Cooperative Baptist Fellowship state organizations in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi have voted to merge into a single regional organization in a process facilitated by CBF leaders.
“Our coordinating councils have all unanimously approved this and in each of our separate annual meetings there was unanimous support all the way through,” CBF Mississippi Coordinator Jason Coker said after announcing the merger Oct. 13.
The recommendation to merge originated from an exploratory committee made up of four members from each state, he said.
“The next step will be for the coordinating councils to appoint a person from each state to serve on a three-person committee to then build out the new governing board, with five people from each state.”
The dates those milestones may be reached isn’t known, nor is when the new organization — and its eventual name — will become realities, Coker added. “It’s going to be months away, but they are working on all of that at a very fast pace.”
The merger idea began with conversations between leaders of the Mississippi and Louisiana organizations five or six years ago, former CBF Louisiana Coordinator Kyle Kelley said. “But the time just wasn’t right. It never really materialized.”
The concept was revived around the spring of 2021 when leaders in all three groups realized they were either retiring soon or — in Coker’s case — transitioning into another ministry, leaving all three groups facing simultaneous leadership vacancies, he said.
Kelley retired in September, and Higgins is set to do so at the end of December. Coker is set to assume full-time leadership of Together for Hope as it transitions from a CBF ministry into an independent nonprofit organization.
This seemed like the time to act, Coker said. “We had some joint coordinating council meetings of the three states by Zoom. The stars just kind of aligned, and I think everybody had the same idea at the same time.”
Kelley added that CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley and Strategic Engagement Officer Adam Granger have facilitated the process.
CBF Arkansas Executive Coordinator Ray Higgins said the distinctives of the three groups will not be lost in the merger.
“Each state will continue to enjoy its own unique relationships, ministries, partnerships and culture while joining together into a new relationship which will create a stronger collaborative regional presence,” Higgins said. “I am impressed with the wise conversations and genuine prayers that gave birth to this vision and decision.”
“Each state will continue to enjoy its own unique relationships, ministries, partnerships and culture while joining together into a new relationship which will create a stronger collaborative regional presence.”
CBF Mississippi kicked off the process by voting to merge on Sept. 18, followed by the other two states on Oct. 3.
Members of the 15-person governing council, once formed, will serve two- and three-year terms while moderators, moderators-elect and past moderators will rotate annually to ensure each state is regularly represented at the highest levels, Coker said.
“The new staff structure recommended by the exploratory team was to have two full-time co-coordinators and one administrative assistant,” Coker said. “The location of these three personnel will be determined by the new governing body. Collectively, the new CBF regional organization will have 39 congregations and dozens of Together for Hope sites.”
And there are great opportunities for synergy between those sites in the merger, he added. “One of the most exciting possibilities is the mission focus on Together for Hope that our three states have had historically. This shared mission and focus promises to be a renewal and transformation of CBF identity in our three states.”
Disaster relief ministry will be another area enhanced by the merger, Kelley said. “It’s about economies of scale. We had a rough time with (Hurricane) Ida and with (Hurricane) Laura before that. We are just starting to open up from the pandemic and this would give us access to more funds and to more volunteers.”