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Board cuts funding for agencies, institutions; downsizes Convention staff

Barbara Denman

February 20, 2013

LEESBURG—Learning of a $642,107 budget shortfall in 2012 Cooperative Program receipts, the State Board of Missions approved 2013 funding cuts for the Baptist College of Florida, Florida Baptist Children's Homes and Florida Baptist Witness and the elimination of four Florida Baptist Convention board-elected staff during the Feb. 7 meeting at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center.

A new budget incorporating these cuts will be presented to the Board in May that reduces the Florida Baptist Cooperative Program budget for 2013 from $31.6 million to $31 million.

The action to reduce the funding to the agencies and staff according to Executive Director John Sullivan was based on three factors as the Convention prepares its 2014 budget: a commitment not to deficit spend; final funding reductions by the North American Mission Board on jointly funded emphases; and the commitment to increase the percentage of funds earmarked to the SBC Cooperative Program.

In 2011 at the urging of the Great Commission Resurgence task force, Florida Baptists voted to increase their giving through the SBC Cooperative Program from 40 percent to 50 percent, evenly dividing gifts in half from Florida churches between state and national mission causes. The State Board of Missions created a seven-year plan to accomplish that, earmarking 41.5 percent of the budget for 2013, with the goal of increasing the percentage each year.

Yet throughout this time, giving by Florida Baptist churches has decreased, from $41 million in 2007 to $31 million in 2012 forcing the Convention to steadily cut staff and expenses.

The action taken during this meeting was the first time the agencies and institutions have received a decrease in their Cooperative Program percentage funding, while the Convention has downsized its staff by more than 30 percent or 61 employees. As approved by the Board, BCF will receive a $101,150 cut in its operating budget for the current year; FBCH will receive a $79,080 decrease; and the Witness gave up $19,770.

Sullivan pledged to each agency, however, that if budget overages in excess of the original $31.6 million are received in 2013, the money will be reinstituted at the end of the year.

After learning that according to the Convention’s seven-year plan, 50 percent of any overage would be sent to the Southern Baptist Convention, Dennis Littleton of Palm Coast made a motion to “consider revising the current convention mandate to split the budget overages 50/50.”

That motion, along with an amendment for the Board to readdress the entire 50/50 percentage proposal in light of the current financial crisis, made by Jack Roland of Ocala, sparked an hour-long debate among Board members. The amendment subsequently failed to garner a majority of support.

“We are cutting back staff members, we are cutting back funding to the Children’s Homes and to our college,” said Roland. “At what point do we recommend readdressing the 50/50 issue and the shared ministry issues and those things that are affecting what is going on?”

“So the Convention will understand where we are going and what appears to be a downward spiral,” he urged.

Rob Arnold of Orlando said he was concerned that “if churches ramp up their giving, anything over $31 million, half of that goes out of the state. I struggle with that,” he explained, adding, “I feel like we are beginning to cut into muscle.”

Walter West of St. Augustine noted that the 50/50 commitment was “based on the commitment of churches to increase their support of the Florida Baptist Convention. It seems to me in structuring what we are doing that everything has been based upon the accountability only going on the side of the Florida Baptist Convention.”

Curtis Clark of Tallahassee said he voted for the decision to split Cooperative Program 50/50 during the 2010 state convention because he wanted more dollars allocated for the international mission field.

The split was “contingent on greater cooperation of our churches,” Clark said. “It’s not the economy; it’s not the 50/50 split, it’s that our churches are not cooperating as they have done in the past.”

Mike Tatem of Lake City disagreed. “We have been mandated by the churches to go to 50/50 split,” he said. “The implication of the mandate of the churches is to have a smaller, leaner, more effective Convention doing the work of what we are called to do.”

“Listening to the pastors that really want this to happen, they want the Convention to do less with less,” Tatem noted. “They are not going to give until the Convention bleeds. I know that it hurts when we cut.”

“We talk about why churches aren’t giving, if we go back and say we need to revise the 50/50 we are going to lose a whole lot of prospective donors because they will see the same product in the area of missions being put out there that we have always put out there. That is possibly part of the concern in the reduction of giving.”

Tatem referred to earlier comments made by Sullivan that despite the cut in the workforce, Florida Baptists still lead the SBC in baptisms and church planting. Even with a “reduced budget of 10 million and 30 percent of staff we are still that effective. How much more out there can be cut so we are still 50/50?”

Mark Coleman of Davie expressed concern “if we give the Convention an indication or smell,” that the Board was reconsidering the 50/50 split, it “would create a distrust” which would “affect the confidence of the churches” and create a “potential division.”

Clayton Cloer of Orlando cautioned the Board from making “a knee jerk reaction” without analyzing giving by the churches.

Citing statistics provided by the Florida Baptist Convention staff, he noted that 2,050 Florida Baptist churches gave through the Cooperative Program in 2012, compared to 2013 in the prior year, an increase of 37 churches.

Also, he said, 829 churches or 42 percent increased their giving in 2012, while 58 percent decreased their giving. Churches showing a decrease, he explained, could have actually increased their percentage giving but because of fallen receipts in their own struggling churches, their total giving is less.

“We are basing it on the assumption people aren’t stepping up. There may be in fact 829 churches that are stepping up and it could be these other 1,100 churches that are on decline is because their total church budget is on decline to begin with.”

The reconsideration of the 50/50 split, he said will “cost us great momentum, I think, hurt and trust among the whole convention because we have said in almost a unified vote that we were going to move toward 50/50.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, the Board agreed to reconsider the overage distribution; but the amendment to address the 50/50 split failed—39 opposed; 28 in favor.

Addressing the Board, Sullivan added, “I hope that no one has the misunderstanding that this Board, this staff or this executive director is opposed to going to 50/50 in Cooperative Program giving. You have misunderstood if you believe that I think there is anything other than movement toward the 50/50 process.”

But Sullivan noted that while some additional budget revisions may be necessary “if we continue in the current situation, 50/50 is still the goal.”

Following the debate, the Board adopted a recommendation to express appreciation and pray for Sullivan as he “makes difficult administrative decisions to balance diminishing budget resources against the growing mission priorities in Florida.”

The Board members also made a commitment to a time of urgent prayer and fasting during this “critical moment in Florida Baptist life.”

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