Last September, a former president of the Missouri Baptist Convention was named president and treasurer of the Missouri Baptist Foundation in Jefferson City by the foundation's board of trustees.
Neil Franks was serving as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Branson when he became the unanimous selection of the executive committee of the board of trustees. He began his duties Oct. 16.
Franks started his role at First Branson Church in 2007. Church officials said when he left, attendance at the church had nearly tripled to more than 1,200 weekly. The church's budget grew from $800,000 to more than $1.5 million during his tenure, and the church completed a $3 million expansion. Franks baptized more than 250 while leading the church.
Franks was twice elected MBC president in 2014 and 2015. He was elected vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastor's Conference in 2015 and served as a trustee from 2010-12 for Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.
"It has been exciting, and I'm learning a lot," Franks said about his job with the foundation. "The nature of what we do as a foundation is quite diversified. We're dealing with individuals with estate planning, planned gifts and charitable gift annuities. We help people manage and develop trusts. At times we end up being the trustee for some people. On one hand you're dealing with, oftentimes, senior adults, but on the other side we help institutions, both Baptists and non-Baptists, with endowments and investing.
"Someone told me we may be the best kept secret in Missouri Baptist life because the foundation has been around since 1946."
The ultimate goal of the foundation, Franks said, is to advance the Gospel by developing, managing and distributing funds to their partners.
"We have 1,800 churches that we serve as well as the Missouri Baptist Children's Home, Southwest Baptist University and Hannibal-LaGrange University," he said. "I knew some of what was happening in this building before I got here, but I had no idea of the depth of what we did."
Since he understood the relationship between churches and pastors, the hope was for Franks to share what the foundation can do to benefit ministries.
"Sometimes pastors get a lot of people telling them they can help them, and oftentimes they're just trying to sell a product or service," he said. "For me, the interest was helping all our churches. I think sometimes we don't recognize the power and necessity of money and finances to advance the gospel and ministry. It takes dollars to turn the lights on at the the church, it takes money to buy the pens and pencils to have for the kids, it takes money to keep up the parking lot at the church. Baptists haven't always been as cognizant of that as other denominations."
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Franks said God is working in his heart to find how the church continues to fund its existence in the future.
"We have a generation that has sacrificially given, institutionally, to their local churches and to other church institutions such as universities," he said. "Many times they may not be aware of some of the effect they could have through their end-of-life estate and how it could impact the ministry of hundreds of years in the future. We haven't been telling that story very well, so that's my motivation."
Franks said he is not leaving the pastorate by taking this job, but expanding his ministry.
"I still speak on Sundays and preach and I still love to do it, but my main job is trying to get every dollar entrusted to the church out into ministry," he said. "The truth is a lot of our churches are putting their money into savings accounts or CDs, and they have not been doing well. I don't think our churches are thinking about the idea that if you are not getting a return on your savings equal to or more than inflation then all you're doing is losing your money more slowly. I'm not sure that's a spiritual virtue."
Franks said it's not about worshiping money, but there is a need to look at how they leverage the resources God has given them to continue to fund their ministry.
"That's what gets me up in the morning and gets me excited about continuing to serve," he said. "We want to be careful not to be saying God's going to do something if you give something. I object to that. I don't think that's the way the Lord works. It's not about the money, but about the mission.
"Sometimes we approach things by showing God as in need, but God is not in need. He owns everything, and we're stewards of that. The church is a business, and just like other businesses, the church has to deal with how do we make an impact where we are today because the world has changed."
Thanks to the markets' recent performance, the Foundation has been able to grow its assets.
"We have $133 million, and our goal is to take that money and give it away," Franks said. "This past Fiscal Year we gave away $9 million of returns back to ministries. Because of that we're able to make some incredible investments in our churches. We think there is power, not in money itself, but in the Gospel which can change lives. There's financial resources to get that out, and our job is to squeeze as much money as we can out of the money entrusted to us."