Saturday, September 26, 2015

State conventions try to slow the dreaded denominational death march

Amuse yourself with over 28,000 articles on "death of denominations" and then do some sober thinking about the closest thing to a denomination to the average Southern Baptist pastor: his state convention.

Our beloved International Mission Board might be the latest to implement severe cuts in employment levels. Their August bombshell declared that 600-800 personnel would have to leave for the organization to have a viable future, one where the bills could be paid. This is an 11-15 percent cut in staffing.

That level of cutbacks looks pretty attractive to many state conventions. I'll just mention Georgia and Florida. While it's tough to get firm numbers on staff, I'll make a conjecture that 50% cutbacks are closer to the norm for state conventions. None of the SBC level entities have dealt with cutting their staffing in half.

Here in Georgia a "reinvention" is underway in which

  • We change our name from the commonly used, "Georgia Baptist Convention" to "Georgia Baptist Mission Board." 
  • Our leader declares, "We are a missionary sending agency in Georgia." 
I'm OK with changing the labels, although some may confuse us with NAMB and IMB in our identification as a "sending agency." The new GBMB has staff that serves GBMB churches and our common support "sends" these people around the state. Give me time to grieve the loss of the old "GBC" which rolls easily off the tongue and keyboard. "GBMB" is rather wooden, though just as toothy. I understand the desire to brand the GBC/GBMB as a missions enterprise. 
  • We decentralize, sort of.
GBC workers are high-mileage travelers. I have no complaint about any of them. Several have helped me immensely. In the future there will be a centralized staff but one that is supplemented and multiplied by "field based personnel", clergy and church staff who are on a retainer to do stuff for churches. A suggested stipend of $1,000 per month, paid by the GBC, for a year's worth of consulting. Resumes from church staff are now inundating the state convention. 

The last time I needed guidance from a GBC expert on a specific church project I had to retain the employee on his spare time for a couple of thousand dollars. The GBC paid his salary, trained him, and gave him skills in demand of the churches. My church had to pay him to do the job. Maybe the field based people will do tasks like this for the churches without charging. We will see how this works out.  
  • We sell the building, maybe.
The last grand hurrah of the showpiece, centralized, first class denominational office building is the Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Center in Duluth. No state has a finer one. We're closing it on Fridays and it "could" be sold for the right price to the right customer. The staff could move to more modest headquarters and excess funds put in trust for use in the state. 
  • We give the SBC an additional 2%
The GBC had their $25 million building debt paid off, indirectly, through the sale of hospitals we used to own. Half of the savings on debt service will go to SBC ministries. IMB gets about a quarter million additional funds. We use the other half here.

In our sunny neighbor state to the south, Florida, The Florida Baptist State Board of Missions, is downsizing and decentralizing.
  • Statewide employees will be reduced from 115 to 61.
This is serious business. The savings from paying staff will raise the...
  • SBC share of Cooperative Program revenues will go from 45% to 51%.
I believe this will but the FBSBM ahead of all other legacy state conventions is the CP "split." I'm shocked at the rapid movement to give away CP revenues to the mission boards and seminaries. This is impressive. 
  • State staff will no longer take interim pastorates.
The new executive says what should be obvious to every state convention leader: having state staff take interim pastorates keeps them out of other churches. Want to get the average, loyal, supportive SBC pastor riled up? Start a conversation about these interim jobs.  
  • "Decentralization, regionalization and personalization" is the concept.
Some staff will live in various regions. The idea is a "new delivery system."

Will changes such as these slow the death of the state convention?

I hope it hastens the death of the centralized state convention. When you can ask pastors what their state convention means to them and immediately get a variety of concrete, positive answers, then perhaps the obituary state conventions can be said to be premature.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lottie Moon: records, deficits, projections

The chart below shows the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal, receipts, and projected income from the offering as used to prepare the IMB budget.

Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (in millions of dollars)

Year          Goal     Received      Budgeted    Under Budget

2010          175          145.7           175              (29.3)
2011          175          146.8           175              (28.2)
2012          175          149.3           175              (25.7)
2013          175          154              175              (21)
2014          175          153              180              (27)

Total          875          748.8           880              (131.2)

 Obviously, the decision was made to keep goals high after the recession, to continue to spend as needed, to budget as if the goals were met, and to make up the deficit by using reserves and by using income from overseas property sales.

It wasn't a bad plan in 2008, 2009, and 2010 but it was apparent that Lottie Moon receipts, the bulk of the IMB budget, were not going to recover anywhere near the goals. In fact, receipts would not recover to previous levels until the best LM year ever, 2013.

Recent IMB statements put the total deficit spending since 2010 as $210 million.

The Black Thursday announcement by IMB that 600-800 personnel must be cut, immediately, to stanch the hemhorraghing of red ink and put the organization on a solid, stable footing for the future was the cumulative result of years of overspending. Others may analyze previous decisions as to fiscal propriety.

Consider, though, the reflexive response of the many Southern Baptists in the pulpits and pews of our almost 50,000 churches: Let's give to Lottie Moon as never before. Let's not wait until Christmas but start right now.          

While some leaders trot out the old whips ("we only give about $18 per person to the LMCO," "Southern Baptists give less than 2% of their income to their church," "state conventions keep too much money," etc.) and flail away, I'll just look at the possibility or probability of the Lottie Moon offering being bumped up enough to stave off massive personnel cuts from our overseas force.

Lottie Moon's biggest year was 2013, $154 million. Three other years (2006, 2007, and last year) were above $150 million. The LM goal has been $175 million since 2009. We haven't met a goal since 2003. That was the year that LM receipts increased over $20 million from the previous year.

We are a weaker convention of churches now. We are more divided now. We baptize less these days. There are bright spots in our convention but most would say that we are less vigorous and healthy.

The Great Commission Resurgence Report called on Southern Baptists to set and reach a $200 million Lottie Moon Goal. We didn't set that figure. We haven't met any goals. But the GCR group had the number about right if we are to put IMB on solid financial footing. We need another $50 million annually. Unless we drop a couple of seminaries and the state conventions drop their take of the CP dollar to forty cents, neither of which have a snowball's chance in Gehenna of happening, the CP revenues for IMB are not going to generate much in additional dollars.

That leaves dear old Lottie, where a dollar for Lottie is a dollar, the full 100 cents, for the IMB.

I'm of the opinion that we could have another big year for Lottie Moon, one where receipts skyrocket up $20 million, $30 million or more. It can happen. Southern Baptists can make it happen.

I am not of the opinion, nor do I know of any Southern Baptist who is of the opinion that this can be done year-after-year-after-year, which is what would have to happen to avoid the deep missionary cuts that begin shortly.

Friday, September 4, 2015

"Dear SBC Family" an open letter from David Platt UPDATED

As a pastor, I always thought feedback was good. David Platt has addressed many of the questions raised and discussed concerning the 600-800 personnel drawdown for IMB.

The full letter is: here.

Executive summary below:

  • Recognizing the depth of the deficit, IMB leadership and staff evaluated multiple options for getting to financial health.
  • "Board policy did not require an official trustee vote" 
  • "There was resolute and resounding recognition" by trustees that such action was "required."
  • On the announcement of such deficits being so large, Platt gave quotes from 2008 forward including this from 2014 (emphasis mine):
Just two months before I stepped into my role, one article read: “IMB must soon come to grips with the demands placed on us by years of declining Cooperative Program receipts and Lottie Moon giving. We will be hard-pressed to continue supporting a mission force of our current number, much less see a greatly needed increase in the number of fully supported career missionaries on the field.”

  •  Previous leaders implemented a plan to gradually draw down mission personnel by using property sales and reserves in order to keep a maximum number of people on the field for the maximum amount of time. That plan was no longer viable.

New FAQs here.

The response to questions and discussions since the original announcement is unprecedented in SBC life, in my memory.