LAWRENCEVILLE — Messengers to the 196th annual meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention recognized Executive Director J. Robert White on his 25th anniversary, approved a modest $41.2-million budget up $175,000, elected new officers, and collected more than 34,000 backpacks.
Messengers gathered at North Metro First Baptist Church for the two-day meeting, which was preceded by the Sunday evening Inspirational Rally where Atlanta native and International Mission Board President David Platt spoke. During the meeting they elected Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, as president over Fred Lodge, pastor of First Baptist Church in Blairsville. A total of 946 votes were cast for president with Stone receiving 553 votes to Lodge’s 391 votes. There were 1,301 messengers registered over the course of the two-day meeting.
Stone follows outgoing President Thomas Hammond, pastor of First Baptist Church of Alpharetta, who completed his second one-year term.
As longtime state executive, White was lauded for more than two decades of growth of the Convention and effective use of resources even in the midst of the Great Recession that hobbled the denomination beginning in 2008. During those tough years staff underwent many painful downsizings and budgets were slashed but the Convention emerged smaller yet more effective.
In the process, messengers approved changing the name of its organizational body to the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. The Convention name remains when referring to its member churches which gather for two days each November to conduct business.
During the budget presentation, which he shared with Executive Committee member Randy Wood, White lamented the ongoing decline of Cooperative Program giving and its impact on reaching Georgia – and the world – for Christ. However, White rejoiced that 40 percent of Cooperative Program receipts will be forwarded to Southern Baptist Convention ministries in 2018.
In addition, a total of 13.74 percent – or $5,660,880 – will be allotted for Georgia Baptist ministries. Entities receiving that funding are four colleges and universities, the Ministerial Education Fund, the Education Commission, Baptist Village, Baptist Retirement Communities of Georgia, and the Georgia Baptist Foundation.
The remaining 46.26 percent – $22,127,864 – will fund Georgia Baptist Mission Board ministries beginning in Georgia and extending around the world. Included in that amount is additional non-Cooperative Program income the Board expects to receive of $1,500,000 from the Mission Georgia Offering; $522,000 from Cooperative Agreements; and $1,046,744 from Investment/Registration/and other income.
Messengers also approved, as part of the overall budget, a new line item known as Benchmark Funding, which was created to encourage its educational institutions to excel in four specific areas of improvement, with a bonus for reaching all four incentives. Those incentives, each valued at $60,000, will introduce friendly competition for annual awards based on:
- increased enrollment of full-time, degree-seeking Georgia Baptist students versus the Full-time Equivalent Enrollment (FTE) standard;
- the highest percentage of full-time ministerial students;
- the highest percentage increased enrollment of full-time, degree-seeking students who are not necessarily Georgia Baptists; and
- the Biggest Fund Raiser Award to the school that has the biggest fund-raiser for the school year.
A bonus $60,000 award, known as the Grand Slam, will be awarded to the college or university that achieves all four incentive awards in the same year. The institution reaching the four incentives and the Grand Slam will receive $300,000 for that year.
The new funding was created following the adoption of a Task Force Report on the Mission Board’s education institutions.
In other business, messengers recognized two legislators “for their leadership and commitment to Godly principles” as they represent their constituents at the State Capitol. Receiving plaques were Representative Wes Cantrell and Senator Marty Harbin. GBC Public Affairs Representative Mike Griffin participated in the ceremony.
32 churches, four missions join Georgia Baptist family
Grady Caldwell, pastor of New Mercy Baptist Church in Newnan, presented the annual report detailing the number of churches which have affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention. A total of 32 new churches and four missions are now part of the Georgia Baptist family.
During the anniversary part of the program, four of White’s peers in other Baptist state conventions brought messages via video.
“You’re one of my best friends and somebody I have such regard for,” commented Anthony Jordan of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “You’re a visionary leader and done a remarkable job … for Georgia Baptists.”
Rick Lance of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions talked on White being a resource. “I don’t know how many times I’ve thought to myself ‘I need to talk to Bob White about that’ when I have a challenge or problem,” he remarked .
Pointing out the Georgia executive director’s roots in his home state, Lance continued, “You’ve meant a lot to Alabama Baptists. … I appreciate you walking the path – the journey – with me and with others. You are a Barnabas, an encourager.”
Other video messages brought compliments from Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and Jim Futral, executive director-treasurer of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board. Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page couldn’t attend in person but extended his thanks and congratulations on video as did First Baptist Woodstock Pastor Johnny Hunt, who was en route to help facilitate a pastors conference in Southeast Asia.
Also on video, Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland conferred an honorary doctorate on White from the latter’s alma mater, presented in person by R. Philip Kimrey, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.
Southern Seminary President and former Christian Index Editor Al Mohler, during the previous day’s Preaching Conference, presented White the seminary’s Distinguished Alumnus Denominational Service Award. White joins E.Y. Mullins, W.A. Criswell, and Hershel Hobbs as the recipient of this prestigious award.
Sing Oldham, vice president for SBC Communications and Relations, delivered a resolution of appreciation to White’s leadership and championing the Cooperative Program.
During White’s tenure, Oldham said, Georgia Baptists have contributed $1.1 billion to the Cooperative Program. White has long been known as a strong supporter of the funding channel and has been informally referred to as “Mr. CP.”
Janice White was awarded the Trudy Price Award for 2017 during the Convention’s annual Minister’s Wives Luncheon today. She was cited for her significant role in balancing her life between working to provide financial support to the family during their seminary years, proving spiritual support to her help mate, and being the nurturing mother to the couple’s three daughters.
Messengers received a copy of the updated history of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, which was authored by Christian Index Editor Gerald Harris. The 700-page tome covers 45 years of history from 1972 through the week prior to the Convention meeting. It also includes a focus on White’s 25 years and the impact of the Conservative Resurgence on the denomination, both the state and national level.
Backpacks outreach completes fifth anniversary
This year’s backpacks ministry was expanded to include children in two southwest associations in the Peach State containing some of Georgia’s highest childhood poverty rates. The theme was modified from “Backpacks for Appalachia” to “Backpacks for Hope” to highlight the dual needs.
Bethel Baptist Association in Edison and Summerhill Baptist Association in Dawson are this year’s expanded recipients.
State missionary Frank Nuckolls, who oversees the annual outreach, said the Georgia Baptist Mission Board identified the top 10 counties with the highest rates of childhood poverty. Those results largely focused on the southern tier of counties.
Terrell County in Summerhill Association is number 8 in Georgia in the number of children under the age of 19 living in poverty. That rate is about 48 percent, but Clay and Randolph counties in Bethel Association are even higher at nearly 54 percent.
Last year Georgia Baptists donated a record 35,571 backpacks, surpassing 2015’s record collection by 1,337. Georgia Baptists have shattered each year’s goal since the initial 4,400 were collected in 2012.
That was the year when then-Georgia Baptist Convention President John Waters, pastor of First Baptist Church of Statesboro, issued the call and churches responded on relatively short notice.
In addition to the two South Georgia associations, backpacks will be delivered to distribution sites – many through North American Mission Board ministries – in eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York state.
This was the fifth year of the collection and will push the total backpacks distributed to at least 160,000. Nuckolls has reported at least 4,000 professions of faith through Georgia’s involvement in the outreach.
This year’s goal was 35,000 but the 34,000 collected at the meeting was easily expected to surpass the goal as the items continue to filter in to collection points.
Other state conventions joining the effort include Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.
Next year’s messengers will return to Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins for their Nov. 12-13 meeting. The Central Georgia church last hosted the meeting in 2012.