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Ariz. Baptists continue toward centennial goals

GLENDALE, Ariz. (BP) — Arizona Southern Baptists took a step toward fulfilling their Centennial Vision by increasing their Cooperative Program support of Southern Baptist Convention causes by 1.45 percentage points at their Nov. 14 annual meeting.

The Centennial Vision, adopted at last year’s annual meeting, calls for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention to give 50 percent of its Cooperative Program receipts to missions outside Arizona through the SBC by 2028.

The vision paints a picture of Arizona Southern Baptists in 2028 when the convention will celebrate its 100th anniversary. It sets goals more than doubling the number of churches along with increasing average Bible study participation, baptisms, missions involvement and Cooperative Program giving by the churches.

A total of 298 messengers and 60 guests representing the convention’s 456 churches attended the annual meeting at First Southern Baptist Church at Sahuaro Ranch in Glendale, with the theme “Life on Mission.”

During the single afternoon session, messengers elected three officers by acclamation and adopted a revised constitution.

Prior to the worship and business session, convention attendees participated in a mission fair and heard from Dustin Willis, mobilization and equipping coordinator with the North American Mission Board, at Arizona Baptists’ annual Leadership Conference. The theme of the Leadership Conference was the title of the book Willis co-authored, “Life on Mission: Joining the Everyday Mission of God.”

ASBC Executive Director David W. Johnson, in his Centennial Vision report, said although final numbers are not in, trends are being seen for increases in baptisms, Cooperative Program giving by churches and missions participation. In addition, he said, “I see churches working and talking together about revitalization across our state … and I see churches coming together to pray for revival and spiritual awakening.”

Recalling the “I have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. more than 50 years ago, Johnson said Arizona Southern Baptists have a dream.

“We have a dream that our children and grandchildren will live in a place where there is a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching church to reach every people group, age group and language group in Arizona,” he said.

“We have a dream that every college student, every Native American, every immigrant from every country, every cowboy, every biker, every prisoner, every teenager, every drug addict, every mom and dad, every senior adult and every person from every lifestyle will have a chance to hear the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The dream includes caring for children and families through Arizona Baptist Children’s Services and training those who surrender to missions and ministry through the Arizona Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, he said. The dream is of healthy churches reaching people for Christ and making disciples and of the winds of revival sweeping over Arizona Southern Baptists.

“That is why we have a Centennial Vision. That’s what the Cooperative Program is all about. That’s why we must risk it all. Are you with me Arizona Southern Baptists?” Johnson concluded to a standing ovation.

In the annual meeting’s closing message, Kevin Ezell, North American Mission Board president, urged pastors not to be discouraged or distracted and to pray for open doors of opportunity to share the Gospel.

“I’m just not convinced that we’re to the point where we have a sense of desperation about sharing our faith,” Ezell said. “I truly believe that people are more open to hearing the Gospel than we are open to share it.”

Ezell introduced the “3 Circles: Life Conversation Guide” and demonstrated the use of the evangelism tool by telling of a witnessing experience he had on a plane on the way to Arizona. More than 1 million copies of the conversation guide have been distributed, and the Apple and Android apps have been downloaded nearly 25,000 times in the last three months, he said.

“We’ve had thousands of people come to know Christ by using three circles and three arrows,” Ezell said.

Messengers adopted a $3,180,000 Cooperative Program budget and a $4,723,951 state convention operating budget for 2015. The Cooperative Program budget total remains unchanged since 2011.

The budget increases the percentage of Cooperative Program receipts designated for SBC missions and ministries to 27.5 percent, up from 26.05 percent in 2014. This is the first increase since 2009. The budget does not designate any Cooperative Program funds as shared expenses with the SBC.

The ASBC’s portion of Cooperative Program receipts is $1,892,100, or 59.5 percent of receipts, a .6859 percentage point decrease from the 2014 percentage.

Officers elected for 2014-15, all elected by acclamation, are: president, Bret Burnett, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church in Tucson; first vice president, Joshua Tompkins, youth pastor at Laveen Baptist Church in Laveen; and second vice president for a second term, Debra Wolfrey, education director for Valley Rim Southern Baptist Association and a member of Pinnacle Church in Scottsdale.

Messengers adopted a revised constitution that redefines qualifications for membership in the convention, eliminates the Committee on Committees and changes the size, composition and organization of the Convention Council. While opportunity was provided during the business session for discussion, no questions were raised, and the revised constitution was adopted almost unanimously on a vote by raised hands.

The revised constitution adds the phrase “supporting the Cooperative Program” to the description of the “messengers/members from Southern Baptist churches” who are members of the ASBC. In a Q&A provided earlier to churches, David Johnson explained that the requirement “relates specifically to sending messengers to the annual meeting” and not to whether a church would still be a part of the convention based on their giving.

“We believe that, in order to participate in the decision-making process, churches should support what we are doing together as Arizona Southern Baptists,” Johnson wrote.

The revised constitution reduces the size of the Convention Council, which conducts convention business between annual sessions, from 35 to 25, plus the convention officers. Instead of two people serving from each “associational area,” plus an additional person for each 7,000 church members above the first 7,000, each of the 13 associational areas will now have one council member, and the rest will be at-large members.

The smaller size, which will be accomplished through attrition, will be more efficient and effective as council teams “work together toward the Centennial Vision goals,” Johnson wrote.

The 2015 annual meeting will be Nov. 13 at Stone Ridge Church in Yuma.