GRAPEVINE—Chairman Danny Forshee of Austin combined use of online technology with old school communication to walk Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Board members through an abbreviated April 28 meeting. Using Zoom video conferencing, 36 of the 46 members participated from their homes or offices spread out across Texas, signaling with their thumbs up the approval of some motions.
Originally scheduled as a two-day retreat, the scattered assembly quickly got down to business, hearing from church ministries associate Lance Crowell for an overview of the SBTC’s COVID-19 Task Force, which he chairs. Launched in March to develop ministry to SBTC churches in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the group helped churches transition their services online, find solutions for online giving, tap into a new digital database at sbtexas.com/covid19 for over 100 resources and tools available in English and Spanish, and understand the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program.
From there the task force moved on to develop 17 weekly Zoom calls to provide regular engagement between SBTC staff and local church leaders based on affinity needs. Attracting 6,100 different participants over several weeks, video conferences range from a Monday afternoon dialog with 155 preschool, children’s and family ministers from 11 states and two countries to a panel discussion on theological ramifications of observing baptism and Lord’s Supper ordinances online.
For thousands more, the personal approach of a phone call gave SBTC ministry and support staff the opportunity to encourage local church pastors, pray for their needs and point them to the new resources, he added. Now the task force has shifted to helping churches envision what regathering will look like as local authorities provide opportunity for varying degrees of in-person worship services.
SBTC chaplains set up a new toll-free hotline at 1-800-921-3287 to provide counseling and prayer to both Christians and unbelievers, often meeting physical and spiritual needs, Crowell related.
Meanwhile, the SBTC executive committee joined with the administrative committee to tackle urgent matters prior to the board meeting. Administrative committee chairman Todd Kaunitz of Longview reported those actions, including:
- pursuit of a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program of the CARES Act in the amount of $867,496,
- allocation of up to $100,000 for a grant from SBTC reserves to respond to ministry needs resulting from the pandemic,
- up to $50,000 from reserves for a consultant to pursue grant awards on behalf of SBTC, and
- reallocation of $200,000 from state missions funds to state missions disaster relief for pastor and church assistance in connection with financial difficulties caused by COVID-19.
The two committees also reported on proactive measures they authorized the executive director to pursue if necessary as a means of further cost reductions. Executive Board Vice Chairman Mark Hogan of San Antonio outlined available steps which include reductions in salary and health insurance benefits, and added, “Our prayer is these will not be necessary.”
In response to a question raised later in the meeting by board member Joe Rivera of Grand Prairie about the impact of utilizing CARES Act funds for personnel costs, CFO Joe Davis said the PPP loan provides temporary payroll help through at least June and maybe July. “It sure gives us more time to make decisions and hopefully for CP to come back,” he estimated. “It will get us down the road at least three months.”
In his financial report, Davis said Cooperative Program receipts in 2019 amounted to $26,961,907, within about 1 percent of the record-breaking 2018 CP receipts of over $27 million. “So, it was a pretty good year in 2019,” he added.
Net operating income through March was reported at $383,193 with net worth listed at just over $17 million.
“We ended the first two months through February about $275,000 ahead of budget, so the year was pretty good at that point,” Davis said. “Then along came March and the pandemic.” With shutdowns occurring by mid-March, SBTC began to see a decline in CP receipts which continued into April, he observed.
“We’re looking at those numbers as we try to forecast where we may be going,” Davis added. “We, of course, don’t know what CP will be going forward, but if those last two months are our template—if we were to be $400,000 [per month] under budget for 12 months—that would make us $4.8 million under budget.”
Clarifying that his projections represent both the in-state (45 percent) and SBC (55 percent) portions for the CP budget, Davis said if the estimate of CP receipts holds true, the in-state budget would need to be reduced by a little more than $2 million next year.
“We are assessing receipts and expenses as we go and the next few months will better determine where we are,” he said. However, he anticipates next year’s budget to be a challenge. “We will know more about that by the time we get to our summer meeting. We will manage the budget based on whatever receipts are,” he pledged.
Board member John Meador of Euless asked Davis to clarify his goal for reserve funds. With a goal of six months of in-state reserves, Davis said 2019 ended with $1.3 million more than that, providing a seven-month contingency which the executive director has the authority to tap for emergencies.
Acknowledging the difficulty of decisions being made and the reality that CP giving is declining, board member Russ Ponder of Farwell remarked, “Not only has God provided for this state convention an incredible staff, but financially. I just want to say God has blessed us in a big way that we do have the money there [in reserves].”
On behalf of the credentials committee, Chairman Jason Gray of Abilene shared how God is blessing the SBTC with more churches, offering a list of churches requesting affiliation—more than twice the number that were presented at last fall’s board meeting. The 28 local congregations were approved by the board, bringing the total of affiliated churches to 2,744. That number includes the removal of 23 churches that had either disbanded or merged.
A joint recommendation of the executive committee and administrative committee provided another potential cost-cutting move by authorizing the executive director discretion to end a “matching benefit” contribution to the GuideStone Financial Services retirement accounts of qualified church employees and evangelists across the state if circumstances indicate the need to do so. The current budget has set aside $415,000 for that line item to provide $210 per year to recipients.
In his report to the board, Executive Director Jim Richards said, “God has placed us in this time to rise to this occasion to be what God would have us to be in order to honor his name.” Grateful for the privilege to serve, Richards said, “Believers are being strengthened by the Holy Spirit during this trial and the gospel is going forth as never before,” he said “Electronic means have exponentially extended outreach for these churches that have struggled to reach their communities.”
Referring to new resources assembled by the COVID-19 Task Force, counseling being made available to pastors who are discouraged, and many other initiatives to serve local churches and pastors, Richards said, “Your generosity through the Cooperative Program enables the SBTC to provide these services and ministries. So in the midst of the chaos, ministry continues.”
He welcomed SBTC Disaster Relief Director Scottie Stice to describe how CP dollars are allowing volunteers and staff to serve municipalities and individuals in Texas. Currently deployed to three locations, Stice described recovery efforts in two East Texas towns following an April 24 tornado in Onalaska where four professions of faith in Christ and 71 spiritual contacts were reported, and in the town of Linden where crews cleaned 24 homes damaged April 25 by severe straight-line winds and shared the gospel with nine people. Serving in a supportive role to the Houston Food Bank, volunteers prepared thousands of boxes of food for distribution to families at two neighborhood super sites and two church campuses.
“I wanted you to hear what God is doing,” Richards told the board. “People are getting saved. People are being ministered to. Doors are being opened.”
Richards told the board of three staff changes, including hiring Nathaniel Kuhns in February to serve as student associate, promotion of Mitch Tidwell as lead student and collegiate associate, and the resignation of church planting associate Jason Lankford, who leaves in July to begin training in Iowa to launch a collegiate church plant.
Bart McDonald, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation reported preliminary fiscal year end 2019 results reflecting a net operating profit of $554,428 on over $2.7 million of revenue.
The board received a report from Marie Bosillo, a partner with PSK accounting firm who provided an unqualified opinion in regard to the annual audit of the SBTC.
In their final action, the board approved 2021 meeting dates of April 19-20, August 24 and November 10.
SBTC President Kie Bowman of Austin closed the meeting by praying for wisdom in how to continue to evangelize, recognizing the expanded reach available through electronic ministry. He asked God for “souls to be saved, for people to grow in their relationship with Christ, and to keep leaders in the center of your will as they continue to make decisions in a constantly changing environment.”
Bowman appealed for people to respond financially in support of local church ministries and for Cooperative Program giving to be strong. “I’m asking in the name of Jesus that we will not have to have any of these major cuts at the SBTC that we have planned for. Your hand, O God, has brought us this far and we praise you for it and we pray that we would continue to be under your mighty hand and in the care of your great love.”