JACKSONVILLE–Rather than a message of retreat, the State Board of Missions heard how the Florida Baptist Convention and its churches are moving forward, celebrating new opportunities to seize God’s blessings in the midst of a pandemic.
“We did not gather here with a sense of dread or defeat,” said Florida Baptists’ Executive Director-Treasurer Tommy Green during the Sept. 18 meeting held both at the Jacksonville Baptist Building and by videoconference. “This meeting has not been about what we must take away but instead about what we can bring ‘Right Beside’ our churches and ministries for enhanced Gospel and Kingdom ministry. We have been reminded in this meeting that you cannot out give God. He is faithful and allows us to be fruitful!”
Saying this “has not been an ‘oh my’ or ‘oh me’ meeting,” Green added, “It has been a celebration of the hand of God and wonderful provisions through the cooperative efforts of our Florida Baptist churches. This meeting has not been about taking away but releasing the blessings of God upon Florida Baptist unified ministry.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Green led the Convention to initiate several cost-cutting measures and earmarked financial resources as emergency loans to help pastors and churches adversely affected by the pandemic. While giving was down, the cost-saving actions created a budget surplus enabling the Convention to use the resources to strengthen churches and become even more generous.
During this meeting, the Board learned that interest-free emergency loans valued at $935,200 had been distributed to 124 churches. From the budget surplus, the Board approved an expenditure of $365,000 to earmark $3,000 toward each loan, which will pay off 14 of the loans and reduce the balance of remaining loans.
After learning that budgeted funds allocated for church planting assistance were underspent, the Board authorized the transfer of $500,000 related to underspent 2019 church planting assistance budget funds to an account designated for SEND Network Florida Church Planting Assistance.
In related matters, the Board celebrated that 72 new church planters completed church planting assessments in 2020 and are prepared to launch new churches in the near future; and learned that church planting and revitalization grants have been distributed to 47 churches in all six regions.
Saying that “generosity breeds generosity,” Green announced that the Convention will respond to Panhandle churches impacted by Hurricane Sally with a grant up to $50,000 and provide interest free loans beyond that amount to help cover insurance deductibles and other expenses incurred by the storm. Direct financial assistance will also be provided to pastors impacted personally by the storm.
He shared that since April, food valued at $23,124,575 has been distributed by 647 Florida Baptist churches to residents in 66 of Florida’s 67 counties. The food, equal to 4,493,455 meals, was given to the Convention through partnerships with the State of Florida and private companies.
“Our churches have platformed this donated food products all across our state to love our neighbors and share the hope and salvation of Jesus Christ,” Green added.
The Board approved a 2021 Cooperative Program basic budget of $28,500,000 that continues to designate 51% of all receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program and 49% to Florida Baptist Convention’s ministry programs. The amount represents a $1.5 million decrease that recognizes the financial realities impacting all organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The money earmarked to state convention entities will be distributed between the Convention’s Program of Mission Ministry and Support, $11,573,000; and three Cooperating Ministries: The Baptist College of Florida, $1,320,000; Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, $912,000; and Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center $160,000.
All monies received in excess of the basic budget goal will be divided between SBC Cooperative Program, 51%; and Florida Convention, 49%.
In March as the pandemic hit, Florida Baptist Cooperating Ministries received a 30% reduction in the Convention’s CP contributions as several budgets were reduced to cope with potential shortfall. In this meeting, the Board amended the 30% reduction to 20%, effective October 2020 and through 2021.
In recognition of the downturn in the event and hospitality arena during the COVID-19, the Board learned that despite cutbacks, Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center, which now serves as a Florida Baptist Cooperating Ministry, projects more than a $500,000 budget deficit in 2020 and more than $300,000 in 2021. In this meeting, the Board provided an interest-free loan of $250,000 and a financial assistant grant of $100,000 to Lake Yale “in a time of profound need to secure the future, sustainability and survivability,” said Green.
Florida Baptist State Convention ad interim
With the cancellation of the 2020 FBSC annual meeting due to the state of emergency caused by the pandemic, the Board, acting as the FBSC ad interim, approved several related business matters, including officially cancelling the 2020 meeting and setting future FBSC dates and locations. The 2021 FBSC is set for Nov. 8-9 in Lakeland.
The Board also approved extending one-year terms of service for the 2019 FBSC officers: Erik Cummings, president; Mike Wiggins, vice-president; Vanessa Cardona, second vice-president; and Randy Huckabee, recording secretary; and extended another year of service for members of the FBSC’s Committee on Order of Business, Committee on Nominations and trustees of FBSC’s Cooperating Ministries.
Acting on behalf of the FBSC, the Board welcomed 22 new cooperating churches that have been endorsed by their cooperating local Baptist associations; and endorsed two churches-at-large– Freshwater Church, St. John, Virgin Island; and The Redeemers Place in Weston.
In other business, the board:
–elected Nathan Schneider, the current Baptist Collegiate Ministries director for the Tampa area, as lead catalyst, Next Generation Ministries, filling the role left vacant by Billy Young who recently accepted a call as pastor of Hopeful Baptist Church in Lake City; (see related story here)
–approved a resolution of appreciation for Tony Olesky who retired Aug. 18 after serving 34 years as the Baptist Campus Minister director in Pensacola;
—-received a $35,000 check from Tom Kinchen, president of The Baptist College of Florida, as a “tithe” from the down payment of the sale of the Blue Springs Conference Center property in Marianna and announced that BCF will give a total of $300,000 from the $3 million sale; (see related story here)
–designated $50,000 previously earmarked as 2020 SBC Convention funds and $110,000 from the 2020 FBSC Annual meeting, which were cancelled, for the Challenge 2025 Conference, set for Feb. 16, 2021 in Orlando;
–authorized a study to standardize and simplify the process related to church site grants and reversionary clauses;
–received an “unmodified opinion” from the auditing firm of Batts, Morrison, Wales and Lee, P.A., of Orlando on the Convention’s financial statements, found to be in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles; and “unmodified opinions” of the audits of each Cooperating Ministry, the highest-level opinion that can be offered by an auditor;
–approved the Convention staff to proceed with the study, development and pilot testing of a program of ministry support focused on helping churches engaged in ministry to immigrants;
–honored Tommy Green on his five-year anniversary as the state convention executive director-treasurer; (see related story here)
–re-elected current SBM officers to serve through the November 2021–Brain Stowe, president; Elijah Simmons, vice-president; and Phillip Hamm, recording secretary.
Green noted that in 2019 God had placed on his heart “Challenge 2025,” a vision to plant 75 churches, revitalize 100 new churches, baptize 30,000 persons, engage 12,000 Florida Baptists in mission efforts, give $33 million through the Cooperative Program and a million to the Maguire State Mission Offering.
“Do we need to adjust, alter, shift, change, wait, rethink, forget Challenge 2025 because of a pandemic?” he asked. “Absolutely NOT, a God sized vision to lead requires God sized faith to believe.
“God has shut us down to enable us to see His glory, His power, His provisions, His purposes, His majesty, through a collaborative Kingdom effort that can only be attributed to our great God,” he added.
“Florida Baptists, we have not hit pause, we are not retreating, we are not shutting down, we are not fretting the future. This State Board of Missions meeting has set a tone of continued Kingdom Ministry across Florida for the future.”
The next Board meeting is scheduled Feb. 25 as an online videoconference meeting.