RENO, Nev. (BP)–Nevada Southern Baptists will vote in October on a proposal to merge their state convention and four associations into one entity and increase their Cooperative Program missions giving by two-thirds over the next five years.
The chairman of the task force bringing that recommendation said it is an ‘”out of the box'” response to ‘”stark choices'” facing the state’s 179 churches and mission congregations.
The Nevada Baptist Convention’s executive board voted unanimously Sept. 21 to send the plan to messengers at the Oct. 18-19 annual meeting in Reno, said Hoyt Savage, pastor of Foothills Baptist Church in Las Vegas and chairman of the 14-member task force. The proposal’s five recommendations were solidified through six months of research, discussion and listening sessions since the task force was commissioned in March.
Savage said four factors influenced the decision to bring such a dramatic proposal: uncertainty about the impact of the national Southern Baptist Convention’s Great Commission Resurgence plan on missions funding in the state; the difficult economic climate facing churches in the state; declining church revenues; and a desire to be a force for mission advance rather than an object of outreach.
Nevada’s Southern Baptists ‘”face some exciting days and, candidly, some tough decisions lie ahead, as well,'” the document states. ‘”The implications for our state are not yet completely understood. There is some uncertainty on a national convention, state convention and even on an associational level. One thing is certain: Change will and must happen.'”
The document notes that Cooperative Program missions receipts in Nevada have dropped by more than 20 percent over the past three years and that less than 2 percent of each dollar placed in church offering plates makes its way to national and international missions causes. It also acknowledges that 91 percent of the state convention’s financial resources come from the North American Mission Board. The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report, adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in June, calls for existing funding agreements between NAMB and state conventions to be phased out and renegotiated.
The Nevada Baptist Convention and its local associations ‘”are faced with changes, whether we want to or not,'” the report states. ‘”Funding processes will change and in most scenarios, stand the chance of being reduced, depending on how the North American Mission Board will respond to that. As of right now, we do not see any of the associations being able to stand alone on funding their director of missions, support staff and the missions outreach that in many cases has been available in the past.
‘”Review of Nevada church giving reveals there are a significant number of churches not currently giving to the Cooperative Program,'” the report continues. ‘”The reasons for this are varied and many. With this proposal, it is believed that this process will encourage all churches to participate in the Cooperative Program, will provide opportunity to maintain funding for the four associations in the Nevada Baptist Convention, and supporting our effort to contribute to the Great Commission.'”
The recommendations are dramatic and were not made easily, Savage told Baptist Press.
‘”We do recognize all the implications of the proposal, but there are those of us in Nevada who do not want to be the mission, we want to be on mission,'” Savage said. ‘”We do not feel this was mandated by anyone, by any outside change. If you look at our history, you will find that from our first annual meeting in 1979 we have moved every year toward that 50/50 mark. We got slowed down the last couple of years with making no increase, but we are committed to continue that pace — like those who started our convention had that vision 30-plus years ago.
‘”At this point, we’re still at 14.4 percent unemployment across the state,'” Savage said. ‘”Las Vegas is the highest per capita foreclosure city in the United States, for 30-plus months consecutively. These recommendations were not made without reality that things may not turn around here for another couple of years. It certainly wasn’t made easily and there were lots of questions and issues, but the NBC executive board was unanimous in support of that vision.
‘”It was out of the box. It’s painful. But we want to not only survive, we want to thrive,'” Savage said. ‘”This proposal is the way God opened up to us that we could continue working together and not be pulled from one allegiance or the other, where churches could stay focused on the main thing and maintain a single focus of church strengthening and church planting.
‘”Not knowing what cooperative agreements are going to do, we had to build on what we knew we could count on. We believed we could count on our churches, and we have to plan for that,'” Savage added. ‘”We will see what the future brings with our great partner, the North American Mission Board, then we’ll know what else we can do. We felt we had to plan for our future with our resources, then continue to look for what new partnership would look like.
‘”Ultimately, I think the change is that we can let the circumstances crush us or hurt us, but we were trying to find God’s plan to adapt and move forward toward the Great Commission in Nevada and to the ends of the earth,'” Savage concluded. ‘”Those were some of the stark choices that were before us and God led in an incredible way.'”
The proposal’s first four recommendations call for Nevada Baptists to embrace:
— A renewed emphasis on prayer, repentance and personal evangelism. ‘”When the chronicles of the Nevada Baptist Convention are written, may they reveal a prayerful and repentant people empowered by God — sharing the Good News with every man, woman, and child in this state. If we fail in prayer, repentance, and evangelism, we fail everywhere.'”
— A ‘”Churches start churches'” orientation. Future church starts must be tied to churches, not individuals. Though we wholeheartedly support and affirm the work of missionaries in the church-starting process, we feel strongly that effective church starts will be accomplished by a single church or a family of churches working together.'”
— A new commitment to pastor/church partnerships across the state. ‘”With the development of new technologies and resources, many churches relate to other churches based more on affinity while others relate more based on proximity. We recommend implementing a program of voluntary pastor-to-pastor or church-to-church partnerships for encouragement, resourcing, and prayer support.'”
— A new spirit of financial sacrifice to fulfill the Great Commission. ‘”Although we don’t know all the ways NBC’s ministry funding might change, we are committed to be proactive rather than reactive. To be effective in the future, the NBC needs to be lean and visionary — more self-sufficient financially and less dependent on ‘outside’ funding sources.'”
The fifth recommendation is that the Nevada Baptist Convention and all four associations ‘”unite into one ministry entity called the Nevada Baptist Network.'”
‘”We sense God is calling us to a new vision of cooperation among Nevada’s churches,'” the report states. ‘”Our recommendation calls for a single ministry organization — less bureaucratic, more cooperative, and more focused. By streamlining the organizational structure, we can build a healthy foundation to accomplish the task of strengthening existing churches and starting new ones.'”
According to the document, all state convention staff, including current associational directors of missions, would be accountable to the executive director-treasurer and executive board.
The recommendations call for the division of Cooperative Program missions receipts to move to a 70/30 split in 2011, from the current 70.5/29.5 formula. The formula would then increase the percentage to national and international causes by 5 percentage points until a 50/50 division is reached in 2015.
The full text of the document is available on the Nevada Baptist Convention website, www.nbcsbc.org.
Besides Savage, the other members of the task force are Terry Arnold, transitional interim executive director-treasurer of the Nevada Baptist Convention; Rob Boyd, pastor of Green Valley Baptist Church in Las Vegas; Frank Bushey, NBC president and pastor of Fellowship Community Church in Reno; Thomas Chandler, pastor of First Baptist Church in Carson City; Cathy McAdoo, member of Calvary Baptist Church in Elko; Greg McCabe, pastor of Mason Valley Southern Baptist Church in Yerington; Mark Morton, pastor of Granite Hills Baptist Church in Reno; Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas; Michael Rochelle, pastor of Shadow Hills Baptist Church in Las Vegas; John Mark Simmons, pastor of Highland Hills Baptist Church in Henderson; Joe Taylor, pastor of South Reno Baptist Church in Reno; Ron Trummell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Pahrump; and Charlie Vaughn, pastor of Austin/Yomba Baptist Church in Austin.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.