In 2000, Oklahoma Baptists made one of the most significant decisions in our history. During the annual meeting at the Myriad (Cox Convention Center), we voted to enter a fundraising campaign to secure the dollars needed to build a new tabernacle at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center. The tabernacle, unlike its 79-year old predecessor, would not be an outdoor arena, but a state-of-the-art, 7,300-seat, indoor, heated/air-conditioned facility for year-round use.
In the midst of the 9-11 tragedy and the difficult economy that followed, raising the funds to build was no small task. The convention had no list of donors as do organizations who have been in the fundraising business for decades. Even more significant was the fact that “we ain’t never done it that way before.” Despite the enormity of the task, with God’s hand of blessing and the generosity of Oklahoma Baptists, the tabernacle became a reality in May 2007.
Since that time, we have seen significant growth in the number of people attending Falls Creek. Almost 80,000 people attended encampments, retreats and conferences during 2010; almost 54,000 during the summer youth encampments alone. Decisions for Christ continue to increase, with 5,976 made during the youth weeks last summer.
Additionally, since 2001, Oklahoma Baptist churches have invested more than $15 million to build new cabins and renovate many of the older ones. The old tired camp has taken on new life.
New challenges come with growth. By order of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, we will build new sewer lagoons and a new water system. This will cost between $7.5-$8 million. These improvements were not planned, and the cost was not part of the original fundraising efforts. A contingency funding plan for the ODEQ mandated improvements will be presented to the BGCO Board of Directors in May.
Where are we in regard to payment of pledges and any debt that remains on the tabernacle? It is important to remember that at the time the board of directors voted to proceed with the building of the tabernacle, we did not have all the cost covered by pledges. The board decided to move forward—I believe it was the right decision. In fact, if the tabernacle had not been built at that time, it would have been almost impossible to proceed because building costs (concrete and steel) were increasing so quickly.
So where are we in paying for the tabernacle? Today we have $2,377,605 in outstanding pledges. The largest unpaid pledge is $1 million; the smallest unpaid pledge is $5. The Oklahoma Baptist who pledged the $1 million has assured me it will be paid.
We have $5,815,543 in outstanding debt on the tabernacle. If all the pledges were paid today, we would have a remaining debt of $3,437,938. All the debt is being held by individual Oklahoma Baptists through a personal loan program approved by the board of directors. The interest rate paid started at 5 percent in 2007 and has gradually decreased to about 3 percent annually.
Will all the pledges be paid? Candidly, I think some will not. Interestingly, while some have not paid their pledges, others have given far beyond what they originally pledged. We have already discounted some of the pledges in accordance with auditing requirements.
How will we deal with the remaining balance on the tabernacle debt? We will continue to seek donors who love Falls Creek and who have a desire to reduce the debt. We have had individuals indicate a desire to help us remove the debt. We must continue to pray and work to that end.
How can you help? I know there are many Oklahoma Baptists who have given generously in the past who want to be a part of helping Falls Creek eliminate the debt. Some of you may want to sponsor a seat in the tabernacle through Save-a-Seat for $500 per seat. You may place your name on the seat or the name of someone you wish to honor. It is a great way to help decrease the debt. Another way is to just give a gift ($25, $50 or $100) to help offset the Falls Creek tabernacle debt. Gifts may be sent to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, Attention: Falls Creek Debt, 3800 N. May Avenue, Oklahoma City 73112. Or you can give online at www.bgco.org/donate. Gift questions can be answered at 800/690-6933. Every dollar will go to reduce and hopefully soon eliminate the debt.
Professional fundraisers tell me that debt retirement is the hardest money to raise. I have found that to be true. It is more fun to give to a new building project and watch it progress. But I have faith in God and His people. We have come too far to falter now. Together we can take care of this need. Doing so will release Falls Creek to continue to grow and reach lost children, young people and adults with the Gospel. Falls Creek is a Kingdom enterprise. It is worth sacrifice to advance its impact.
This summer, another 54,000 young people will spend an unforgettable week at the Creek. Every one of them is of inestimable value. We can join together and give so Falls Creek does not have to step backwards. We must go forward to the Glory of our God.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.