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New governing documents approved by Georgia Baptists

Messengers attending the Georgia Baptist Convention’s annual meeting hold up copies of updates to 200-year-old governing documents on Tuesday prior to approving the updates. Photo by Henry Durand/Christian Index

SNELLVILLE, Ga. (BP) – Messengers attending the Georgia Baptist Convention’s annual meeting gave provisional approval to updates to 200-year-old governing documents on Tuesday in a move that is intended to provide greater legal protections to churches and the state Mission Board.

Tim Oliver, chairman of the Georgia Baptist Administration Committee, said messengers “owe a great debt of gratitude” to the faithful church leaders who penned the original governing documents but that they had become dated over the years.

“In these recent days, godly men and women have labored tirelessly to review and revise these organizational documents in order that the generations to come will have the proper legal structures to press on in this work,” Oliver said.

Under the provisional approval, the governing documents will be subject to amendments at next year’s annual meeting, a precaution against any potential oversights or unintended consequences.

The new documents establish the Georgia Baptist Convention as a legal entity and are intended to protect Georgia Baptist churches from being held cumulatively liable in lawsuits.

In approving the new documents, messengers have taken biblical stands on a variety of cultural issues, including gender identity. They also officially adopted the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as guiding principles for the Georgia Baptist Convention. The new documents also reduce the number of vice presidents elected each year from four to two.

Georgia Baptist President Josh Saefkow called it a wise investment of time to update the governing documents.

“Our new bylaws would increase the number of people on the Georgia Baptist Executive Committee from 114 to 122,” Saefkow said. “They will also require every cooperating church to submit a yearly report, known as the Annual Church Profile or ACP, and to contribute at least $500 a year by end of 2024 through the Cooperative Program to be eligible to send messengers to annual meetings.”

Executive Committee Chairman David Mills said the documents will protect the mission of Georgia Baptists and nurture ministry partnerships across the state convention and beyond.

While churches that don’t contribute at least $500 or submit the Annual Church Profile will remain affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention, they will not be able to send messengers to annual meetings.

The Georgia Baptist Executive Committee approved the updates to the governing documents in a September meeting in Fayetteville.

The updates were recommended by a 10-member task force appointed by Saefkow and chaired by North Metro Baptist Church of Lawrenceville Pastor Frank Cox.

“The convention is always evolving and, at times, must make changes that allow it to flourish,” Cox said. “In the course of looking at the bylaws, we have sought to do that, to bring clarity that would allow the convention to be efficient and effective.”

Serving on the task force with Cox were Steve Parr, missions strategist for the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Network representing the northeast region; Jerry Speer, pastor at Northside Baptist Church in Columbus representing the southwest region; Darrell Paulk, pastor at First Baptist Church in Dublin representing the east region; Chris Allen, pastor at First Baptist Church in Cairo representing the southwest region; Steve Browning, pastor at First Baptist Church in Alpharetta representing the northwest region; Chad Rising, pastor of Blacks Creek Baptist Church in Commerce representing the northeast region; David Lambert, pastor at First Baptist Church at Thomson representing the east region; and Doug Bingham, pastor at Unity Baptist at LaGrange representing the west region.

The impetus for the task force, as explained in a statement from the Executive Committee, was that the Georgia Baptist Convention’s governing documents had been put together over two centuries and needed revisions “to harmonize and define terms, to clarify concepts, and to specify powers and duties.”

Saefkow reiterated that churches will have more representation on the Executive Committee under the new governing documents.

“We want to encourage everyone to participate in every aspect of Georgia Baptist life,” he said.