By Elizabeth Young

David Johnson presented “The Ugly, the Bad and the Good” in a 2015 Centennial Vision (Annual Church Profile) progress report to Arizona Southern Baptists’ Convention Council March 1 at CrossPoinTempe Church.

The ugly, said Johnson, Arizona Southern Baptists’ executive director, is that the preliminary report shows a net loss of 19 churches, down to 447 from 466 in 2014.

Two factors contributed to the loss, he said. One was that 13 churches were planted last year, down from 34 in each of the two prior years. In addition, Arizona Southern Baptists lost 32 churches.

“That didn’t mean they all went away or died or disbanded in 2015,” Johnson said. Much like a church tries to maintain an accurate membership roll, in reviewing the list of churches, the convention discovered several that had actually disbanded in prior years, he said.

“Now, for someone who has cast a vision of planting 50 churches per year and trying to reach 1,000 churches by 2028, that’s a setback,” Johnson said. “It’s a bad year. We’re hoping to press on, move forward, and we’re giving our best efforts to church planting and … [church] revitalization. We’re attacking that on a number of different fronts.”

Johnson said he believes 2016 will be a much better year for church planting. In addition, he said, “I don’t want to take away from the 13 churches that were planted. There were some amazing, amazing stories that came out of 2015 in church planting.”

The good news, Johnson said, is that 75 percent of Arizona Southern Baptist churches turned in an Annual Church Profile for 2015, up from 61 percent in 2014. Also, baptisms increased by 428 to 2,944 in 2015.

In addition, Cooperative Program giving increased by almost $59,000 in 2015. Churches gave an average of 5.7 percent of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program last year. This is an increase of .3 percentage points since the start of the Centennial Vision process, Johnson said.

During the same time period, he said, “our Cooperative Program giving has increased rather dramatically, which probably means our churches are doing better. … They are actually doing more in Cooperative Program giving because they are receiving more. … At 5.7 percent, it certainly is not yet to the 10 percent average that we would like to reach in our Centennial Vision, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Another move in the right direction is a decline in the number of churches that give nothing through the Cooperative Program. In 2015, a total of 22 more churches gave through the Cooperative Program than the previous year, dropping the number of non-giving churches from 143 to 121, Johnson said.

One remarkable note was that Calvary Baptist Church, Lake Havasu City, led Arizona Southern Baptist churches in Cooperative Program giving in 2015 with $146,082 and also led in baptisms with 146, Johnson said. “I don’t know how long it’s been since we had a church that led in Cooperative Program giving and baptisms at the same time,” he said.

The news is also good for giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, Johnson said. From March 1, 2015, through Feb. 15, 2016, Arizona churches had given $630,135 to the offering, up $93,507 from the same time frame in 2014-15.

Also during his report, Johnson announced plans for the 2016 annual meeting, which will be held Nov. 18 at Palm Vista Baptist Church, Surprise. Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will be the keynote speaker.

We hope the mission tour prior to the annual meeting and the mission projects “will especially highlight our need for reaching immigrants and ethnic groups,” Johnson said. “The theme is ‘For God so loved … Arizona,’ and we’re emphasizing how diverse Arizona is and how much Arizona … needs to hear this message of John 3:16.”

During the business session, the Convention Council approved two recommendations. Following a process approved by the Convention Council in March 2015 for non-SBC churches to affiliate with the AZSBC, Harvest Bible Chapel, Chandler, was approved for affiliation with Arizona Southern Baptists. The Council voted to engage Romek, Sanders & Company, P.C. to perform the 2015 audit.