By Tommy Green, Executive Director-Treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention
Is there a future for our Baptist state conventions? I firmly believe so—provided we focus on our connection with the local church. Jesus didn’t promise to build state conventions. He promised to build his Church. Therefore, the value of a state convention will not be determined by the size of its staff, its building, its budget, or its programming. Value will be determined by one metric alone—investment in the local church. When we bring value to the church, we bring glory to God.
For us at the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC), we’ve adopted a structure that aims our resources back to the church and to global missions. Getting more resources toward the mission has led us to decentralize, regionalize, and personalize every aspect of ministry within the FBC. The local church practitioners are the specialists, so we decentralize our personnel in order to engage our ministers, providing them with quality training throughout our state. We’ve moved toward regionalization in order to put our team within the region of the churches they serve. And we’ve sought to personalize our service to the churches by asking, “How can we serve you?” Every church is unique, so our service to each of them should be, too. We’re there to see what we can give, and to do that, we need to listen closely.
If we’re going to reach Florida for Christ, the tip of the spear must be church planting and revitalization. We believe that churches plant and revitalize churches. So we have committed resources to the sending church as they fulfill the vision God has given to the local church. The funding given to the sending church is fully at their discretion. The Florida Baptist Convention seeks to be ‘Right Beside You’ in ministry—not ahead, leading the way; nor behind, failing to engage. The local church is the decision maker for the Florida Baptist Convention.
The state convention is the gatekeeper for Cooperative Program (CP) funds. So when the local churches send their CP gifts to the state conventions, those state level distributions are then made to the Southern Baptist Convention. The state convention determines the formula of the percentage sent to the SBC and retained within the state. I’ve seen us grow in this over the past few months. The FBC had been retaining 59% of the CP dollars and sending 41% to the SBC in 2015. We decided to change the funding formula so that 51% would be sent to the SBC and 49% retained in Florida. In November of 2015 we approved this decision unanimously and enthusiastically.
The results have been exciting. We saw CP giving from Florida Baptist churches increase for the first time since 2006. For 2016, in fact, our CP giving is exceeding our budget for the year. But we aren’t done yet. We desire to release more for global missions than we keep in Florida. The 51/49% split is not the end for our budgeting formula, but the beginning. Our next goal is a 55/45% division, and there’s considerable excitement about giving more away It is humbling to witness the unity and sacrifice of our Florida Baptist churches in this cause.
When it comes to CP giving, we do not guilt our churches. I have not initiated any individual conversations with pastors concerning their church’s commitment to CP. I fully believe that the local church decision must be valued and honored by our SBC. The percentage a church gives is not the litmus test for our involvement with that local church. As a former pastor of a local church, I fully understand the nuances of resources, commitments, and factors that impact a local church budget. The state convention exists for the church and not the church for the state convention. Our goal is to bring value and not guilt to the churches of Florida.
We are currently selling our state convention headquarters in Jacksonville. Our hope is to close on the sale of the property at the end of 2016, and we plan to send 51% of the proceeds directly to the SBC, keeping 49% of the resources within Florida. What a rich and abundant blessing from God for the work of the Kingdom!
If we continue to respond to the needs of the local church by being fluid partners in ministry, the future of state conventions will be bright. The Florida Baptist Convention is experiencing an upward trajectory that can be attributed to our willingness to restructure our strategies, change our CP budgeting, and focus more consistently on the local church.
The Cooperative Program fuels the fire of global missions, and the state convention is a vital gatekeeper for these resources. I am grateful that God is honoring the decisions of the Florida Baptist Convention. I am thankful to serve among men and women who are committed to #ReachFlorida and #BeyondFlorida with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I am excited for the future, as Jesus leads us onward in the Great Commission!