By Elizabeth Young

During their 88th annual meeting, Arizona Southern Baptists celebrated what God is doing in their state, heard how the Cooperative Program undergirds that work and adopted a 2017 budget sending more to Southern Baptist Convention causes.

“For God So Loved … Arizona” was the theme of the meeting held at Palm Vista Baptist Church in Surprise, Nov. 18. It was attended by 266 messengers and 25 registered guests from 119 of Arizona Southern Baptists’ 468 churches.

Messengers adopted a $4,756,059.77 operating budget for 2017, a $1,200 or .025 percent increase over 2016. The operating budget includes a $3,230,000 Cooperative Program budget — the same as last year.

The Cooperative Program budget allocates $985,150 or 30.5 percent — an increase of 1.5 percentage points — to the Southern Baptist Convention for national and international missions and ministries.

The percentage increase represents another step in reaching Arizona Southern Baptists’ Centennial Vision goal of giving 50 percent of Cooperative Program receipts to missions outside the state through the SBC by 2028. It will be the third year for the SBC percentage to increase. With the 2016 budget, the percentage was also raised 1.5 percentage points.

The remaining Cooperative Program budget will be distributed as follows: Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, $1,792,650 or 55.5 percent, a decrease of 2.5 percentage points from 2016; Arizona Baptist Children’s Services & Family Ministries, $226,100, 7 percent, an increase of 1 percentage point; and the Arizona Campus of Gateway Seminary, $226,100, unchanged at 7 percent.

“I am so thankful for the Cooperative Program,” said AZSBC President Bret Burnett, North American Mission Board church planting catalyst and senior pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church, Tucson. “The Cooperative Program has been a part of my life since I was born.” As the son of International Mission Board missionaries in Brazil, then as a student at a Southern Baptist seminary, later as a church planter, and now as a pastor and denominational worker, the Cooperative Program has been part of his life, he said.

Burnett introduced Arizona Southern Baptists’ latest video in their “I am CP” series of videos and bulletin inserts that personalize the Cooperative Program. The video features Tommy Thomas, NAMB church planting catalyst in northern Arizona, and his wife, Laura. The inserts and videos may be viewed at http://iamcp.azsbc.org.

During the single afternoon session, messengers elected three officers by acclamation. Prior to the worship and business session, Arizona Southern Baptists participated in a mission fair, ate a lunch prepared and served by the Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief ministry and heard from Bill Elliff, co-author of OneCry: A Nationwide Call for Spiritual Awakening , at the annual Leadership Conference.

Jackie Allen, lead pastor of Palm Vista Baptist Church, Surprise, was elected president, and Ed Eddingfield, senior pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Tucson, was elected first vice president. Charles Wesner, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Wellton, was elected second vice president for a second one-year term. All were elected by acclamation.

For the second year, the annual meeting was preceded by a Cooperative Program bicycle ride from the site of next year’s annual meeting to this year’s meeting. Six men — representing the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, Gateway Seminary, Arizona Baptist Children’s Services and churches that give through the Cooperative Program — participated in the two-day, 151-mile ride from Tucson to Surprise to raise awareness of the Cooperative Program.

David Johnson, AZSBC executive director, shared what he learned from the ride.

“No man can ride alone,” he said. “We have to ride together, and we have to work together. That’s what we do as Arizona Southern Baptists.”

In a progress report on the Centennial Vision, Johnson noted that while baptisms increased by over 400 last year, the AZSBC had a net loss of 16 churches. Although 13 churches were planted, 29 others ceased to exist.

“That’s not going in the direction that we want it to go for accomplishing 1,000 churches in Arizona by the year 2028,” he said.

In good news, 2015 Cooperative Program giving was $60,000 ahead of 2014, and that was the best since 2009. So far in 2016, giving is $25,000 ahead of last year, Johnson said.

To accomplish the Centennial Vision, it’s going to take a movement of God and multiplication of disciples, leaders and churches, he said. In 2017, Arizona Southern Baptists will begin an emphasis on multiplication, talking with churches and leaders about what multiplication would look like in their context and how the state convention can help, he said.

“If we had every church in our convention plant just one church — multiply themselves just one time — over the next 10 years, we would have 900 churches,” he noted.

Looking ahead, Johnson said, “the rest of the family is coming to town” next June for the SBC annual meeting. For the Crossover evangelism emphasis in 2017, held in conjunction with the SBC meeting, the North American Mission Board and AZSBC will partner with Harvest America and Greg Laurie for a Harvest America crusade at the University of Phoenix Stadium June 11.

“We want to reach our city and our state for Christ,” Johnson said. “We want to see the University of Phoenix Stadium filled with 62,000 people to reach them with the gospel message.”

Mark Arenas, Harvest crusade director, told the messengers it is “not by coincidence that the Lord has called us to Arizona.” In preparatory meetings, he said, he has encountered pastors who have been praying for 20 years that “God would bring something like this to Arizona.” Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO, thanked Arizona Southern Baptists “for your wonderful cooperative, collaborative ministry,” joining with “46,793 Southern Baptist churches across this nation whose work is bigger than you are, beyond what you — what anybody — can do alone.”

If Southern Baptist churches gave 1 percent more through the Cooperative Program next year, that would be another $100 million, he said.

“You see,” he said, “when people in the churches decide to give and churches decide to give and state conventions decide to give, it becomes a downward stream — a cumulative effect — that has a massive impact.”

However, we must always remember why we do what we do, he said.

“I’m here, Arizona, to encourage you to fall in love with the Lord Jesus,” Page said. “He’s the ‘why’ of what we do.”

Preaching from Matthew 9:35-38, former SBC President Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, urged messengers to “accept the challenge of Jesus Christ” and “show the love of God in every part of this state.”

“We’ve got to show them that we care for them,” he said. “We’ve got to show them that we’re concerned about them. We’ve got to show them that we have compassion for them and accept the challenge to get out of the four walls of our church and send forth laborers into His harvest.”

Marjorie Kuban, Arizona Baptist Historical Commission archivist, presented a plaque to Brad Schneeflock, Christian Challenge state collegiate strategist, recognizing the 75th anniversary of Baptist collegiate ministry in Arizona.

“This past year we had nearly 4,000 students impacted by our ministry on our campuses,” Schneeflock said. “About 385 students were involved in our ministries and discipled by our missionaries. Eighty-nine students served as student leaders with our ministries, and 14 young men and women took that step from death to life as they gave their lives to Jesus.”

The goal is to have a presence on every Arizona college campus, he said, but that can only be accomplished through partnerships with local churches.

As the messengers gathered around the 16 Christian Challenge staffers standing throughout the auditorium, Schneeflock asked them to “pray for our missionaries that there would be revival in our hearts … that there would be revival in our ministries and that there would be an awakening on our campuses.”

Mitch McDonald, AZSBC missions facilitator, was recognized for his service to Arizona Southern Baptists. Completing 20 years of service at the end of March 2017, he announced recently that he will take early retirement. He will continue, though, to serve as director of Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief as a part-time employee.

“He has touched the lives of thousands of Arizona Southern Baptists and others around the world,” Johnson said. “He has preached in hundreds of churches and been interim pastor of churches all over our state.”

Through the years, McDonald has served as a student evangelism intern, associate evangelism director with responsibilities in student and international missions, evangelism director/facilitator and missions facilitator.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 17 at First Southern Baptist Church, Tucson.