Gathered at Westview Baptist Church in Martinsburg, 195 messengers from 66 churches also adopted a slightly decreased 2012 budget of $2.9 million that will send 38 percent of Cooperative Program receipts to national and international Southern Baptist mission causes. That budget anticipates Cooperative Program church receipts of $1.6 million in 2012.
The reorganization plan came to messengers from a 32-member Strategy Planning Group appointed in February by the state convention president, Seth Polk. The proposal included significant changes in church planting and associational missions strategies, as well as maintaining strong focus on prayer and cooperative missions.
Polk told Baptist Press the task force's work provided an opportunity to ask important questions like "Why do we exist?" and "How are we going to add value in the coming years to the mission of the local church?."
"We wanted to be proactive in trying to discern where God is leading us as a convention, to try to put ourselves in the best position possible to have a maximum impact and reach our state for Christ," said Polk, pastor of Cross Lanes Baptist Church in Cross Lanes. "It was a long and challenging process, and a difficult one in that we had to make some hard decisions ... but we knew it was the direction we needed to go in as a convention."
The decision opens the door to a greater potential for starting churches and reaching more people for Christ, Terry Harper, the state convention's executive director, said.
"We had a great team. They worked really hard and made some tough decisions," Harper told Baptist Press. "They were not easy decisions to make because it affected a lot of people -- our 10 missionaries, our collegiate workers and our worker in resort missions. As painful as that has been, I still think it offers great opportunity for us in the days ahead. I think we're going to see church planting like we've never seen before in West Virginia. That's what it's all about, and I believe we will see that."
The proposal focused on priorities of strengthening, mobilizing and planting churches, and organized the state's 10 associations into five regions, bringing it into alignment with a North American Mission Board plan to support five church planting catalysts in the state, rather than the previous 10 associational directors of mission, Harper explained.
The plan also adopts a goal of moving to a 60/40 split in Cooperative Program funds in 2013 (at currently 38 percent), followed by a 1 percent increase each year for 10 years.
Polk said West Virginia Southern Baptists want to set an example of aggressively moving to increase the portion of mission dollars going to national and international causes.
"We believe that as people catch the vision for taking the Gospel to the nations, God also is going to bless right here where we are," Polk said. "When we're already working off of a streamlined state convention staff and budget, that's a real faith step for us.... I think that's a big statement about what the heart of West Virginia convention Southern Baptists is."
The plan poses new challenges for the state's 10 local associations, Harper noted, as they decide how to provide their own leadership and organize their work. The North American Mission Board and state convention had been providing full support for the directors of mission positions. NAMB announced in January that funding would cease and funds would be provided to support five church planting catalysts.
Six of the current directors of mission were offered retirement packages, and five accepted.
The change makes the associations autonomous, as Southern Baptist entities traditionally are, Polk noted.
"The intention was never to maintain perpetual funding for missionary from the North American Mission Board. It was a vision to grow to the point that they could do it on their own," Polk explained. "That's been difficult in lower population areas and areas where we've not been as effective in church planting and multiplying the mission as we've wanted to. They're going to have to regroup now, because they don't have the financial resources to maintain a full-time missionary. They are going to have to discern what resources they have and where God is leading them as a group."
Polk said he is praying the changes in West Virginia -- and across the Southern Baptist Convention -- will spark a renewed passion for missions.
"When everything settles, our people are going to come together and realize we've got a God-given responsibility to reach West Virginia and we've got to do that together. That's just the bottom line," Polk said. "Things have changed in the past, and things are going to change in the future, but the mission remains. I think that's what will unite us across the board, not just in West Virginia. That's what I'm praying happens across the country. There's a lot of uncertainty right now and a lot of things have happened quickly, but I think people are going to get behind it and go with it."
Gathered under a banner of "Reaching West Virginia in a Changing World," messengers to the annual meeting also elected officers: Greg Varndell, pastor of Fairlawn Baptist Church in Parkersburg, president; Matt Shamblin, pastor of North Charleston Baptist Church, first vice president; and Don Knotts, pastor of Wayside Baptist Church in Buckhannon, second vice president.
Among the six resolutions passed by the convention were statements recognizing the invaluable work NAMB-supported missionaries had done in West Virginia -- and calling upon NAMB to keep funding them -- and a resolution affirming the need to start new churches and stay focused on evangelism.
The 218 churches of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists report about 27,000 total members. The 2012 annual meeting will be Nov. 2-3 at Fairlawn Baptist Church in Parkersburg.
Compiled by Baptist Press from information provided by WVCSB staff.
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