Baptist state conventions wrestle with budget woes

HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (ABP)— Baptist state conventions meeting around the country this fall are adjusting their financial expectations to cope with a weakening economy.

In the opening session of the Tennessee Baptist Convention annual meeting, Executive Director James Porch described a $1.4 million shortfall in the convention’s budget.

Porch reported total receipts of $37,086,227, a 3.67 percent shortfall behind an annual budget of $38.5 million.

Porch challenged messengers returning to their homes to “examine the extravagance that we have in our own life—the things that we can by choice limit—and then we can sacrifice by choice even more to God.”

Georgia Baptists met in Jonesboro with Cooperative Program receipts down more than 5 percent, from $52 million to $49 million.

“Every year, it seems like an adjustment needs to be made,” Dan Spencer, pastor of First Baptist Church in Thomasville and a leader in the Georgia Baptist Convention, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ll have to see how it pans out and what our churches will be able to commit to.”

The Florida Baptist Convention met in Lakeland with contributions more than $562,000 behind its 2008 budget. Executive Director John Sullivan attributed the shortfall to financial difficulties in local churches and said the convention’s leadership would have to face “hard decisions” about programs and staff, according to the Lakeland Ledger.

Stephanie Murphy, who attends an Alabama Baptist church, told the Anniston Star that after balancing her family checkbook, sometimes nothing is left for the offering plate.

“There’s a lot of guilt,” she said. “Going to church shouldn’t be stressful, but everybody’s feeling it.”

The pinch also is being felt at other levels of Baptist life. In October, Alabama’s Mobile Baptist Association approved a budget of $594,905, marking a reduction of more than $13,000 from the 2008 budget.

Thomas Wright, executive director of missions, said the association’s budget and finance committee identified several economic indicators that members thought might affect income to churches, and in turn, the association.

One state group bucking the trend, the Mississippi Baptist Convention, approved a record-setting Cooperative Program budget. A 2009 budget of just under $35 million represents an increase of about 2 percent, or $676,866, over 2008.

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