The first Oklahoma Baptists’ Board of Directors meeting in 2020 took place March 10, just before COVID-19 was announced to be a global pandemic. On June 25, board members met for the second time this year at the Baptist Building. The Board reviewed what had occurred since the previous meeting, shared time in prayer and fellowship and pressed forward with ministry plans, a revised budget and a new church planting strategy.

Dilbeck highlights challenges, Gospel opportunities in 2020

Pressing forward: Oklahoma Baptists’ board revises budget, introduces new church planting strategy - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 1

Hance Dilbeck delivers his address during the June 25 Board meeting.

Oklahoma Baptists Executive Director-Treasurer Hance Dilbeck, in his address to the Board, underscored the many challenges that the 2020 year has seen, but he emphasized that the Gospel advances in challenging circumstances. Citing Phil. 1:12-14, he said, “When the advance of the Gospel is our passion, challenging circumstances are opportunity, not obstacle.

“We learn from Paul that we can be ‘content in any and every circumstance’ because the advance of the Gospel was his passion, and the Gospel thrives in adverse circumstances,” he said.

Dilbeck said that while the COVID-19 pandemic restricted the ability to hold events and programming, other opportunities for Gospel advance have emerged.

“If our passion and purpose is building institutions, sustaining programs, winning an election (or) advancing our career; our circumstances can derail us,” Dilbeck added. “We are often the victim of circumstances. We live one recession, one pandemic, one budget cut away from total frustration. The year 2020 has provided a platform from which we can proclaim the Gospel and encourage the brethren.”

Dilbeck led a time of prayer with board members, which included a focus on Gospel opportunities around the state, as well as praying for healing in the racial unrest in the country.

Board approves adjusted budget amid COVID-19

One of the challenges 2020 has presented for Oklahoma Baptists’ convention is financial pressure, which has come in the wake of COVID-19.

Dilbeck said, “We are responding to unforeseen challenges and opportunities of COVID-19, including financial headwinds.

“At the conclusion of the first financial quarter, Cooperative Program giving was below budget by 15 percent. This, combined with our loss of (Falls Creek and CrossTimbers) conference center activity, will cut our 2020 revenue by approximately 30 percent, or more than $8 million,” Dilbeck reported.

Pressing forward: Oklahoma Baptists’ board revises budget, introduces new church planting strategy - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 2

David Hooks, pastor of Oklahoma City, Bryant Avenue, shared a passage of Scripture and a word of prayer. Hooks is serving as second vice president of Oklahoma Baptists.

The Board’s Finance Committee and other Board leaders therefore presented an adjusted Financial Plan “for the last half of 2020 that will indicate how we plan to manage our way through this year as responsible stewards,” he said.

“This adjusted Financial Plan requires three basic actions. First, we must continue the severe spending cuts that we initiated in March. Second, we need to carefully draw from our reserves this year. Third, as a last resort, we made painful personnel reductions.”

Dilbeck and Board members considered and approved revised budget plans to adjust to historic financial challenges in 2020.

The adjusted Financial Plan included the elimination of 17 full-time jobs, which represents 13 percent of convention staff. The staff reduction plans were previously approved by the Board’s Executive Committee, and action was taken in early June.

A summary of the full-time job reductions included: eight conference center positions; three Baptist Collegiate Ministry associate director positions (OU, OSU and UCO); four support services positions; one church resources position; and one executive leadership office position. In addition, all six members of Oklahoma Baptists’ staff leadership group voluntarily took a salary reduction of 5 percent for the remainder of 2020.

“This year has demanded flexibility, creativity, effort and endurance from all Oklahoma Baptists,” Dilbeck said. “Our pastors and churches are responding with grace and strength. I am grateful for the leaders of our convention staff who are diligently serving in like manner. As you can imagine, these are heavy, burdensome matters. Join me in praying for all who have lost their jobs and for our remaining servants who now carry an extra load.”

New church planting strategy connects with NAMB

While the personnel reductions impacted Oklahoma Baptists’ church planting group, a new strategy emerged to continue this ministry work. Board members approved action for Oklahoma Baptists and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to enter a church planting partnership.

The agreement between Oklahoma Baptists and NAMB is to help plant new churches across Oklahoma, each of which will have an in-state church partner and local association approval.

NAMB, which will fund the partnership and sending network, will hire in consultation with Oklahoma Baptists one part-time Send Network Oklahoma director and two part-time church planting catalysts. NAMB will provide planter care ministry, regular funding for all church planters who pass through the Send Network process, among other assessment and support functions.

“There are many advantages of this partnership, which will be fully debuted at the Annual Meeting in November,” Dilbeck said. “It will ensure churches are planted where they are wanted and needed, and in connection with our churches and associations.”

Regional ministry strategy bears fruit

Ministry reports were given in convention areas including church resources, conference centers, church relations and media/communications.

Stories of life change and ministry reports were given from James Swain, Alan Quigley, Andy Harrison, Thomas Jordan, Walter Johnson, Brian Hobbs and others.

Dilbeck and leaders have seen increasing fruit from the regional ministry strategy, since the COVID-19 pandemic affected churches’ ability to meet in person.

“I am proud of our churches, and I’m thankful for our staff,” Dilbeck said. “Our regional ministry approach has allowed us to be flexible, relational and pastor-focused during this unusual season.

“We are more confident in our mission and strategy than ever,” he added. “As Paul said in Philippians that the churches were stronger and the Gospel spread wider (Phil. 4:22) because of his chains, I believe the same might be said for the COVID crisis. This has been a time of refocus and strengthening.”

Affiliate presidents give ministry reports

Reports were given by presidents of each of the four Oklahoma Baptists’ ministry affiliates, Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU), the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma (BFO), Baptist Village Communities (BVC) and Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children (OBHC).

Each president addressed how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their respective organizations, and how God has provided in unique ways amid challenge. OBU President Heath Thomas addressed how OBU adjusted to online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and BFO President Robert Kellogg addressed the financial impact and market downturn. Bill Pierce, BVC president, addressed how Baptist Village of Hugo handled an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

Pressing forward: Oklahoma Baptists’ board revises budget, introduces new church planting strategy - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 3

Kathy Gibson of Hope Pregnancy Ministry, left, gives a tour of the ‘Patty Ann’ Mobile Unit.

OBHC President Greg McNeece gave a ministry update, and shared how the HOPE Pregnancy Ministry has continued to serve abortion vulnerable clients amid the pandemic. McNeece and OBHC staff allowed board members to tour the new Hope Mobile Unit, which will offer pregnancy resource ministries in communities not near a center. The “Patty Ann” Mobile Unit, which is equipped with first class medical equipment, was on display outside the Baptist Building.

Oklahoma Baptists’ President Blake Gideon chaired the meeting and led in various orders of business. Board motions included adjusting the financial plan for 2020, board members approved a new 2021 Cooperative Program objective in the amount of $23,100,000.

Several members of the Board participated through online meeting technology. Throughout the duration of the meeting, board members present followed safety and social distancing protocols.

“I was so encouraged to hear the stories of people giving their lives to the Lord through the ministries of Oklahoma Baptists in the midst of a pandemic, showing that while circumstances may change, the mission to advance the gospel remains steadfast,” said Board member Douglas Matlock, associate pastor of discipleship and worship at Chickasha, First. “From Baptist Homes for Children to Baptist Village Communities, we heard stories of how our Oklahoma Baptists’ teams are working more diligently than ever to bring hope and the Gospel to people during these challenging and difficult days.”

The next meeting of the Board is scheduled for Sept. 15 at the Baptist Building. While the June 2020 meeting was different in many respects, the God who causes His Kingdom and the Gospel advance remains the same.