NORWALK - One California Southern Baptist ministry is excited to see what happens when it starts giving away money.
That's right. SoCal Baptist Ministries exists for the sole purpose of giving missions and ministry grants to California Southern Baptist churches and their related organizations and ministries.
They give money away instead of asking for it, according to Robert Langley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Norwalk and president of the board of SoCal Baptist Ministries.
The group expects to disburse about $700,000 to $1 million annually, earnings from the $20 million sale of an apartment building used for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) senior housing since the 1970's.
"Our entire board is really enthusiastic about being able to help," Langley said. And he is looking forward to the kinds of projects people will propose for the grants.
The ministry decided to invest the funds with California Baptist Foundation, and Phil Kell, Foundation president, said, "We are extremely excited about this new SoCal Baptist Ministries Endowment Fund. Not only is it the largest endowment ever created by a California Southern Baptist Convention entity, it is the only one focused at funding ministry and missions work through our local Southern Baptist churches."
Kell noted the Foundation's "job is to invest the money in the fund and then annually distribute earnings to SoCal Baptist Ministries so they can make grants."
"We have been doing the same thing for other churches and agencies for over 60 years," Kell noted, "but this is by far the largest single fund we have ever been asked to manage."
SoCal Baptist Ministries is a new venture some 40 years in the making. Langley said a previous pastor of First Baptist, Nor-walk desired to build a Christian retirement center and with a loan from HUD, facilitated the development of Norwalk Christian Towers on property next to the church.
Christians from area churches initially occupied the facility, but with government regulations and HUD's "first-come, first-served" policies, over the passage of time and the changing face of the neighborhood, residents of the building eventually had no church ties.
"All the Christians died off," Langley said, and the ministry possibilities dwindled as an influx of non-English-speaking inter-nationals moved into the 185-unit building under HUD's regulations.
"We were in a quandary as to what to do," Langley said of the nine-member board of Norwalk Christian Towers. He was asked to serve as a member of the separate 501(c)(3) in charge of the building's operation when he became pastor of First Baptist 16 years ago.
When questions began to swirl about when the building was going to be paid off, Langley looked for answers.
"The answer was always, 'We don't know - (we are) close,'" he said.
At first, Langley was told that if the building was sold the funds would have to be reinvested in non-profit, low income housing. But finally, he got the word that with the board's approval the investment could be used to benefit other ministries.
So in 2013 they put the building up for sale and within a short time it sold for $20 million. Now the only quandary is how to get the money into the hands of California Southern Baptist churches and ministries.
Langley said to him it made perfect sense that if factors prevented intended ministry from happening in the towers, resources should be used to assist churches in doing community outreach ministries elsewhere.
"It was an idea that was workable," Langley said, and SoCal Baptist Ministries, a 501(c)(3), emerged as a result of a reorganization of the board.
The group's website - www.scbministries.org - describes its history and function, and provides specific online grant and contact information.
"Our primary goal is to help churches do community outreach," Langley said, offering suggestions such as providing rent subsidy for a football field and stadium lighting for a special community Easter service, or money for an "advertising blitz" that might put a church's name on the map.
The grants are not for individuals, land, salaries or buildings, he noted, but they can be used to resource mission trips.
As a small church pastor, Langley said he and the board are especially sensitive to smaller churches that have a need and don't have many resources.
"I've been pastoring for a long time, and nobody has been knocking on my door," he joked.
Seriously, however, he said that although he is a big believer in tithes and offerings supporting the local church, he also believes there are a lot of opportunities churches miss out on because of a lack of funding.
Now, instead of being on the side of having to scrape together resources, Langley and the board - all of whom are Southern Baptist, many members of First Baptist, Norwalk - are looking forward to helping assist churches to do their ministry.
"We haven't done anything except to get set up and wait for some money to come in" from California Baptist Foundation, Langley said.
In 10 years, the focus will shift from the local church, with the annual yield from the principle investment to be divided by percentage between CSBC mission causes; agencies like California Baptist University; and Southern Baptist Convention causes like the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
"We are accustomed to thinking about missions and ministry and outreach," Langley said of his church and the board of SoCal Baptist Ministries. "That's what we are trying to do - to exercise good stewardship."