The State of the Convention: Moving Forward

by Tom Stolle

In March 2020, our world changed. The impact of COVID-19 and associated regulations wreaked havoc on businesses and churches as they scrambled to find alternative solutions to continue operations. Many churches found themselves forced to stop meeting in person and quickly pivoted to online services. For some churches, this involved overcoming a significant learning curve. Some congregations are still not physically meeting. There was also uncertainty concerning how churches that choose to affiliate with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) would respond regarding cooperative giving.

I am pleased to report that Cooperative Program (CP) giving for 2020 was stronger than management expected once the pandemic hit. CP ended the year down only (8.6 percent) from the prior year. Through the four months ended April 30, 2021, CP giving is ahead of the same period last year by 4.5 percent. We are so thankful for God’s provision! Our partnership with many churches across our state convention is strong, as evidenced by the strength of CP giving through the pandemic. As a result of that generous giving, we were able to continue to assist in starting and strengthening churches! God has provided passionate, loving, and committed staff to support so many churches and pastors. Praise God!

Please allow me to share a few highlights from 2020 and our plans moving forward into the spring and summer, traditionally our busiest seasons of ministry.

Strengthening churches
Strengthening churches is a priority that continued through the Church Services team in 2020, albeit with a more virtual flavor. A few of the many events that were held online included VBS and KidMin Forums (led by Kris Buckman, BCM/D’s children and youth ministry consultant); Teaching Roundtables featuring Dr. Dominick Hernandez from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Kenneth Keathley from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; the Breathless conference for women (planned and coordinated by Melody Knox, BCM/D’s women’s ministry consultant); and the Healthy Leaders for Healthy Churches training events (planned and coordinated by Church Services Consultant Dr. Randy Millwood).

The pandemic also provided the opportunity to develop the BCMDKids social media presence, which has been a great way to assist churches.

A guest enjoys riding through Cresthill Church’s “Shine Thru,” a prequel to a virtual Night to Shine held in February (photo by Sharon Mager).

The team canceled some events, but most of these are returning this year with a renewed emphasis. BCM/D had to postpone Renovate, our church revitalization conference twice in 2020, but it will occur in October 2021. It will be the featured event in the BCM/D’s heavy emphasis on church revitalization. Learn more about this emphasis and the numerous revitalization opportunities on our website.

Special needs ministry
Special needs ministry is a heavily emphasized BCM/D initiative. Unfortunately, the convention had to cancel the annual special needs conference in 2020 due to the pandemic’s impact. We are thrilled to announce we are hosting the conference, in partnership with The Banquet Network (TBN), both virtually and in-person on June 5.

In 2020, churches with a passion for reaching individuals affected by disabilities either hosted Night To Shine alternative events or began planning for future proms when the pandemic ends.

In July, the BCM/D, in cooperation with TBN, plans to host a special needs weekend camp at Skycroft Conference Center. Keep an eye on bcmd.org for details and registration information.

Church planting
Church planting in Maryland/Delaware is going very well. The BCM/D enjoys a strong partnership with the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

We are excited about our new emphasis on the relationship between our Church Services and Church Planting staff within the BCM/D. This connection of teams allows us to help each new plant enter a path that gives them a better chance at overall health and multiplication.

Despite the global pandemic, nine churches were planted in 2020. Several new planters recently went through assessment and are or will be planting this year, with more in our pipeline. God continues to provide!

The pandemic did not stop church planting, coaching, and training. In fact, once the pandemic hit, church planting leaders met virtually with planters several times a month to help them navigate through planting and meeting as a church during COVID-19. Topics included how to plant in a pandemic, how to meet, and how to navigate through the loss.

Skycroft Conference Center
COVID-19 hit the hospitality industry hard and Skycroft was no exception. Our conference center experienced a complete vacancy for the first four months after the pandemic hit. For the first time in over 30 years, Skycroft canceled our traditional summer camp. As we moved into the fall and winter, COVID-19 regulations placed significant limitations on Skycroft’s ability to host groups. These restrictions, coupled with the understandable hesitancy of many individuals to gather even in small group settings, have had a negative impact on our operation.

A mother and son enjoy free time during a mini youth retreat at Skycroft Conference Center (photo by Sharon Mager).

While Skycroft has struggled, by God’s grace, we weathered the storm. The staff worked hard, and God has provided. Great work is still happening at Skycroft during this challenging season. We made many improvements to our buildings, property, and infrastructure. Our small full-time team primarily completed this amazing work. I am also excited to share that in 2020 seven volunteer crews from churches affiliated with the BCM/D assisted with deep cleaning, painting, groundskeeping, tree-clearing, deck repairs, and much more. We are so thankful for this help at a time when it was so desperately needed!

Despite the cancellation of 2020 summer camps, we held a one-day outdoor summer camp event with six churches participating, along with more than 80 youth and leaders. We had the pleasure of hosting 26 overnight and day retreats between July and December 2020. Also, eleven churches with approximately 140 youth and leaders attended two small-scale winter camp weekends.

This year, Skycroft has already hosted fifteen retreats, and there have been ten baptisms. We are especially thrilled to announce that we are having our 2021 summer camps, adjusted according to COVID protocol to provide the safest possible camping experience.

We are excited to reengage many more individuals and churches at Skycroft so that many souls come to Christ through this ministry.

Final thoughts
As believers, we know that God provides and sustains. He is always with us. 2020 was an extremely difficult year for so many people in so many ways. There has been so much uncertainty as we have journeyed life during this pandemic. The good news is our God is present and our God is able!

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him’” (Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV).

We thank God for His grace, mercy, and provision through this season! Great is His faithfulness!

Tom Stolle serves as the BCM/D’s associate executive director and chief financial officer.