JACKSONVILLE–Florida Baptist associational leaders gathered in Jacksonville Jan. 9-10 for the 2023 Florida Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders summit.
The annual summit is designed to provide “a time of learning, spiritual encouragement, strategic thinking and fellowship,” said Tom Cheyney, who served as FBCAL president for the 2022 and 2023 summits.
The leadership team planning the event, he said, “works hard to provide a quality leadership retreat that not only is a great time of fellowship but also is a tremendous time of equipping and learning.”
This year’s summit specifically focused on how associational leaders can assist small churches.
Throughout America, close to 70% of all churches have attendances of fewer than 100, and an estimated 80-90% of all churches have attendances of fewer than 250, Cheyney reported.
“We are a nation of small churches,” Cheyney said.
The Florida Baptist Convention reflects the national statistics regarding small churches.
“All of us who are part of the Florida Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders work with churches of every size. Yet the majority of churches all across the Florida Baptist Convention, just like every other Baptist state convention, are small. It is vital that we provide training in this area to assist our associational leaders in working with these churches,” said Cheyney, who also serves as executive director of missions for Greater Orlando Baptist Association.
“We need to stop treating the small church like it is doing something wrong and to uplift their leaders for the work they are doing. The leaders of these small churches are pastoring well and they do not need to settle for the stigma that something is wrong if you pastor a normal size church.”
Karl Vaters, described by Cheyney as “the leading voice on ministry in the small church,” led three keynote sessions on essentials for helping the small church during the 2023 summit.
Vaters has declared, “Small does not mean unhealthy, insular, poorly managed or settling for less. Small churches are often healthy, dynamic and equipped to minister to their communities in ways that larger churches just can’t.
“Both big and small play vital roles in the kingdom of God, but they each require a different set of tools. Far too much is out there in resources which only speaks to the large church, even though most churches are small.”
Associational leaders in attendance were given three books to help them in working with small churches in their associations.
In addition to learning from Vaters on helping small churches, attendees also had opportunity to attend breakout sessions on specific topics of interest. Sean McMahon, executive director of Florida Baptist Association, and Brian Nall, executive director of Pensacola Bay Baptist Association, co-led a breakout session aimed to equip new associational leaders.
“Hearing from this group of men who have just recently entered a new ministry venture and hopefully providing a small nugget of value to their journey was a blessing,” McMahon said.
McMahon prioritizes attending each annual FBCAL summit, saying, “We are not meant to go through ministry alone. This annual gathering of associational leaders across our state helps strengthen the relationships with those who are engaged in this ministry. The fellowship, the teaching/learning experiences, the times of sharing ideas and gleaning from others – all of it comes together to make this two-day event important.”
Nall agreed. “The FBCAL summit is a time for those of us who faithfully walk alongside churches to come together to be encouraged and equipped so that we can be at our best as we aid our churches in accomplishing their kingdom task.
“Because of the trauma our world has walked through these past three years, the growing complexity in today’s culture, and the increased challenges churches are facing, associational leaders are able to be a source of personal care and customizable equipping for pastors and churches,” he said.
During the summit, Tommy Green, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer, presented a biblical message based on Luke 17:11-19. Reflecting on the account of Jesus healing 10 lepers, Green challenged associational leaders to lead their churches to reach people who are forsaken, because of physical needs; forgotten, because of social and cultural norms; forfeited, because of spiritual neglect; and faithful, because of spiritual need.
Green also shared how God blessed Florida Baptists in 2022 as well as strategic plans for 2023.
“Hearing from Tommy Green about the great things happening in our state convention is such an encouragement. We are truly blessed to have his support, and the support of all our Florida Baptist Convention staff and leadership,” said McMahon.
An additional aspect of the summit was a wives’ retreat led by Glenda Haglund, wife of Jeffrey Haglund, lead missional strategist for North Central Florida Baptist Association. This year, the wives partnered with Jerry Haag, president of Florida Baptist Children’s Homes (One More Child) to collect pajamas for children served by the entity. At last count, more than 2,000 pajama sets were provided by participating associations.
“What a great and practical way to show God’s love to needy families and children,” said Cheyney.
Richard Williamson, associational missions strategist for South Florida Baptist Association and FBCAL president-elect, will begin making plans soon for the 2024 summit, scheduled for Jan. 8-9, at the Florida Baptist office building in Jacksonville.