9 Conventions report record 2,322 professions of faith

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Families fill the fellowship hall at Kentucky’s White Sulphur Springs Baptist Church for a meal and backpacks distribution.

There’s good news and not-so-good-news on last year’s Christmas Backpacks collection for impoverished children.

The good news is that since the outreach began in 2012, Georgia Baptists have contributed 197,936 backpacks for Appalachia and, as of 2017, children living below the poverty line in south Georgia.

A north Georgia boy excitedly receives his backpack during a distribution through Morganton and Mountaintown Baptist Associations served by Claude Mathis.

Now for the bad news: For first time, the ministry failed to reach its goal. As of Jan. 2, a total of 33,236 backpacks were collected, falling 6,764 below the 40,000 goal. While final figures will not be released until the end of the month, it is apparent the goal will not be met.

State Missionary Bill Barker, who coordinates the annual push, attributes the downdraft to donor fatigue. He states that is partially due to the massive outpouring of churches during Hurricane Michael’s devastating landfall and march across the state beginning at the Florida Panhandle, as well as disaster relief response to Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas.

Another possible reason could be attributed to the ministry’s migration from the North American Mission Board to the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. Additional education needs to be conducted to remind contributors that Georgia Baptists now have ownership of the popular ministry as of January 1, 2018.

In the process the name was changed from Appalachian Regional Ministry to Appalachian Mountain Ministry.

The ministry has experienced phenomenal year-over-year growth since its inception, Barker shared in his preliminary report with The Index. In brief, those numbers of backpacks collected are:

  • 2012 – 5,473;
  • 2013 – 23,808;
  • 2014 – 30,461;
  • 2015 – 31,396;
  • 2016 – 35,571;
  • 2017 – 38,641; and
  • 2018 – 33,236.

Total: 198,486.

The nearly 200,000 backpacks from Georgia represents 71 semi-trailer trucks over the past 7 years, Barker added. But the pattern of substantially increasing the Georgia Baptist goal every year may need to be scaled back to a more realistic number, perhaps 35,000, he noted.

Claude Mathis in Morgantown and Mountaintown Baptist Association reports several professions of faith through the ministry.

Barker works with 9 state conventions in a year-long effort to build visibility for ministry opportunities and the annual backpacks drive. Some churches have developed long term partnerships with churches and associations that are located in the far-flung area that runs from Alabama to New York State. They engage in mission trips throughout the year to build relationships with those whom they serve in a tangible way during the Christmas season.

And while the 2018 collection was in a slump, Georgia still collected nearly half of the national goal of 80,000 Christmas Backpacks.

Not all state conventions met their goals this year, but several fared well. Alabama’s 7,000 goal was surpassed with 9,519 collected; North Carolina surpassed its 12,000 goal by donating 14,340; Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia set a goal of 2,500 and brought in 4,000; and Tennessee surpassed its 2,000 goal with 3,459 being recorded.

The most important number, however, is how many professions of faith have been recorded each year. Barker was happy to report that the number of salvations have increased right along with both the number of backpacks collected and the number of churches involved.

Here is how the number backpacks, salvations, and church participation has increased among all state conventions during the past 7 years:

  • 2012 – 7,331;       237;    489;
  • 2013 – 23,808;    952;     1,587;
  • 2014 – 30,461;    702;     2,031;
  • 2015 – 46,112;    1,317;  3,074;
  • 2016 – 53,589;    1,531;   3,573;
  • 2017 – 74,791;     2,266;  4,986;
  • 2018 – 77,278;    2,322;   5,109

Total – 313,370;    9,347.

Barker said that it is always difficult to get an exact figure of backpacks because some churches or Associations fail to report their numbers and take their items directly to the field, working through a church or ministry site. He noted that he personally drove the state following the major collection at the annual Convention meeting in Warner Robins and picked up another 783 backpacks, but few late numbers are now being reported. As this story was being written on Jan. 17, another 650 were reported to Barker from a Georgia Baptist pastor.

He expects few adjustments to the current report contained in this story.

“I cannot express how grateful I am to Georgia Baptists for their longstanding commitment to this ministry. The backpacks distribution is an important part of the Christmas season for these children, but the building of year-long partnerships and the hands-on ministry that occurs in the name of Christ is the natural outgrowth of a heart for evangelism,” Barker said.

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