SBM oks sixth ministry region, historic decisions

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In addition to designating a sixth ministry region in the state, the State Board of Missions turned the page on a new era with decisions made during its Aug. 26 meeting at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center.

Among the historic decisions made were transferring ownership of Blue Springs Baptist Conference Center to the Baptist College of Florida; taking steps to transform Lake Yale Conference Center into a cooperating ministry; authorizing the purchase of a new building to replace the Baptist Building in Jacksonville; and restructuring the long-standing Loans Policies that provides financial assistance to churches.

The Board also approved a $30 million Cooperative Program proposed budget for 2017, that will continue designating 51 percent to the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program and retain 49 percent for mission ministries in the state. The proposed budget represents an increase of a million dollars from 2016 budget, the largest annual increase in more than a decade. The budget will be considered by messengers to the Florida Baptist State Convention when it meets Nov. 14-15 in Clearwater. (For more information see the Aug. 25 issue of the Florida Baptist Witness.)

The sixth ministry region continues the vision of Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, to regionalize, personalize and decentralize the Convention staff to better meet the needs of Florida Baptist churches. Originally, Green followed the existing five regions within the state, but further evaluation during the past year determined that a sixth region would reduce the number of churches and associations that each regional catalyst would serve, better meeting the need of individual churches.

The new North Florida region would stretch from the Apalachicola River in the west toward the St. Johns River in the east, to just below Marion County. The regional catalyst assigned to the area will minister to 12 associations and 472 Florida Baptist churches. With the addition of the sixth region, other regions were revised to redistribute church and associational assignments. Creation of the sixth region is contingent on 2017 budget approval by the FBSC.

In a related action, the Board approved a new position for North Florida Regional Catalyst, to become effective January 2017.

Conference Centers

After numerous unsuccessful attempts to sell Blue Springs Baptist Conference Center in Marianna, the Board transferred the ownership of the 90-acre conference center to the Baptist College of Florida. The college expects to develop a plan to utilize the property that was built in 1982, said Green.  “With the college we are confident the property will continue to be a gospel-centered presence.”

The proposed shift of the Lake Yale Conference Center from a Convention ministry to a cooperating ministry, much like the Baptist College of Florida and Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, is “the most prudent model for the viability of Lake Yale,” said Green.

The conference center, built by the Convention in 1965, has struggled in recent years to generate enough funds to cover operating costs and capital expenditures. Designating the center as a separate, incorporated cooperative ministry would give Lake Yale an opportunity to generate income through solicitation of gifts and would facilitate the ability to apply for grants from other foundations and organization, all of which are not currently allowed under the business model of the convention.

The designation as a cooperating ministry of the convention must be approved by messengers to the Florida Baptist State Convention when they meet Nov. 14-15 in Clearwater.  If approved, the new corporation is expected to begin operating on Jan. 1, 2018.

The Board heard an update that the sale of the Baptist Building property located in Jacksonville is progressing with the final closing coming in March or April as the purchaser continues to work through governmental approvals.

In a related action, the Board authorized Convention officials to begin a process to purchase another piece of property in Jacksonville to serve as offices for the Convention staff. Originally, Executive Director Green had anticipated leasing office space for the employees. However, upon discussion with several Board members and Convention staff, he decided it would be more prudent to buy property rather than making lease payments.

Green said he hoped the new building will become a ministry center for North Florida much like the Southeast Regional Center in Hialeah has become for South Florida.

The distribution of proceeds from the Baptist Building sale were approved by the Board, earmarking 51% of the receipts to Cooperative Program Budget of the Southern Baptist Convention;  providing $700,000 to endow a chair of Baptist History at the Baptist College of Florida;  and allocating the remainder towards the purchase of a future site and relocation of Convention offices.

Loans restructure

The Board approved a policy revision that would restructure and streamline the Convention’s loan processes to churches by eliminating the decades-old Church Loan Fund, New Work Loan Fund and Church Site Fund and using those funds to create a new Church Loan Fund. This fund will provide low interest loans in a maximum amount of $100,000 to cooperating churches that sponsor or support a church plant less than five years old.

Also available to churches is an emergency loan fund to assist Florida Baptist churches with emergency financial needs.

These loans are in addition to a church planting/revitalization grant that provides a financial contribution to a cooperating congregation’s church planting or revitalization efforts. The grants of up to $20,000 are available to churches by submitting a ministry plan to their regional catalyst, and are considered to be the first phase in assistance to churches.

The Board also approved that as a part of the restructuring of the Convention loan program, the Florida Baptist Foundation, a subsidiary of Florida Baptist Financial Services will manage the current loan portfolio.

Approval was also given to begin a partnership with Baptists in Montreal, Canada, one of the North American Mission Board’s SEND cities. With a population of 6.7 million, Montreal is believed to the most spiritually lost city in North America with less than one percent claiming to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

A long-standing partnership between the Florida Baptist Convention and West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists was extended through 2019.

Other Business

In other business, the Board:

–elected Emanuel Roque as Hispanic Church Catalyst, a role he has been serving in since April, in the position previous held by Deris Coto, who resigned in April;

–opposed Amendment 2—Florida Medical Marijuana Legislation—that will appear on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot and called on Florida Baptist pastors to diligently encourage their church members to defeat the Amendment;

–endorsed the creation of a Crisis Action Team to help educate mission leaders scripturally in the risk of mission work and the adoption of a crisis management policy and procedure manual;

–adopted a new policy in nominating officers of the State Board of Missions and the nomination of Board committees;

–adopted a letter of cooperation between the Convention and the Florida Baptist Witness.

–learned the Convention received “an unqualified opinion” audit report from Batts, Morrison, Wales and Lee , PA of Orlando, the highest level opinion that can be offered by an auditor; and

–heard that auditors also issued an unqualified opinion for the four cooperating ministries  of the Florida Baptist State Convention—Baptist College of Florida, Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, Florida Baptist Financial Services and Florida Baptist Witness.

By Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist Convention, August 30, 2016

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