If you are just “tuning in,” it may seem a bit strange to be reviewing 2013, when nearly six months of 2014 have already passed. But we shared with you that in our last Executive Committee meeting-which was a few weeks ago-a part of what we did was to review the final financial numbers for 2013.  Additionally, since that is the first of the quarterly meetings of the Executive Committee for the year, we also shared our goals for the conference for 2014. This series is about some of what was shared with the Executive Committee.

Last time, we shared with you the goals that we shared with the Executive Committee for 2013. These goals were shared at our first meeting in 2013. At each subsequent meeting and at our monthly office staff meetings, we share the progress that the Lord has given us towards those goals.

Here are those 2013 goals (a line drawn through indicates that the Lord helped us to reach said goals):

  • 1,000 Baptisms
  • 4% Tithe Gain
  • Operations Gain
  • Discover Retentions Percentage
  • Pastoral Evaluations
  • Continue reduction of percentage of budget going to salary/expenses without layoffs
  • Complete Oakwood Academy Building Project
  • Adequately house E. E. Rogers School in Jackson, Mississippi
  • Sell Camp Ground
  • Increase Church School Enrollment

Last time, we shared a brief summary of the first four goals, with the exception of the one goal that we did not reach-a tithe gain of 4%. We shall address that in our final article in this series.

Here is a brief summary of Goals 6-10:

Goal 6: Continued Reduction of the Percentage of the Budget That Goes to Salary and Benefits, Without Laying Anyone Off! At least some of you have heard me say this many times:

Relative to our needs, we do not have enough workers!

If we had the resources, there are some positions that I would love to fill. I would love to make the position of Women’s Ministries Director full-time. Our conference is overwhelmingly female. Accordingly to the figures that we received from our Pastoral Evaluations that were done last year, our conference is 67% female.

We have an outstanding Women’s Ministries Director. If we could make her full-time, I believe that there is virtually no limit to what she could lead the largest group of people we have in our conference to do.

I would also love to have a Young Adult Ministries Director.  One of our “7 E’s” is Engaging Our Young Adults. I am, frankly, not satisfied with where we are in that area. As someone who was privileged to serve as the Youth Director of this conference for 11 years, I expected to have done a better job in engaging young adults. The future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is, to a large degree, tied to the involvement and commitment of the next generation of Seventh-day Adventists.

A Young Adult Ministries Leader-something that few, if any conferences have-would help us to better reach this vital group and would be in keeping with the legacy of my predecessors in this office of South Central being on the cutting edge. I have not given up on that dream. But, right now, we cannot afford it.

We also need some more Pastors, particularly, in some of our smaller cities. We have made what we believe is a sound, God-approved financial decision: Over the past 2-3 years, we have made a conscious decision not to replace every worker that leaves. That has enabled us to reach our goal of reducing the percentage of our budget that goes to salary and benefits, without laying anyone off.

We set a goal at the beginning of this term to reduce the percentage of our budget that goes to salary and benefits 15% over a 5 year period, without laying anyone off. The Lord has blessed and we have reduced that percentage by nearly 10% in the past 2 years. That has happened despite our health care cost skyrocketing (they have doubled in the past 5 years) and the fact that in each of the past 2 years our employees have received salary increases.

But doing what needed to be done in reducing our payroll costs has come at a price. Where we have not replaced full-time workers when they have left, it has tended to be in 1 of 2 places: Either the conference office staff, or, the Pastors of small churches.

While both of those things may make good financial sense, placing part-time Pastors in small churches may very well mean that those churches will have an even more difficult time in growing. Moreover, as I visit these smaller churches, in these rural towns, I am noticing that the young people, who were with me in my Youth Director days, have moved away.

I remember 4 young ladies that I watched grow up in a small town in Mississippi, back in my Youth Director days. Their church was always one of the first churches to send in their delegate fees for Youth Congress.

Those young ladies have moved well into young adulthood. I ask their parents about them, when I see them: They seem to be doing well; I believe that most, if not all of them, are still members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The problem is that none of them are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the church where they grew up. Meanwhile, the adults in that church are 20-25 years older. They are still faithful; what they are not is immortal. Unless we are intentional about addressing the growth of our smaller churches in rural areas, we may well have some challenges in the future.

I have asked the Executive Secretary, Elder Auldwin Humphrey, to lead the Strategic Planning Committee that he chairs, to look at the need for intentionality in addressing the growth and the future of small churches in rural areas.

So, we need some more workers (and I have not even addressed the need to add teachers in places where we are blessed to have growing enrollment).

Relative to our needs, we do not have enough workers, but relative to our income, we have too many workers.

Oh, we pay everyone, every month-praise the Lord. And, there is nothing on the immediate horizon that says that is about to change-praise the Lord again.

But we are not going to wait until we cannot pay all of our employees to do something about the fact that we cannot forever sustain the percentage of our budget that was going to salary and benefits. We have sustained it for years; we can sustain it for now-we just cannot sustain it forever.

So, one of our goals for last year, was to reduce our payroll related percentages and the Lord enabled us to reach that goal.

Goals 7-8: Complete Oakwood Academy/Jackson E.E. Rogers School Building Projects! I am as excited and grateful to God about reaching those goals last year as I am about anything.

There are too many miracles from God to recount about these projects and too many people to thank for me to say much more than “Praise God!”-otherwise this article would end up being roughly the length of the novel War and Peace.

I remember that when we first started talking about the Oakwood Academy Building Project, a sweet little old lady heard me talk about it and made a pledge to that project out of Social Security and widow’s pension.

That sweet little old lady was my mother. I only wish that she had lived to see the newly renovated Oakwood Academy. But I plan to tell her about it one day soon.

Goal 9: Sell Our Campground! I am certainly sensitive to the fact that there are constituents whose dream is for us to have and operate our own campground. I certainly would have preferred not to be the one to end that dream.

But here are 2 facts:

Fact One: In the last 3 full years that we owned the (undeveloped) property in Shelbyville, Tennessee, it costs the conference $300,000 to own a property that-however naturally beautiful it was-just sat there.

During those same 3 years, while that property was costing $300,000, it was generating less than $1,000. Not $1,000 per year-less than $1,000 total, in 3 years.

We used the phrase earlier ”unsustainable”; $300,000 of expenses and less than $1,000 in revenue is the very definition of “unsustainable.”

Fact Two: Even fully developed campgrounds (which ours was not) do not make a conference money-they cost conferences money, i.e., they have to be subsidized out of a conference’s budget. I know of one conference whose subsidy of their campground is nearly 1 million dollars. People believe that if you have your own campground, as opposed to renting someone else’s facilities, that you will save money. But that has not proven to be the case very often at all.

Moreover, another common belief is that if we owned our own campground, we could substantially reduce our costs for camp meeting, because we would not have to rent Oakwood University’s facilities.

The truth of the matter is that what Oakwood charges us for rent is quite reasonable-what we pay Oakwood has far more to do with their personnel that we use for camp meeting and not their facilities. Those personnel costs would not necessarily go away if we had our own campground.

If we had our campground, we would still have to transport, house and feed our staff (unless our campground was so large that it could accommodate our staff and our campers; few facilities are that big-other than Oakwood) and we would still have to provide programming for our adults, youth, young adults and children. Those camp meeting costs definitely do not go away just because you have your own campground.

In an earlier article, I mentioned being blessed to have been a guest at a camp meeting, where my host conference had its own campground. I asked the President of that conference, “What is did your camp meeting cost you this year?” The figure that he gave me was the same as what our camp meeting cost us.

The bottom line is that we simply cannot afford to spend $100,000 per year on a property that we could not afford to develop and one that we could not have afforded to subsidize even if we could develop it.

So, a goal last year was to sell our campground-and that goal was reached.

Goal 10: Increase Our Church School Enrollment! For the 4th time in the past 5 years, the enrollment in the schools in the South Central Conference increased-this after enrollment had decreased for the previous 5 consecutive years.

The Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund certainly played a role in our increased enrollment, but our enrollment was up even prior to the granting of these schools.

We have some major challenges-especially in some places. And we have to forthrightly address those problems. We cannot shy away from making the changes that are required-whether those changes involve programs or people. Our schools are not perfect-they never will be as long as human beings operate them-human beings teach in them and young human beings go to them. But they are still God’s schools. He ordained them and He will sustain them. He has done that in the Seventh-day Adventist Church for approximately 150 years.

I believe that God will continue to do His part. We just have to do ours.

Those are the goals that the Lord enabled us to reach in 2013. We say, “Praise God.”

In the final article in this series, we shall talk about the goal that was not reached and the goals that have been set for 2014.