LEESBURG (FBW)—Learning of a $642,107 budget shortfall in 2012 Cooperative Program receipts, the State Board of Missions Feb. 7 approved 2013 funding cuts for the Baptist College of Florida, Florida Baptist Children’s Homes and Florida Baptist Witness—and the elimination of four Florida Baptist Convention board-elected staff. The changes were approved at the SBOM’s first meeting of the year at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center.
A new budget incorporating these cuts will be presented to the Board in May that reduces the Florida Baptist Cooperative Program budget for 2013 from $31.6 million to $31 million.
The action to reduce the funding to the agencies and staff according to Executive Director John Sullivan was based on three factors as the Convention prepares its 2014 budget: a commitment not to deficit spend; final funding reductions by the North American Mission Board on jointly funded emphases; and the commitment to increase the percentage of funds earmarked to the SBC Cooperative Program.
In 2011 at the urging of the Great Commission Resurgence task force, Florida Baptists voted to increase their giving through the SBC Cooperative Program from 40 percent to 50 percent, evenly dividing gifts in half from Florida churches between state and national mission causes. The State Board of Missions created a seven-year plan to accomplish that, earmarking 41.5 percent of the budget for 2013, with the goal of increasing the percentage each year.
Yet throughout this time giving by Florida Baptist churches has decreased, from $41 million in 2007 to $31 million in 2012, forcing the Convention to steadily cut staff and expenses.
The action taken during this meeting was the first time the agencies and institutions have received a decrease in their Cooperative Program percentage funding, while the Convention has downsized its staff by more than 30 percent, or 61 employees. As approved by the Board, BCF will receive a $101,150 cut in its operating budget for the current year; FBCH will receive a $79,080 decrease; and the Witness gave up $19,770.
Sullivan pledged to each agency, however, that if budget overages in excess of the original $31.6 million are received in 2013, the money will be reinstituted at the end of the year.
After learning that according to the Convention’s seven-year plan, 50 percent of any overage would be sent to the Southern Baptist Convention, Dennis Littleton of Palm Coast made a motion to “consider revising the current convention mandate to split the budget overages 50/50.”
That motion, along with an amendment for the Board to readdress the entire 50/50 percentage proposal in light of the current financial crisis, made by Jack Roland of Ocala, sparked an hour-long debate among Board members. The amendment subsequently failed to garner a majority of support.
“We are cutting back staff members, we are cutting back funding to the Children’s Homes and to our college,” said Roland. “At what point do we recommend readdressing the 50/50 issue and the shared ministry issues and those things that are affecting what is going on?”
“So the Convention will understand where we are going and what appears to be a downward spiral,” he urged.
Rob Arnold of Orlando said he was concerned that “if churches ramp up their giving, anything over $31 million, half of that goes out of the state. I struggle with that,” he explained, adding, “I feel like we are beginning to cut into muscle.”
Walter West of St. Augustine noted that the 50/50 commitment was “based on the commitment of churches to increase their support of the Florida Baptist Convention. It seems to me in structuring what we are doing that everything has been based upon the accountability only going on the side of the Florida Baptist Convention.”
Curtis Clark of Tallahassee said he voted for the decision to split Cooperative Program 50/50 during the 2010 state convention because he wanted more dollars allocated for the international mission field.
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