The planned merger of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship state groups in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi will benefit poverty, food insecurity and anti-racism ministries well beyond that region, CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley said.
“The oldest Together for Hope sites are in these states, and these three are already leaders in the work around racial justice,” Baxley said. “By coming together, they don’t just strengthen that region, but they will amplify those gifts throughout the larger Fellowship.”
CBF Mississippi Coordinator Jason Coker announced Oct. 13 that the three state organizations had been discussing the possibility of a merger since the spring, spurred initially by the near simultaneous transition of leadership in all three organizations this year.
Facilitated by Baxley, an exploratory team consisting of four members from each state met from May through August to imagine how such a move would work administratively and how combining and streamlining resources could enhance ministries such as disaster response and Together for Hope, a multi-state rural poverty initiative transitioning soon from a CBF ministry into an independent nonprofit to be headed by Coker.
The three state coordinating councils already have voted to accept the team’s recommendation to pursue a merger, and a new governing board is expected to be formed in the coming weeks or months.
The exploratory process was inspired by a spirit of creativity, not scarcity, Baxley noted. “These folks didn’t have a conversation motivated by organizational survival. They saw an opportunity for a more compelling witness. They had two meetings a month because they saw an opportunity.”
Baxley said CBF Global’s role in the process was to provide any guidance asked for along the way. “Our role was to facilitate and convene those conversations so these three organizations could affirm their shared ministry commitments. We believed it was important that the elected leadership of the three states authorize a formal and above-board way that regionalization could be pursued.”
CBF Global will provide administrative support to the emerging entity and will collaborate on missions and ministry guidance as requested, Baxley added. “CBF Global has provided HR services for interested states and regions.”
Exploratory team member Preston Clegg predicted the combining of the three state entities will result in more effective local ministry.
“I believe this merger will serve to connect churches that are doing meaningful work, create missions and ministry partnerships that will only strengthen the work of all, and provide a critical mass of congregations, clergy and laity to enable a robust public witness,” said Clegg, past moderator of CBF Arkansas and pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock.
“I fully believe this merger will strengthen all that is good and right about CBFAR rather than dilute it, and I’m excited about the possibility before us.”
The conditions leading into the transition lined up so well that they were impossible to ignore, Coker said. They included the recent retirement of CBF Louisiana Coordinator Kyle Kelley and the nearing retirement of CBF Arkansas Coordinator Ray Higgins. Plus, Coker is set to leave CBF Mississippi to run Together for Hope full-time.
“The providence of those three things happening independently was what kind of created the conversation,” he said. “We all realized that this is a perfect moment.”
And a three-state leadership structure will have no problem functioning effectively since state-level business has been conducted virtually throughout the pandemic, anyway, he added. “Everything that has been done has been done on Zoom. That is the norm. We know how to do virtual so well that the comradery that developed on that (exploratory) committee is uncanny, and they have only met virtually.”
“We felt like the Holy Spirit was doing something and we were paying attention to it. We felt like this was an opportunity that could only be missed.”
The merger will be a ministry multiplier, Kelley said. “Now we have more than triple the amount of resources, people and comradery. This will energize our folks.”