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Momentum stalled, CBF board discusses growth initiatives

ATLANTA (BP)–The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Coordinating Council discussed ideas to kickstart the organization’s stalled growth and approved a 2.5 percent increase in next year’s budget during an April 17-19 meeting in Atlanta.

The governing board of the six-year-old moderate Baptist group also approved a personnel policies and procedures manual and will nominate four people from Kentucky, Texas and Arkansas to the 80-member council at the CBF General Assembly in Louisville, Ky., in June. The council was informed that Phil Lineberger, a council member from Sugar Land, Texas, and a former Texas convention president, had resigned from the council, electing Ken Massey, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, Texas, to replace him. No reason was given for Lineberger’s resignation.

But the obvious thrust of the meeting was how to kickstart the movement which has plateaued in growth and finances. CBF was started as a protest group by moderate Baptists critical of Southern Baptist Convention leadership.

Daniel Vestal, former Texas and Georgia pastor and CBF chief executive officer since Jan. 1, gave the council five “growth initiatives” in response to his question, “Why are we not growing?” Discussion on his ideas punctuated various task groups and committee sessions during the two days’ sessions.

That stalled growth was reflected in the 1997-98 budget the council will propose to its General Assembly.

The new budget is actually the same budget number, $14,102,000, as the budget approved at last year’s General Assembly. However, the coordinating council had reduced its 1996-97 budget in mid-year to $13,982,243, cutting expenses in anticipation of a shortfall in receipts. The CBF fiscal year is July 1 to June 30.

CBF officials, who like to give three goals for their budgets — “would like to spend,” “should spend” and “must spend” — were subdued in that process, calling the 1997-98 budget strictly a “must spend.” Added to the budget will be a 2.5 percent reserve for “all ministry areas to be used on a pro rata basis to cover shortfalls in undesignated giving.”

The shortfall is what has plagued CBF for the past two years after record double-digit growth the first four years. After nine months of this fiscal year, CBF receipts are right on the revised projections of the February meeting at $12,580,000, officials said.

Thus, the proposed 1997-98 budget, if approved in June, means the group anticipates a budget nearly 14 percent above projected 1996-97 receipts.

As a result, budget planners said they anticipate drawing from CBF reserves and spending the earnings on some reserves to meet the budget in 1997-98.

Taking the biggest cuts in the proposed budget are scholarships for students at CBF-affiliated theological schools and grants to those same schools. Mercer University, Atlanta, will receive a grant of $227,912 in the budget compared to $350,000 last year and Truett Seminary on the Baylor University campus, Waco, Texas, will receive $161,488 compared to last year’s $200,000.

The Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., at $318,000, will receive $82,000 less than the revised 1996-97 budget adopted in February while Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Kan., an American Baptist-affiliated school, at $150,000, will receive $50,000 less.

Grants to “Friends of ABP” also will be less: Associated Baptist Press, at $144,000 down $16,000; Baptists Today paper, at $49,500 down $5,500; and the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, at $282,700 down $30,300.

The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, which had earlier been dropped from the CBF budget due to a controversial stand on homosexuality, was restored in the proposed 1997-98 budget at $8,000.

The proposed 1997-98 budget does allow for a net growth of six missionaries. Currently CBF has 142 missionaries in the United States and around the world. In that regard, the global missions portion of the budget increases from $8,886,913 approved last year to $9,714,420 for 1997-98, although it was revised in February to $9,677,279 by the council. The global missions portion of the entire budget — the CBF annual offering amount is included in the budget — will be 68.89 percent if the proposed budget is approved in Louisville.

Vestal, while saying the “CBF is facing a bright future,” nevertheless spent nearly all of his “state of the CBF” address on growth initiatives. He said the future of CBF “will be shaped by our faithfulness to our vision” and said the group’s decision last year not to call itself a “convention” was proper: “We are a fellowship.”

He listed three things slowing CBF’s growth: fear by pastors in leading their churches to CBF, ignorance by laypeople of CBF and indifference among Baptists in general.

He said it could be overcome by education and “exemplifying who we say we are.” He listed five steps:

1) start new churches.

2) have an intentional placement system for ministers.

3) find ways to help educate and advocate women in leadership. “God is calling women to leadership.”

4) reconnect “ourselves to a vision of a multi-culture, multi- language, multi-ethnic fellowship … We have failed in this area.”

5) explore the beginning of annuity and medical programs for CBF churches and ministers.

In other action: four people will be nominated to the council at the Louisville meeting: Nancy Burke, Jonesboro, Ark.; Hugh McElrath and David Burroughs, both of Louisville, Ky.; and Phil Martin, Houston.

The council also approved a revision to its personnel policies and procedures manual and changed the church resources ministry group to include three task groups: equipping congregations, equipping laity and equipping clergy. Council members also approved their officers appointing a committee to study adding two new ministry groups: networking and communication. Presently, the structure has a global missions group, Baptist principles group and church resources group.

    About the Author

  • Herb Hollinger