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Board approves regionalization plan
By Barbara Denman
September 25, 2012
LEESBURG—Deemed as a “historic” action, the State Board of Missions authorized the implementation of a regionalization plan of the Florida Baptist Convention staff during its Sept. 21 meeting at Lake Yale Conference Center.

“Today you get to vote on history,” Board President Tim Maynard of Jacksonville told members, calling it “a major shift in the way we are going to do ministry in Florida. It is not a small thing that we are undertaking. It is a snapshot of the future.”

Regionalization has as its strategy “getting closer to the folks for better communication, collaboration and cooperation,” said John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention.

“It is absolutely what we need to move us closer to the constituents and the closer you can get to the constituents the better you can meet their needs.”

No other state convention has developed such a plan, Maynard said, “We get to be the people to set the paradigm instead of looking for someone else to do it. This will be a precursor of how ministry will get done down the road most effectively.”

The concept of regionalization first surfaced in discussions with the Imagine If Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and was incorporated in recommendations approved by State Convention messengers in 2010.The regions are expected to serve as the hubs for training and mobilizing church planters.

In the plan approved at this meeting, Florida Baptists’ 49 associations were assigned to five geographical regions and locations for offices designated in each:

--Southeast Florida region where 60 percent of the state’s population resides will encompass five associations from Treasure Coast to Florida Keys and will utilize offices at the Urban Impact Center in Hialeah;

--Central Florida region, stretching from coast to coast along the I-4 corridor, will locate an office at the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes in Lakeland;

--Northeast region with nine associations will originate from the Baptist Building in Jacksonville;

--West Florida region, the largest area with 15 associations from Pensacola Bay to Taylor, will establish an office at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville; and

--Southwest region, stretching from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico, will be located in an office yet to be determined.

“We already see the model of it working splendidly in Hialeah,” said Maynard, pastor of Fruit Cove Baptist Church, “and we know we can reproduce this elsewhere.”

Personnel assigned to the regions will either live within the area or will spend five days there each month to represent church planting, evangelism, church development and missional support.

Sullivan assured the Board that no additional staff will be hired to serve in these roles, but current employees will take on additional assignments as a part of their work load. “Our staff is the finest in the SBC. They are energetic, creative and committed to the work they do,” he said.

Noting that regions are not an attempt to create “super-sized associations” or duplicate associational planning, Sullivan said, “We believe this is what we need to do to impact the lostness in the state of Florida. That is what we are after.”

Also during the meeting, the Board hired two new employees, authorized the lease-purchase of Blue Springs Baptist Conference Center in Marianna and approved a $31.6 Cooperative Program budget for 2013 which will send an additional percent—from 40.5 percent to 41.5 percent--to Southern Baptist mission causes.

The $31.6 million Cooperative Program budget for 2013, an amount identical to the 2012 budget earmarks $13,114,000 or 41.50 percent of the projected income to the Southern Baptist Convention. Two priority items also will receive funding: church planting assistance, set at $632,000 or two percent of income; and the church protection plan, set at $600,000 or 1.90 percent of anticipated receipts.

The Florida Baptist Convention’s program budget will receive $13,520,500 which represents a 2.39 percent increase from the current budget with most of those additional funds allocated for church planting efforts. State Convention agencies and institutions will split the same percentages and amounts as in 2012—$3,732,700 or 11.81 percent of projected income.

Noting that Convention employees have not had a raise in six years and annuity contributions have been cut from 10 percent to two percent, Spike Hogan of Jacksonville asked if a plan could be devised to include a five percent matching contribution to the employee’s annuity benefit.

Sullivan said the possible funding could be explored in 2014. However, he noted that the 2014 budget is expected to take a hit from the decrease in income from NAMB which subsidizes programs jointly funded to benefit both state and North America causes. (See related story in the Aug. 22 issue of the Florida Baptist Witness.)

The leasing of Blue Springs Conference Center to the Spirit and In Truth Church of God in Christ of Bonifay is expected to result in a purchase agreement. The property will be leased for four months—from October 2012 through January 2013 for $13,000 per month while the buyer finds financing for the purchase. In February, the church is expected to proceed with the property purchase for $4 million.

The youth camp on the property is expected to be used by the church for retreats and conferences. The adult facility is expected to be made available to a substance abuse organization for outpatient treatment and residential facility for first-time and non-violent offenses.

In other action, the Board renewed mission partnerships with the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, and Indianapolis as a NAMB “Send City;” and the Nevada Baptist Convention. Also, agreements were renewed between the Convention and The Baptist College of Florida related to the Florida Baptist Historical Society and historical collection.

The Board approved the Convention’s support of two proposed Florida Constitutional amendments which will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Amendment 6 seeks to stop public funds from underwriting health care benefits to cover abortions. Amendment 8 is proposed to halt the denial of public funds for social services provided by faith based organizations. An expenditure of up to $20,000 was authorized to help inform Florida Baptists of the need to approve both amendments.

In other personnel related actions, the Board approved elimination of certain carry-out benefits for Convention employees and revisions to the Florida Baptist Convention’s Personnel Policy and Practices Manual. 

Board President Maynard reported on the evaluations returned by the committee chairmen who had assessed the job performance of Sullivan. He cited the scoring for the respective categories: personal qualities 4.89 score out of 5, professional qualities scored 4.88; and administrative abilities 4.88; for a total 4.88 out of 5.

He shared from his own perspective of working with Sullivan for the past decade on the Board, calling it “a graduate level course in leadership. He has shown me how to stay laser-focused on the important things.

“I have learned that we can’t do everything well so we need to do our two or three objectives very well. I have learned that no matter how hard we try or how pure our motives we will be criticized and yet we press on. And I have learned from him the value of just standing your ground like a bull in a blizzard and letting the storm pass,” the Jacksonville pastor said.

“We have been incredibly gifted to have a man like John Sullivan to build the work of Florida Baptists with compassion, evangelistic effectiveness and a love for the church and the work of the Kingdom of God.”

The Board will meet prior to the Florida Baptist State Convention, Monday, Nov. 12 at First Baptist Church of Orlando.

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