During their annual meeting, Georgia Baptists addressed recent spending cuts, a reduced 2022 budget and plans for a special committee on sexual abuse prevention, among hearing a variety of ministry reports, during their annual meeting at First Baptist Church Jonesboro, Nov. 8–9.
Spending cuts instituted by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board over the past three years have the organization on sound financial footing, said the organization’s chief operating officer David Melber, who noted the mission board has been working to bring spending patterns in line with receipts.
The GBMB had taken several cost-saving steps since early 2019, including eliminating more than 80 staff positions, selling properties that had become an unaffordable financial burden, instituting pay cuts for employees and ending a number of benefits for employees.
“We are committed to operating within our means,” said W. Thomas Hammond, executive director of the GBMB. “We are also committed to leading your mission board with complete transparency and integrity.”
Hammond said the spending reductions were unavoidable. He noted he wants Georgia Baptists to understand that when he makes difficult decisions, he doesn’t do so because he wants to, but because he has to. “There is a huge difference between the two,” he noted.
Despite a lingering global pandemic and rising inflation, Georgia Baptist messengers voted without opposition to allocate nearly $37 million of Cooperative Program dollars to spread the gospel in their state, nation and world over the next year.
“This reflects what we’ve always known, that Georgia Baptists are serious about making sure the good news reaches every corner of the globe,” Melber said. “Our people truly understand just how desperately the world needs Jesus.”
‘Church Strengthening and Pastor Wellness’
“While that total ($36,699,980) is significant, it is 3 percent below the current year’s budget,” Melber added. “We’re projecting slightly lower receipts in the coming year because many of our churches are continuing to deal with the impacts of this pandemic and with inflation that is raising the prices on just about everything they buy.”
The GBMB’s budget allocates $7,400,178 to the International Mission Board and $3,345,567 to the North American Mission Board. The budget also allocates $7.2 million to the GBMB to strengthen in-state churches and their pastors.
“The state mission board runs on two primary rails, Church Strengthening and Pastor Wellness,” Melber said. “Church Strengthening is budgeted to receive $5,512,007, and Pastor Wellness is budgeted to receive $1,759,911. We anticipate the sale of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s office building in Duluth will be completed in 2022, which will mean a significant reduction in operating costs. That will free up funds used for maintenance and upkeep to be used in sharing the gospel in our state, our nation and around the world.”
Committee on Prevention of Sexual Abuse
The Georgia Baptist Convention’s executive committee also announced its decision to create a Special Committee on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse “to make recommendations for developing programs, best practices and policy guidelines for preventing sexual abuse.”
That’s just the latest step regarding the fight against sexual abuse, Hammond said.
“I want to make clear that we as Georgia Baptists have zero tolerance for sexual abuse,” Hammond said. “While we have done much in the past to train our churches and state entities to create safer environments, there is still more to be done. It’s important for all of us to do our due diligence to ensure that Georgia Baptist churches are safe places for everyone.”
The executive committee’s action was taken in response to allegations that the SBC’s Executive Committee had mishandled sexual abuse complaints at the national level.
Under the motion approved on Nov. 9, the president of the convention will appoint one member from each of the state’s regions of the state to serve on the nine-member special committee. The three other members will be the convention president, the chairman of the executive committee, and, as an ex-officio member, the executive director of the GBMB. The convention president will appoint the chair of the special committee.
“The recommendations will be shared with and may be utilized by Georgia Baptist churches, associations, institutions, and entities,” the motion said. “The desired outcome of the committee is to encourage and strengthen ongoing efforts in Georgia Baptist life aimed at preventing sexual abuse.”
The recommendations would also be utilized by the GBMB as well, Hammond said.
Under the motion, the special committee is directed to present its recommendations next November to both the executive committee and messengers to the GBC, under a timeframe that gives members a year to complete their work.
“This draws an important line in the sand, speaking clearly that Georgia Baptists take this issue very seriously,” said Tommy Fountain Sr., chairman of the executive committee and pastor of 1025 Church in Monroe. “Anyone who crosses that line — whether they be a pastor, deacon, Sunday School teacher or anyone else — must be held accountable for their actions.”
Georgia Baptists are engaged in the fight against sexual abuse at a variety of levels, including training of all state mission board staff, local churches and other entities for development of programs, best practices and policy guidelines for preventing sexual abuse.
Fighting against sex trafficking
Among other efforts, Georgia Baptists also are engaged in ministries to fight sex trafficking in the state and to rescue women and children who have been caught up in the criminal enterprise that has been described as modern-day slavery.
MinistrySafe co-founder Greg Love said the GBMB invited his organization into the state a decade ago to help churches understand the risks of sexual abuse and to implement ways to prevent it.
“Since 2012, we’ve done live training, going out into Georgia, big cities and small, to be able to bring good information so that the churches can have access to good resources and effective safety systems,” Love said. “In coordination with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, we’ve equipped hundreds of Georgia Baptist churches and trained tens of thousands of ministry leaders. We’ve done a lot, but, of course, there’s a lot more to do. I’m thankful that the Georgia Baptist Mission Board has committed to that effort.”
Kevin Williams will serve a second term as president of the GBC and was elected by acclamation.
Messengers also elected four vice presidents: First Vice President Kyle Walker, senior pastor of Cartersville First Baptist Church; Second Vice President Rafael Valter, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Ágape in Stone Mountain; Third Vice President Brian Moore, senior pastor of New Providence Baptist Church of Smarr in Forsyth; and Fourth Vice President Brian Parker, pastor of First Baptist Church Kingsland.