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Home Run in Louisville: Hitting the Highlights of the 2017 Convention
When the National Association met in Louisville in 2005, the post-convention report described the meeting as the “Grand Slam in Louisville.” In this year’s return to the slugger city, the convention hit another home run, with highlights that made the week one to remember:
Numbers up. In addition to great worship services and smooth business sessions, the 4,603 attendees (the highest convention attendance in five years) in Louisville enjoyed 83 well-attended seminars, workshops, and panel discussions on a wide range of topics.
After hearing a number of bleak financial reports during the Kansas City meeting a year ago, denominational departments (as a whole) shared a brighter picture in 2017. Randall House and North American Ministries, in particular, enjoyed complete financial turnarounds, both ending 2016 well in the black.
Made an impact. Fifty-five workers from ten churches and five states arrived a day early for Impact Louisville. They gathered at First Free Will Baptist Church, 15 minutes from downtown, and accomplished an amazing amount of work. In four hours, the hard-working volunteers pressure washed the brick, eaves, gutters, steeple, and sidewalks; trimmed the shrubs and refreshed the landscaping; cleaned church pews and walls in the sanctuary; removed years of accumulated storage from the attic; caulked crown molding in the fellowship hall; and prepared the interior of church for painting. After freshening up the facilities, the group helped the church host a neighborhood fun day, with inflatable games, a cookout, face painting, and more. Watch the Impact Video below.
Celebrated 75. The atmosphere was triumphant on Tuesday night, as a stage filled with Welch College alumni led Free Will Baptists in worship as the College marked its 75th anniversary. A celebration of history and heritage, the service included a Welch College alumni choir, video tour of the new Gallatin campus, a documentary-style look at the history of Welch College (below), and a sermon from Welch President, Dr. Matthew Pinson.
International presence. Free Will Baptist women attending WNAC activities were thrilled to meet President Madame Solange and Counselor Madame Deborah, representing Côte d’Ivoire’s own women’s organization, Femmes de la Bonne Nouvelle, or Women of the Good News. Everyone enjoyed their impromptu a capella rendition of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” in French (joined by Alice Smith) at Monday evening’s Laughter & Latté event. When asked if they could take one thing from the States back to Africa, Madame Deborah promptly responded in English, “Fast food!”
Surprising women. During the WNAC celebration service, in a move that stunned Executive Director Elizabeth Hodges, three women joined her onstage, carrying a giant check for $19,500 from the Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri Women Active for Christ. This “Tri-state Project” covered the cost of a recently purchased office car for WNAC, along with interest incurred. “My heart is overflowing with thanksgiving for the generosity of these women,” said the shocked and grateful director. “This will erase our debt for the first car owned by WNAC. To God be the glory!”
Organized chaos. These are the best words to describe the convention exhibit hall six hours before opening. When doors opened, however, visitors pushed their way into a well-organized display of ministry and discipleship resources. In addition, the exhibits were filled with free souvenirs, everything from foam “stress hammers” to door prizes including an Apple laptop computer, a Kentucky mandolin, and a number of thousand-dollar college scholarships.
Text-to-give. Thanks to the hard work of the Media Commission, for the first time, Free Will Baptists had an opportunity to give using mobile devices during the 2017 convention. Offerings from Saturday through Tuesday offset convention expenses while donations made Wednesday were split between International Missions and North American Ministries. “People don’t carry checks or cash much anymore,” noted convention manager Ryan Lewis. “The text-to-give option allowed both convention attendees and those watching at home to support Free Will Baptist ministries here and around the world.” During the week, 125 donors gave $5,548, $863 for the convention and $4,685 for missions, while the total Wednesday missions offering topped $30,000.
Checked in. For the second year, attendees also participated in Check in for a Cause. This year, the Facebook check ins helped provide funding for church revitalization efforts in Louisville. During the four-day meeting, attendees registered 1,480 check ins, with more than a million page views, and 710 new “likes” on the denominational Facebook page.
Saints in Training
As always, the convention centered around the worship services. This year was no exception as attendees enjoyed outstanding music and preachers who spoke from their hearts on the theme, “Equipping the Saints,” based on Ephesians 4:11-12.
Tim Eaton, president of Randall University in Moore, Oklahoma, opened the convention with a Sunday School lesson from 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28. Rick Dement, pastor of First FWB Church, O’Fallon, Missouri, and member of the Board of Retirement, preached the morning message. He examined the characters and characteristics of discipleship, laying the foundation for the rest of the week’s messages.
Sunday evening, Marshall Bonéy (pictured below), a North American Missions church planter in Virginia Beach, Virginia, challenged congregants to mature ministry. He reminded listeners, “When we do things with God, He equips and graces us.”
Monday evening, Joel Franks, pastor of First FWB Church, Glasgow, Kentucky, admonished listeners, “Do you want God to change you? Get in the Word and let it equip you for the challenges of life.”
On Tuesday evening, Matt Pinson, president of Welch College in Gallatin, Tennessee, delivered an ardent case for “Equipping the Saints Through Higher Education.” He exhorted the congregation to take the long view of daily battles by trusting “in your God who transcends your moment.”
The Wednesday evening missions service placed an exclamation point on the week of dynamic worship. A children’s choir (pictured) joined the convention choir and orchestra for a rousing anthem before a parade of home and international missionaries brought the congregation to its feet.
Clint Morgan, former missionary and general director of International Missions, concluded the convention with an impassioned plea for people young and old to commit to reaching the world, whether across the street or across the globe. The altar filled as the praise team sang “Send Me Out” by Iranian Christian Gilbert Hovsepian.
Throughout the week, convention Music Coordinator Kevin Justice and the Music Commission delivered an inspiring music program featuring a convention choir with more than 100 voices, an orchestral ensemble, and a praise band.
Once again, services were streamed live, with more than 20,000 people watching at least some portion of a service during the week. This year, for the first time, the live streaming was bilingual, translated into Spanish. This milestone only seems appropriate, since Spanish translation services were first offered in Louisville in 2005.
On Monday, July 17, the General Board heard reports from eight national agencies and four commissions as Moderator Tim York guided board members through a four-hour, 23-minute meeting. The board approved several recommendations including a 2018 denominational budget of just over $28 million, an Executive Committee recommendation that the 2023 convention be held July 16-19, in Raleigh, North Carolina, and a recommendation that a five-member committee be appointed to study the feasibility of forming a national department focused on church revitalization.
Delegates later approved both resolutions, and Moderator Tim York appointed Stan Bunch (MO), chairman; Jeff Jones (NC); Randy Wilson (OK); Mike Trimble (MI); and Jeff Nichols (TN) to serve on the exploration committee. Clerk Randy Bryant additionally read the names of 19 appointments to national committees: Credentials (5), Nominating (7), Resolutions (5), and Obituary Committee (2).
During well-attended Tuesday and Wednesday business sessions, delegates approved reports from the following departments:
Executive Secretary Keith Burden celebrated a general upward trend in denominational reporting, including a solid financial picture in his own. “You’re going to hear many good things during the course of this meeting,” he noted, including a considerable rebound in The Together Way giving in 2016.
After observing that ONE Magazine continues to be well received, Burden announced an upcoming “bonus issue” of the magazine designed especially for pastors and their families thanks to a grant from FWB Foundation. He described the continued development of the ReKindle church health program under the leadership of Dr. Danny Dwyer.
Burden acknowledged the passing of two stalwarts of the convention this year, former convention manager Jack Williams and long-time convention registration volunteer Geneva Walker. He commended his staff and the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau for working through logistical changes created by the recent demolition of the Louisville convention center.
As he began his report, General Director Clint Morgan was enthusiastic: “A lot of people ask how IM is doing financially, and I am thrilled to say the answer is ‘better.’” Thanks to surplus in 2016, missionary deficits were erased at the beginning of 2017, giving all missionaries a clean slate. Still, Morgan reminded listeners of the looming deadline of December 31, 2017, when missionaries whose accounts are not fully funded will be called home to begin fundraising. He urged Free Will Baptists to continue supporting missionaries financially and through prayer.
He expressed appreciation for a $95,000 grant from FWB Foundation to fund four strategic projects: the Living Water project, Kenya (pictured below); renovations to the Miley and Lee Houses in Côte d’Ivoire; renovations to the girls’ dormitories at Pinar del Río, Cuba; and underwriting the costs of church houses in Cuba.
Morgan shared five updates on progress to the 20 by 2020 plan introduced last year: 131 additional churches gave to IM in 2016, an increase of 11.8%; cash reserves reached a high point of 23.9% in 2016; a net 2.6% increase in missionaries; a 7.5% increase of international Free Will Baptists from 25,524 in 2015 to 27,612 in 2016; and a 10.4% increase in the number of international churches, from 314 in 2015 to 346 in 2017.
Recent office reorganization included a transition from regional directors to two divided positions: Curt Holland will direct field ministry personnel, and Dr. Kenneth Eagleton will direct field partnerships. Don Matchett, former director of missions for Arkansas, will join the team as director of church relations.
The mission is proposing a name change in 2018, simplifying the name from International Missions Board of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Inc., to IM, Inc. This abbreviation will help missionaries gain entry into limited access countries, avoid raising red flags with foreign governments, and reduce the number of legal challenges the Mission encounters.
He praised God for continued blessings: a 15% increase in churches in Côte d’Ivoire since 2008; a successful deep water well for the Samburu people in Kenya; and the number of baptisms doubled in Japan in 2016. He also noted that in France, hundreds of young people have heard the gospel through the efforts of the J’Pense team. Morgan pointed to former mission fields now sending their own missionaries to other nations. A Cuban doctor and her family will move to Côte d’Ivoire to work in the clinic in Doropo. Free Will Baptists in India are planting new churches in Nepal, Bhutan, and other surrounding nations.
Executive Director Elizabeth Hodges introduced two representatives from Free Will Baptist women in Côte d’Ivoire, President Madame Solange and Counselor Madame Deborah (pictured below). The ladies, dubbed the “Ivorian Sisters,” thanked WNAC and Free Will Baptists for their missions efforts, specifically WNAC efforts in sponsoring a national retreat for Ivorian women and underwriting the expenses of constructing a “feminine center” to provide health and education.
Hodges announced the Miley International Student Scholarship, which assists international students studying in the U.S. Deborah Trifinov (Bulgaria) and Keren Delgado (Panama) are this year’s recipients. She also celebrated the success of Shine! conferences, designed for girls aged 12 to 18. Two Shine! conferences will be held this fall, one at Randall University (OK), October 28, and another at Seffner Christian Academy (FL), November 18.
Director Hodges shared highlights from Cuban and Uruguayan women’s retreats underwritten by WAC. The retreats, which would not have been possible without assistance, provided encouragement, training, and fellowship for grateful international women.
Auditor Terry Hill sounded a cautionary note regarding WNAC’s current financial situation. To respond to the financial challenges, WNAC has reduced expenses, offering their annual Program and Plan Book online, and reducing the number of pages in quarterly Bible studies. As Hill noted, however, “additional funding streams are needed” for the department. Hodges assured delegates she and the board would work together to address the challenges.
President Matt Pinson celebrated the successful construction of and transition to a new campus in Gallatin, Tennessee, exclaiming, “This has been the craziest, most exciting, most amazing year of my 15-year presidency at Welch College.” He thanked members of his faculty and staff who accepted additional responsibilities as members of the transition team.
He announced the purchase of additional property adjacent to the campus. A portion of this property will be sold to cover the expense of the purchase, a portion will be deeded to the National Association and FWB Family Ministries, and the rest will be added to the college campus, giving the College more than 90 acres of prime real estate for expansion. He thanked former president Tom Malone for his vision in beginning the relocation process more than two decades earlier and invited delegates to attend a campus dedication service September 29.
He acknowledged construction expenses exceeded expectations due to rapidly-accelerating costs of building in the Nashville area and a number of upgrades to make facilities more comfortable and appealing. He celebrated donations doubling original estimates, and predicted $3.75 million dollars in debt following the second phase of the capital funding campaign, which means only $800,000 will be relocation debt. “It’s about more than bricks and mortar and technology,” he told listeners. “It’s about training students for their role in the Kingdom of God.”
Pinson celebrated record pre-enrollment for the fall 2017 semester; the successful implementation of a new graduate program, which recently completed its first cohort; new dual enrollment programs in the Gallatin area; and continued expansion of the online learning program. He predicted continued growth, anticipating enrollment approaching 500 students in the near future.
After reporting a loss of more than $450,000 for 2015, Director Ron Hunter celebrated a complete financial turnaround in 2016, ending the year with a $224,000 surplus. He noted this was “a $650,000 turnaround in just eight months.”
The goal of Randall House, Hunter observed, is to partner with churches to help disciple church members both at church and away from church. “I think we have been doing church pretty well,” he observed, “but the question is how we take that into the home.”
Because Randall House only produces 12 books a year, Hunter announced the launch of a new website, FWBAuthors.com, which will feature titles from any Free Will Baptist author, no matter the publisher, as long as the books meet the criteria set forth by Randall House.
He applauded the efforts of Vertical Three, including the Vertical Three Conference (previously the National Youth Conference); the CTS Expo, with competitive activities that continue to give young people an opportunity to develop their talents; and the D6 Conference. “These events are not about the next generation,” Hunter noted. “These events are about every generation.”
He encouraged delegates to attend the 2017 D6 Conference, in Dallas, Texas, September 20-22, and announced international D6 conferences in Singapore, South Korea, and Malaysia in 2018, in addition to the D6 Conference in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Board of Retirement
Despite a transition in leadership, Director John Brummitt described 2016 as a record-setting year for the board, with 124 new enrollees in the retirement plan, an all-time high. Brummitt additionally announced a complete overhaul of the department’s website (Boardofretirement.com) that allows participants to monitor their investments online via a secure login. In addition, the website provides general financial advice, education, and tools, making it an excellent resource for every Free Will Baptist, even those not enrolled in the retirement program.
Brummitt encouraged denominational employees to establish a retirement account early, to contribute faithfully, thereby making time the “best friend” of retirement. The Board now offers a number of investment options—conservative, regular, and progressive—to give participants the opportunity to customize their accounts according to their investment strategy.
Free Will Baptist Foundation
Although total assets in the Foundation increased by $5.3 million in 2016 to more than $68 million, Director David Brown acknowledged a slight loss in the return on endowments for the year. In addition, a number of estate-planning cancellations since 2013 created a net loss of $328,000 ($80,000 in 2016). In spite of these losses, Brown reported a net income of $114,619 for the year and pointed to exciting growth in 2017, with assets increased by $2.3 million in the first half of the year, taking the Foundation to nearly $71 million.
More than 400 people signed up for new estate plans in 2016, and 153 so far in 2017, with an estimated $16 million going to FWB ministries in the future as a result.
Brown celebrated the successful implementation of a grant program. In 2017, the Foundation awarded a half million dollars to a wide range of FWB ministries. According to Brown, the program will continue indefinitely, barring an unexpected turn in financial markets. “We thank God for the way He has made these grants possible,” he shared, “and we humbly ask that He would continue to bless these efforts in the future.”
Brown honored Dotty Moore (pictured above), who will retire August 1, for 13 years of work in the Foundation office. He posthumously honored Rick Locklear, who passed away March 28, after 12 years on the Foundation Board. “Rick was my friend,” said Brown, “and we are going to miss him.” He additionally honored Melvin Worthington and Waymon Fields for multiple terms of service on the board.
North American Ministries (NAM)
Director David Crowe thanked God for 89 churches (both English-speaking and Hispanic) now affiliated with North American Ministries. He pointed to several new adventures for the department this year. Team Hawaii departed for the islands, a number of revitalization works are underway, and two new chaplains were commissioned, Hal Jones and Amir Ashoori.
After reporting significant losses in 2016, Crowe celebrated a significant financial turnaround this year, finishing $322,927 in the black. He thanked the denomination for gifts totaling more than $5 million in 2016. Crowe additionally thanked the denomination for their prayers after he suffered a stroke earlier this year. He commended missionaries, chaplains, and office staff for their work during his absence, noting “They know what they are doing, and they know it well.”