'Liquidity challenges' may loom for Fla. conven.
"Without increased revenue or decreased expenditures, in the very near future, you will face liquidity challenges," auditor Mike Lee told the Florida State Board of Missions in May.
Auditors said the Florida Baptist Convention either must increase receipts by $2 million each year or decrease expenditures by $2 million to remain solvent, according to an article by the convention's communications division published in the Florida Baptist Witness.
Last fall, messengers to the annual meeting of the Florida Baptist State Convention approved a seven-year Cooperative Program budget plan which would forward 50 percent of CP receipts from Florida churches to national and international missions and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention by 2018.
Messengers amended the proposed budget plan to eliminate the shared expenses designation from the split and incorporate shared ministry funding into the state convention portion of the budget. A second part of the amendment clarified that the 50/50 split was not contingent on increased CP giving by the churches. Florida currently forwards 40.5 percent of its CP receipts.
In two columns published by the Witness, Florida Baptist leaders have voiced divergent views for what to do in light of the liquidity warning.
Danny de Armas, who served as chairman of the Imagine If Great Commission Resurgence Task Force in Florida that made the 50/50 recommendation, wrote in favor of proceeding with the mandate.
"We should not allow our commitment to a 50/50 split to be paralyzed by the fear of our demise," de Armas wrote July 26.
The liquidity report, he said, "should be a concern to all Florida Baptists and addressing it should be a top priority," but the way to address it is to decrease convention expenses.
"In business, one of the surest roads to financial ruin is to operate under the myth that one can climb out of a financial crisis solely by increasing revenue," de Armas, senior associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, wrote in the Witness.
"While increasing revenue will ease a crisis, it's rarely within management's control. Disappointingly, it seems our convention staff has sought to make implementation of the 50/50 split contingent upon a corresponding increase in giving," de Armas added.
Cutting expenses, though, is a factor the convention can control, and it's the only way to ensure that the 50/50 mandate is met, he said. The Great Commission is the motivation behind the mandate, de Armas wrote, and "the issue at hand is not priority or superiority; it is locality."
"Most of the lost people in the world don't live where we live," de Armas wrote. "... Your Task Force concluded that less property, streamlined programming, and fewer employees would not mean we are ineffective or even less effective." Addressing liquidity and achieving a 50/50 split are not incompatible objectives, he wrote.
Darin Kress, a member of the State Board of Missions serving on the budget-allocations committee, wrote a column published by the Witness Aug. 8, stating, "Florida Baptists should not apologize for making sure we have the necessary funding to expand our base of ministry here at home."
The ministry base, he said, provides funding for the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, The Baptist College of Florida, church plants, evangelistic events, training and mission partnerships -- all of which have international implications.
"The North American Mission Board estimated that only 4 percent of the people of South Florida are Christians," Kress wrote. "As a percentage, there are fewer Christians in South Florida than communist China (5.0), and South Florida has the same percentage of believers as the especially repressive communist country of North Korea....
"Florida needs more churches, more funding, and a much wider base of ministry."
Kress, pastor of Scott Lake Baptist Church in Lakeland, said the hope that accompanied the task force's 50/50 recommendation was that Florida Baptist churches would increase their giving by .25 percent of undesignated receipts each year for four years.
The convention budget has been cut by 25 percent over the past few years, he said.
"Expenses have not just been reduced -- they have been slashed," Kress wrote. "Financial stress has been incurred.... Further budget reductions to the base will only hurt the evangelization of Florida -- and, ultimately, the rest of the world. The base can only be expanded by increased revenue."
In its report and recommendations to the convention in 2010, the Imagine If task force acknowledged that achieving a 50/50 split within four years "could create organizational and financial stress on the Florida Baptist Convention, and these stresses should not eliminate the necessity for reaching the desired goal within the four year window."
"However, as a safety net, the task force further recommends that a contingency plan be developed by the State Board of Missions which will ensure implementation of the 50/50 division of funds in no longer than seven years, even in the event of such stresses," the recommendation stated.
The task force did mention a need for increased giving by Florida Baptist churches, but the overall objective was to achieve the 50/50 despite financial stress.
During the May 25 State Board of Missions meeting at which the auditors' warning was issued, the board decided to contact 661 Florida Baptist churches that have not contributed through the Cooperative Program for the past three years.
Tommy Green, a board member from Brandon, said 78 percent of non-contributing churches in Florida have fewer than 100 members, according to the report in the Witness. Even if those churches stepped up their giving, it would not make the needed difference in the state convention's budget, Green said.
"We have churches that have tremendous budgets that are not on board with the Cooperative Program," Green, pastor of First Baptist Church in Brandon, said, according to the report. "... I don't want to see the Florida Baptist Convention come to a point where we can no longer do viable ministry here in Florida for the sake of sending monies somewhere else."
Green's assessment was that the convention already has made drastic cuts and cannot realistically cut another $2 million per year.
Board members from each association planned to contact the specific churches within their associations in order to cover the 661 non-contributing congregations.
Among the potential reasons churches choose not to contribute to missions through the Cooperative Program, a board workgroup suggested, is an attitude of not wanting to support denominational bureaucracy.
John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, contested the charge that the convention's work was bureaucratic, according to the report.
"I don't know where it [bureaucracy] is," Sullivan said. "I give up just about 46 Saturdays a year to drive to preach in a church on Sunday. I spend more time out of my office than in. I spend more nights out of my own bed and in a hotel than I spend at home."
The convention staff members elected by the board, Sullivan said, "are on the road all the time preaching." He referred to an evaluation which found 58 board-elected staff members in 2011 recorded 4,118 Gospel presentations; established 22,994 outreach contacts; recorded 2,464 professions of faith; and led 1,292 Bible studies and 1,461 worship services, the June 13 report stated.
Florida Baptists are headed toward a 2013 Cooperative Program budget of $31.6 million, increasing the amount forwarded for national and international missions and ministries by 1 percent to 41.5 percent if approved by the State Board of Missions Sept. 21 and by messengers to the annual meeting in November.
The proposed budget was approved by the State Board of Missions' budget-allocations committee Aug. 16. Sullivan said the convention is still on track to achieve a 50/50 split in the next seven years.
"The bad news is [CP giving from Florida churches] hasn't gone up; the good news is it hasn't gone down," Sullivan said, according to a state communications report in the Witness Aug. 22.
Since 2005, the Florida convention, Sullivan said, has cut $10 million from its budget, downsizing staff by more than 50 employees. In 2014, as the North American Mission Board shifts its funding strategy, Florida agencies and institutions will have to "share the pain" of budget cuts, Sullivan said.
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).