ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) – On Monday, October 5, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) announced the 2020 total for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (AAEO) for North American missions. Southern Baptists gave $49.3 million in a year when the COVID-19 pandemic created numerous challenges for churches across the nation.

The amount was $20 million short of the $70 million goal and fell below last year’s total of $61.4 million.

“For the last three years in a row [2017-2019], Southern Baptists broke the record for giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering,” said NAMB president Kevin Ezell. “This year, Annie giving was down, but I am humbled and even more grateful for what was given. To me it is the greatest Annie Offering ever. For Southern Baptists to have so sacrificially given during a time when most churches were not even meeting for worship is nothing short of a miracle.”

The initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic struck in the middle of the season when most churches would have been collecting their AAEO. Instead of gathering in person to worship on Easter, churches had to navigate health and safety protocols. Pastors and church members had to face the economic impact of shutdowns and job losses.

In the face of those challenges, NAMB’s priority has been to keep missionaries on the field. To make up for the reduction in the Annie Offering, NAMB utilized funds from its reserves and made budget reductions, such as eliminating travel, moving events to virtual and placing a freeze on hiring.

“We knew the difficulties and financial hardships churches and church members were facing,” Ezell said. “So, we at NAMB intentionally shifted our focus away from promoting giving to the offering and instead worked to find ways to support churches in this trying year. Still, Southern Baptists did not forget their North American missionaries and found creative ways to give. Dozens of pastors even reported that their churches reached new highs in Annie giving totals this year.”

Dave Elliff baptizes a believer during a Sunday morning service at Roots Community Church in Seattle. Elliff, a 2020 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® Week of Prayer missionary, is a church planting missionary who is reaching a city where nearly 40 percent of the population does not affiliate with any particular religion. NAMB photo by Daniel Delgado.

While NAMB ceased its promotional campaign for the 2020 AAEO, churches shared how their people continued to raise and collect funds for the offering, often doing so in creative ways. NAMB thanked and celebrated with those churches on social media.

For example, several churches, such as Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky., and Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, Okla., hosted drive-by offerings on their campuses. First Baptist Church Sandersville, Ga., announced on social media that they received their largest ever AAEO this year.

Southside Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., conducted a virtual auction of hand-painted birdhouses to raise funds to meet their church’s AAEO goal. Bella Crowe, a young teen and member of First Baptist Church of Benton, Ark., took online orders then baked and delivered pies to support the Annie Offering.

“Though much in the world has changed dramatically, God’s call remains the same,” said Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director for the national Woman’s Missionary Union. “For the sake of the Gospel, Southern Baptists responded generously and creatively even amidst their own personal struggles. I believe this year we have witnessed a response like unto the first century church when they ‘gave according to their ability and even beyond their ability.’ May God bless the faithfulness and sacrifices of Southern Baptists.”

The sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists made a great impact on those missionaries serving across the continent. Every dollar given to the offering goes to evangelism and missionary support and resources on the field.

“The faithful, sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists this year means we have not had to pull a single missionary from the field,” Ezell said. “No missionary has had their funding cut. No evangelism or church planter support funds have been cut. This is an amazing testimony to God’s provision and a great reminder of how much Southern Baptists love their missionaries. And we love our Southern Baptist family. Moving forward, we will need you as we advance the Gospel together.”

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.