By Bob Allen
The Florida Baptist State Board of Missions approved a reorganization Sept. 18 reducing the number of statewide employees from 115 to 61. The 47-percent staff reduction implements a proposed 2016 Florida Baptist Cooperative Program budget of $29 million that will send 51 percent of money received from the 3,000 Southern Baptist churches in the state to the Southern Baptist Convention for worldwide missions while retaining 49 percent for use within the state.
New money earmarked for the SBC — and specifically for the International Mission Board — will provide funds for 20 additional missionary families, Florida Baptist Executive Director Thomas Green reported in announcing the budget, which must be approved by messengers to the state convention’s 2015 annual meeting Nov. 8-10 in Panama City, Fla.
Green, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., was elected in May to replace John Sullivan, who retired after 26 years at the helm. He announced upon election plans to expedite progress toward a goal of a 50/50 funding split between state and national bodies established by a “Great Commission” task force report to the SBC in 2010.
Green said by upping the ante to a budget that “sends more than we keep,” the state convention established in 1854 becomes the first SBC affiliate since the Great Commission Task Force report to say so boldly: “We believe in this. We believe in reaching the nations for Christ.”
First proposed in a paper by a seminary president calling for a “Great Commission Resurgence” emphasizing missions modeled after the “Conservative Resurgence” embrace of biblical inerrancy, the idea initially was met with some skepticism, in part because of negative reaction to a characterization of “bloated bureaucracies” that was deleted in subsequent drafts.
Five years ago Florida Baptists approved gradually moving toward a 50/50 division of funds between the state convention and the SBC, a move at the time deemed radical. This year’s budget increased the percentage forwarded to the national denomination to 45 percent, with 55 percent remaining in the state.
Prior to his retirement, Sullivan optimistically believed a 50/50 split was possible by 2017, a year ahead of schedule.
Upon election, Green, a former state convention president and member of the State Board of Missions, said he believed members of his church would be disappointed that the 2015 budget sends only 45 percent of its receipts to the SBC and sets aside another 4 percent as “shared ministries.”
In 2015 that amounts to $1,152,000 in negotiated funds underwriting SBC agency ministries like Cooperative Program promotion, stewardship development, theological education, foreign missions partnerships and church planting that are deducted before the division of funds between the state and national conventions.
According to a news release, the downsizing eliminates 36 board-elected staff positions, some of them currently vacant. Twenty-two board-elected employees and 29 support staff will be laid off. Green assured board members those terminated “were treated fairly and generously” in severance compensation.
Recently Green shared his vision with a total of 900 pastors, staff members and directors of missions in a series of five regional meetings across the state. He said the downsizing “will not in any way back off any ministries we have provided,” describing a “new delivery system.”
A strategy of “decentralization, regionalization and personalization” will position a staff person to serve and live in each of the five regions across the state, Green said at the meetings. These regional directors will enlist “best-practice persons” located in the area to help churches with the unique needs of their communities.
Staff persons will no longer serve as interim pastors, Green said, because serving a single church for an extended period of time prevents them from visiting churches each week.
He pledged “a biblical approach,” in church planting, with congregations — not the state convention — planting churches.
Green said he hopes the streamlined state convention will encourage churches to increase their giving to missions. That in turn would allow the Florida Baptist Convention to pass on even more money to national and international ministries.
“My heart is to lead the Florida Baptist Convention to be a convention that sends 60 percent forward and keeps 40 percent here,” he said.
In 2014 Florida Baptist churches gave $29,643,195 through the Cooperative Program, 1.84 percent less than the previous year and the smallest total in 15 years. Those funds were divided between SBC causes, which received 43 percent, and Florida Baptist Convention mission causes, 57 percent.
Recently the International Mission Board announced plans to eliminate between 600 and 800 positions, due to budget shortfalls.