Vestal predicts further downsizing at CBF - Word&Way

Vestal predicts further downsizing at CBF

DECATUR, Ga. (ABP) – The head of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship predicted future budget cuts that for the first time would affect global-missions personnel for the 20-year-old movement spun off from the Southern Baptist Convention.

The CBF Coordinating Council normally recommends a budget at its February meeting. Based on declining financial support from approximately 1,900 contributing churches and individuals the elected body instead instructed staff to anticipate revenues of $12.3 million in 2011-2012 — scaled back from an already lean projection of $12.9 million proposed by staff — at the Feb. 23-25 meeting at First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.

Unwilling to recommend a budget requiring “fundamental changes” in funding priorities without input from elected leadership, council leaders and staff made last-minute alterations to the meeting agenda to involve the full council in roundtable conversation to rank priorities as a guide for staff and council leadership in making hard choices. Not surprisingly, the most-prized area of work was global missions.

After processing the feedback, leaders reported back to the full council that realities of CBF funding make it unlikely that future cuts would totally spare missions.

“I just have to be real candid with you,” said CBF Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal. “I don’t see how we can cut another $600,000 out of the budget without addressing it to global missions, unless you don’t want us to do anything else but global missions, because we have cut for the last two years.”

“We have just gone through a layoff of 25 percent of our staff,” Vestal said, referencing the elimination of 13 jobs and reassignment of one staff member due to a shortfall in the current budget announced in January.

“We have cut programming,” Vestal said. “We are funding most of the programming in leadership development, in congregational formation, from designated gifts, and we have been living off of these large anonymous gifts to global missions for eight years, in addition to the money that churches have been giving each week.”

Asked if cutting funds to global missions would mean recalling current field personnel, Vestal replied: “I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘This is exactly how we would do it.’ We would look at staff. We would look at personnel on the field. We would look at projects. We would look at ministries of the missionaries on the field, and we would have to say ‘This is how we will address this shortfall.”

CBF leadership will ask churches over the next six months to have a special offering to keep global missions at its current work force, but Vestal said that would be only “a one-year deal.”

“I don’t want to diminish that,” he said. “But we are in a real downturn, and we have to be honest about that.”

Bill McConnell, chair of the council’s finance committee, said the group planned to have a budget ready by the full council meeting but put brakes on the process based on recent giving records.
“We still do not have a budget,” McConnell said. ‘We are going to propose a figure of $12.3 million as the target for us to discuss and to see if we can reach for the year 2011-2012.”

“This is a sobering number,” McConnell commented. “When I came on the council — this is my third year — we were working with a budget much higher than that.”

Vestal said a $12.9 million budget would create “personnel issues,” but the current operation could be maintained with layoffs and reassignments. The reduced baseline of $12.3 million, however, will require “much more fundamental changes” that staff did not to make without input from elected leadership.

“We are going to have to make some cuts, and it will affect the core of our work at CBF,” said McMillin-Goodwin, minister of education and missions at Oakland Baptist Church in Rock Hill, S.C. She said staff leaders would use council input to develop a budget that will be considered by the finance committee and advisory council and probably distributed by e-mail to the full Coordinating Council prior to a June 22 regular meeting immediately prior to the General Assembly.

This year the Fellowship’s budget is $14.5 million. Through January, however, revenues were running at just 84 percent of year-to-date projections, said Larry Hurst, CBF controller.

About two months into the budget, Vestal said, Fellowship leaders determined they could not operate for 10 more months based on projected income of $14.5 million. In January the Fellowship cut 13 jobs and reassigned another staff member.

The Coordinating Council adopted a resolution Feb. 25 that voiced “deepest gratitude and appreciation for all those who have given their talents, gifts and labor in the work of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship over the past 20 years” and “great respect and appreciation for those whose jobs have been eliminated due to adverse economic conditions.”

Despite current economic woes, Vestal said he remains confident that ongoing discussions by a 2012 task force studying the CBF’s structure and funding over two years will see the organization through tough times.

“I think we are trying to discern how to fund mission in the 21st century,” Vestal said. “We know how to do mission in the 20th century. We know what that looks like, but it doesn’t work anymore. We know what doesn’t work, but what does work?”


Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.