In the first two parts of this series, we looked back at the year 2013.  I shared with you that I recognized the unusual nature of reviewing the previous year nearly halfway through the current year.

But this is an outgrowth of our April Executive Committee meeting, where we reviewed the finances of the previous year (which we do each year at the first Executive Committee of each year).

We shared with you the ten goals for the conference for 2013 that were shared with the Executive Committee at our first meeting for 2013. We shared with you each of those goals and the fact, that by God’s grace, nine of those goals were reached.

In this final installment, I would like to talk about the goals for 2014, and in that discussion, we shall talk a little bit about the goal that we did not reach.  

I believe that it is very important that goals are set: By individuals, organizations, churches, corporation, etc. When I was a young Pastor, Elder C.E. Dudley, who was the President of our conference in those days, used to tell us “Some people aim at nothing-and hit it” (something I have repeated to our workers 1,000 times)-everybody needs to set goals.

I shared the goals for our conference that I am asking the Lord to help us achieve in 2014, with our Executive Committee a few months ago. Please allow me to share them now with you:

(1)  1,000 baptisms, with a retention rate of at least 70%. We have been blessed in this conference with unprecedented baptisms these past several years, for which we thank God. We have set a baptismal goal each year, and the Lord has blessed with the consistent reaching of those goals.

But from now on, we shall not just have a baptismal goal, we shall also have a retention goal. It is simply not enough just to baptize people, we have to ask the Lord to help us keep them as well.

And if the way we are doing evangelism does not allow us to do that, then we can’t just keep doing evangelism the same way, we have to change. And we will change.

Now, we won’t change overnight. But we shall change; in fact, we have already made one important change. This year, our conference evangelist is doing fewer meetings, because he is staying longer after the meetings that he does run, to stabilize the new converts.  The goal is to move them from membership to ministry.

(2)  The President is to meet with each Pastor to go over the evaluations that the church members did the previous year (we shall do Pastoral evaluations again in 2015, by the way). Praise God, that has already been done-through the miracle of technology. We had individual videoconferences with virtually every Pastor in our conference.

(3)  Resolution of the Memphis school facility issue. There are a few issues in the Adventist church that we seem to talk about forever. This is one of them.

In no way does a new building solve every problem a school has.  I get reminded about that every time I talk about a building that has outlived its usefulness. I have never been involved in a school building project where someone did not say to me “Elder-it’s not the building”.

I agree. But there are also some problems that cannot be solved without addressing the issue of an inadequate facility.

Everyone does not agree that we need a new school in Memphis; I am all right with that. What I am not all right with is continuing to talk about it; either we are going to address the facility issue or we are not. To settle that question-one way or the other, once and for all-is our goal this year.

(4)  An operating gain for 2014. One of the painful lessons that I learned a few years ago-when my focus was completely on our revenue-was that it does not matter how much money you receive, if you spend more money than you collect, that is not a good thing.

The Lord helped us to spend less than we collected last year. That is our goal again this year.

(5)  A 4% gain in tithe. That is the one goal that we did not reach last year.

The Lord has blessed us to reduce what we spend-especially as it relates to the part of our budget that relates to salary and benefits. That percentage went down this year; we believe it will go down again next year.  

But ultimately, ministry requires money, and that is our goal in 2014; to increase our revenue-not just for the sake of collecting more money (that is not even the main reason). Increased tithe revenue suggests increased faithfulness to God and that is not primarily a financial issue that is a spiritual issue.

(6)  A 4% reduction in the percentage of our budget going to salary and benefits, without laying anybody off.  We believe that one should happen again next year. There will be approximately 10 fewer full-time people on our payroll next year than this year. We have approximately that many people retiring, resigning, etc., -most of them will not be replaced.

The Lord also led us to tighten up our healthcare plan last year-we plan to tweak it again this year, with an emphasis on prevention. We have a health message; fresh air, water, sunlight, trust in divine power, etc., that has made Seventh-day Adventist the healthiest people on earth. Our goal now is for that to translate into reduced healthcare costs.

Wouldn’t that be a powerful witness? While everyone else is screaming about Obamacare (for the record, our costs were skyrocketing before Obamacare), if we could say, our healthcare costs are under control because our workers simply do what God says-in other words, we have Godcare.

(7)  Church School Enrollment Increase. Going against a denomination-wide trend, our enrollment in South Central schools has gone up in four out of the last five years. We are asking God to bless us and for that to continue.

(8)  Double our Message Magazine subscriptions.  There is not the zeal for Message Magazine that there used to be. But it is still an evangelistic tool and the truth is that as difficult as it can be sometimes to be to win souls today, we simply cannot afford to leave any weapon unused in the battle for souls.

People sometimes talk to me about all the things that they do not have in order to win souls. Message is something that we do have.  If you send someone a subscription, every other month, that magazine, in effect, “knocks” on that person’s door, and witnesses by sharing the gospel with whoever reads it. How many other things are there in the Adventist arsenal that do that?

We cannot afford to ignore Message Magazine as an evangelistic tool.

(9)  “Healthy Church” indicators established and distributed to each Pastor. Praise the Lord; that has been done as well.

Last year, we asked the Pastors: What are the things that you think are indicators of a spiritually healthy church? In a staff meeting, we set aside time for each Pastor to write down 5-10 indicators of what makes a healthy church.

We then tabulated what the Pastors said and added to those things, other things that we felt administratively made a healthy church. We then said to the Pastors, measure these things against what is happening in your church and see if the things that you and I have said are necessary for a healthy church are happening in your church.

If, for example, there is a list of 10 things that the Pastors and I have said are necessary to have a healthy church and only 2-3 of them are actually happening in your church, then your church may not be healthy. And, if that is the case, what are you doing about that?

Conversely, you may be blessed to be in a church where, of the 10 things that are listed as needed to have a healthy church, you are doing 9 of them.  After praising God that you are part of a healthy church, the next question is: What are we doing/planning to do to stay healthy?

Growing, healthy churches neither get that way, nor stay that way, accidentally-it has to be intentional. What is being done in your church to ensure that it remains spiritually healthy?

(10) Every one of our 25 largest churches having the capacity for on-line giving. The church is a business. If a significantly large portion of your church bills their bills on-line (and that is probably the case-especially among young adults), then the church has to offer the same convenience in receiving its funds as the world offers in receiving its funds.

I would hope that the day would come when every church has that capacity-including, the ability to swipe your card, to return your tithe-but at least we need to have that capacity in all of our large churches.

(11) To pass out 30,000 of our sharing journals, Darkness Before Dawn. I just believe that if we get the truth in front of enough people, that God will see to it that something happens.

And those are our goals for 2014. May God bless the South Central Conference.