Ga. Baptists cut budget, plant new churches
MACON, Ga. (BP) -- Georgia Baptists launched a church planting partnership in Augusta and decreased their budget to its lowest level in 17 years during the 193rd annual meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
Under the theme Revive 2014, Georgia Baptists were challenged to commit themselves to spiritual renewal as they gathered Nov. 10-11 at Ingleside Baptist Church in Macon, Ga.
Messengers celebrated church planting and evangelism efforts and collected a near-record number of backpacks for impoverished children in Appalachia.
The presentation of the 2015 budget underscored the need for sacrificial giving, with a reduction of $1.4 million from the 2014 budget and the convention's lowest funding level since 1998.
The convention adopted a "straight allocation budget" of $40.4 million. Under a new budget structure in its second year, 40 percent of Cooperative Program gifts from Georgia churches will be allocated to Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries; 11.42 percent to a category titled "Mission Extension Ministries"; and 48.58 percent to GBC ministries.
Under the budget, Mission Extension Ministries encompasses GBC institutions such as the three Baptist-affiliated colleges in the state while GBC ministries include evangelism, church planting and collegiate ministry supported by the state convention. The 40 percent designated for SBC causes is unchanged from 2014, and 10 percent that was formerly regarded as the SBC's portion of shared expenses is included in the GBC ministries portion of the budget.
GBC Executive Director J. Robert White said he is concerned the convention is being forced to decrease its budget when the spiritual needs of the state are greater than ever.
"I feel like I must bare my heart to you. God did not call me to manage decline, but the budget we will present today represents another reduction," White said. "I believe in church planting, but you should not take money from your church's Cooperative Program allocation to plant churches. I want to tell you that we [the GBC] have given $1 million [through the ending of historic cooperative agreements] back to the North American Mission Board for church planting across North America."
"A time for advancing"
White added, "With the needs around us in Georgia, this is a time for advancing, not declining.
"I am sure none of you pastors want to be in a position where you are only managing decline in your churches," he said. "You need to go back to your congregation saying, 'I will lead my church to advance in evangelism, discipleship, church renewal and Cooperative Program giving.'"
Later White underscored the need for evangelism through his Mission Georgia state missions report. Eleven church planters were introduced, and a large interactive map of the state showed where 62 planters were serving and an additional 80 plants were preparing to launch.
White interviewed several individuals working in areas from campus ministry to evangelism to combatting sex trafficking.
"Did you know that through your Mission Georgia gifts you are making it possible for us to penetrate the darkness of human sex trafficking in Georgia, and so far, have helped to effectively shut down one of the most prolific sex trafficking neighborhoods in Atlanta?" White asked.
Randy Mullinax, representing the GBC evangelism ministry, reported 28,314 baptisms last year among GBC churches but said 678 churches reported no baptisms. That translates into an average of 7.9 baptisms per church.
"Our goal is for every Georgia Baptist church to be intentionally evangelistic," Mullinax said, inviting churches to contact evangelism ministries for resources and assistance.
New partnership in Augusta
White announced a partnership with the Augusta Baptist Association to plant evangelistic churches in Georgia's second largest metropolitan area. The partnership is modeled after the NAMB's Send City strategy, where major cities are the focus of church planting.
The GBC has long partnered with Baptists in cities and states across North America and internationally, but the initiative in Augusta adds an unprecedented emphasis on church planting to the GBC's partnerships.
Georgia Baptists are modeling their Augusta strategy after the NAMB model "because we have some metropolitan areas that are in desperate need of a greater Gospel witness," White said. "Today I am joining with Jerry Owens, moderator of Augusta Baptist Association and pastor of New Work Baptist Church in Lincolnton, and associational missionary Dwayne Boudreaux to sign the partnership that will launch strategic initiatives to impact the Augusta area for the cause of Christ."
The Augusta metro area, with a population of 580,279, is known for its Regional Medical Center, cultural amenities and diverse ethnic population.
In other matters:
-- A new slate of officers was elected, with the exception of President Don Hattaway, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cartersville, who was elected to a customary second one-year term.
Elected as GBC officers for 2014-2015 were: first vice president, David Mills, pastor of Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens; second vice president, Jason Jones, pastor of Isabella Baptist Church in Sylvester; third vice president, David Hardwick, pastor of Gentian Baptist Church in Columbus; and fourth vice president, Jeff Daniels, pastor of South Rossville Baptist Church in Rossville.
Also elected for the coming year were: recording secretary, Danny Henson, pastor of New Liberty Baptist Church in Ringgold; assisting recording secretary, Freddie Rhodes, pastor of Westview Baptist Church in Hawkinsville; and assisting recording secretary, Tom Vann, pastor of Rentz Baptist Church in Rentz.
-- GBC legal counsel Tom Duvall was recognized for 25 years of service to the convention.
-- Georgia Baptist Foundation chief executive officer Grady "Pete" Rockett was recognized for 25 years of service and his retirement effective Dec. 31. Rockett and his wife Pamela will continue to live in Snellville. Jonathan Gray will succeed him on Jan. 1 as president and CEO.
-- Georgia Baptists assembled backpacks for impoverished children in Appalachia for the third consecutive year. By the end of the meeting, 18,053 backpacks stuffed with school supplies, warm winter coats and gloves, along with accompanying Christmas presents, were assembled and on their way to distribution points from Tennessee to New York.
Last year 21,808 backpacks were delivered to the meeting at Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula. In 2012, the first year of the outreach, 4,400 backpacks were donated.
-- Special music for the opening session was led by international recording artists Keith and Kristyn Getty of Nashville, Tenn., and Ireland.
-- The meeting included several informal chat sessions, dubbed Coffee Shop Talk, with program personalities. Answering questions were Jonesboro pastor Mel Blackaby; Claude King, discipleship and church health specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn.; and Bill Elliff, senior teaching pastor of The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Ark.
-- Messengers passed seven resolutions on topics ranging from religious liberty to gambling to traditional marriage.
The religious liberty resolution said the city of Houston's subpoena of sermons from pastors who opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance "reflects a growing attempt to silence America's pulpits and classify sermons addressing certain biblical subjects as hate speech." The resolution praised the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which passed Congress in 1993, for its role in ensuring that the Affordable Care Act "could not coerce business owners, holding sincerely held religious beliefs, to violate their consciences and force them to include abortion-inducing drugs in their insurance coverage for employees."
-- A total 1,256 messengers registered at the meeting.
Next year's annual meeting will be held Nov. 9-10 at Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, followed by the Nov. 14-15, 2016, meeting at Calvary Baptist Temple in Savannah.