Published March 13, 2010
MARIETTA — Georgia pastor Bryant Wright will be nominated for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention at this year’s annual meeting June 15-16 in Orlando, Fla.
Wright, founding pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, is the first candidate to be nominated for the position. Current SBC president and First Baptist Woodstock pastor Johnny Hunt is finishing his second term and is ineligible for re-election.
David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, made the announcement through the Florida Baptist Witness, the newsjournal of that state convention.
Wright, the 2007 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference president, is “uniquely positioned to continue the much-needed focus on the Great Commission as set forth by Johnny Hunt and the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force,” Uth told the Witness.
Johnson Ferry reported 459 baptisms with an average weekly worship attendance of 4,383, according to the 2009 Annual Church Profile. The church also gave $638,992, or 3.9 percent of undesignated gifts, to the Cooperative Program for 2009, a decrease from 4.9 percent of undesignated giving in 2008 and 5.1 percent given in 2007.
That decline in Cooperative Program support follows a trend, according to numbers provided by the church. The church had established itself as a longtime strong supporter of the denomination’s primary funding channel. As far back as 1982 Johnson Ferry was earmarking 10 percent of church receipts to the CP. But that began to change in 1997 when the congregation began designating three percent of its 10 percent to CP “causes” – specifically to the IMB through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, with the remaining 7 percent going to the Cooperative Program through the Georgia Baptist Convention. In December 2003 the CP figure was further reduced to 5 percent being sent through the state, while the IMB portion was increased to 5 percent. Last year the church reported that it gave 7 percent (down from the previous year’s 10 percent due to the sluggish economy) to all CP causes, with a further redistribution of 3.5 percent between the GBC and IMB.
For the last ten years the church’s CP causes summary of $14,964,426 breaks down as follows:
• GBC – $7,774,046
• IMB Lottie Moon – $5,548,547
• Noonday Association (1 percent) – $1,348,898
• Annie Armstrong Offering – $109,249
• Georgia Baptist Children’s Home – $135,278
• Truett-McConnell College – $13,408
• New Orleans Seminary (Katrina Relief) – $35,000
The church reported giving $1,420,441 through the Cooperative Program, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Witness stated. But half was given through the Georgia Baptist Convention and half given directly to the International Mission Board, according to Joe Shadden, Johnson Ferry’s finance manager.
In a guest commentary in the Nov. 5 issue of The Index, Wright outlined his intentions and called for “a radical reprioritizing of Cooperative Program funds through our state conventions,” proposing that each convention keep no more than 25-30 percent of CP funds in-state so 50 percent could go directly to international missions. He went on to explain how, after many years of Johnson Ferry giving 10 percent to the Cooperative Program, the church began to alter that number considerably.
“[A]s our lay volunteers began to go in great numbers on mission trips and to partner with ministries around the world, they were absolutely appalled to find how high a percentage of our CP dollars stayed in the state and how little actually wound up on the international mission field. So several years ago, we began to dramatically shift the funding to Southern Baptist mission causes by giving 5 percent of the church budget to the CP and 5 percent directly to the IMB in what is considered a monthly gift to the Lottie Moon offering,” Wright wrote.
“We’d prefer that the full amount we give to Southern Baptist mission causes go through the CP,” he continued, “but until the formulas change dramatically and most of the dollars go to international missions, we’ll keep giving directly to international mission causes, and that percentage may even increase in the days ahead. Our lay leaders in missions are “chomping at the bit” to do so today.”
In the article Wright also called for a greater increase in the percentage of funds directed to the North American Mission Board and the denomination’s six seminaries.
He characterized his suggestions as “a major change that would need to be implemented over 3-5 years to allow the state conventions to adjust in their planning. But implementation toward this goal needs to begin immediately with the state CP budgets that will be planned in 2010.”
Shadden told the Witness that during the 2009 budget year Johnson Ferry reduced CP and IMB gifts from 5 percent to 3.5 percent each as part of an overall budget reduction in response to the economic recession. With total undesignated receipts of $16,074,014 in 2009, the church gave 4.4 percent through CP and 4.4 percent to the IMB.
Wright spoke with Index Editor Gerald Harris March 12 concerning his nomination.
“I was contacted by two pastors in late 2009 and asked about allowing my name to be placed in nomination for president, but being president of the Southern Baptist Convention was never on my radar,” he said.
“I enjoyed being president of the Pastors’ Conference, because I was able to determine the program for that meeting, but the president of the convention is somewhat limited in what he can actually do. But I really feel that I have a calling and sense that God is leading in this matter.”
Having founded a church plant, Wright addressed Johnson Ferry’s focus on missions.
“From a practical standpoint,” he said, “I like what Johnny Hunt has done to increase our focus on global missions and reaching our world for Christ. My passion and the passion of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church is also global missions.
“Johnson Ferry is committed to sending mission teams wherever we can be of service and I would like to see every church in our convention send out one short term mission team each year. Small churches could link up with other churches to be on mission in some areas in need of our ministry and witness.
“Johnson Ferry has not only supported global missions, but we have started a number of churches here in the states. We have started churches here in Georgia, but we also launched the Journey Church in Manhattan and helped the South Bay Church in the Silicon Valley in California get started. Both these churches are doing extremely well.”
When asked to express his views on the GCR Task Force report Wright explained, “I think they have started us in the right direction. I want to see us send a greater percentage of our dollars to the IMB, NAMB, and our seminaries.”
Wright is the founding pastor of Johnson Ferry, which began in 1981 with 20 families meeting in a doctor’s office.
Wright and his wife Anne have three children and three grandchildren.
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