Monday, January 26, 2015

ERLC, Moore call for integrated churches...but...


Russell Moore, our leader for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, 

The ERLC has a conference coming up  in March in Nashville on "The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation". Speakers include Moore, Frank Page, Danny Akin, along with Fred Luter, Tony Evans, and others. Most are African American.

Dwight McKissick was not invited to be a speaker, not that I'm saying he should but he did make an appearance in the article where SBC leaders call for integrated churches:

Dwight McKissick was included in the article as saying, "The church lasks the moral authority to address the world about race before we set our own house in order." 
The article further notes that McKissick pointed that the denomination continues to employ all white as top executives and seminary presidents.
"It is obvious the rhetoric and reality is not matching, he said," 

For a lesson in rhetoric vs. reality, the link at the end of this sentence is the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's staff directory page. The Executive Staff is all white. There is one, out of 25, African American on the page. She is a consultant.

Danny Akin comments on the SBC and racial reconciliation with the words that, "My grief is we're late to this party...We should have been leading the way. Not much of a party at ERLC HQ, it seems.

I like Russell Moore and think he is hitting better notes that his predecessor. I said so early on after he was given the position of CEO of the ERLC.

Moore had the opportunity to build his team from the ground up at the ERLC. He selected, quite quickly, a team that included no African Americans. His choices, seems to me from the SBC hinterlands, were sound but express the familiar principle that there are only so many high level jobs in the SBC and her entities and we like to hire people we know well and are comfortable with. This is an explanation (one that I offer for Moore, not one that he has offered to my knowledge), not an excuse.

Perhaps other issues were on his mind in 2013.

Brethren, blame the messenger if you like on this but these are optics that everyone sees. We could have been addressing this business of integration in both churches and our entities before last year's flame up of racial issues. Moore is one of the SBC's point men on racial issues. He should be expecting his own employment structure to be scrutinized and I'm sure he has a response prepared.

The headline I would be surprised to see is this one (maybe he has called for this, I haven't see it):

ERLC Moore calls for greater diversity in top SBC positions

It's pretty safe to sit in D.C. look at the camera and call for action by SBC churches.



Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why church Cooperative Program percentages will never go up

I rather tend to stay away from categorical statements but saying that the percentage of undesignated offering plate dollars given in churches to the Cooperative Program will never go up is, well, categorical. I would qualify that to say never go up by at least one percentage point.

This important metric has increased the past two years, as shown below:

Percentage of undesignated offerings given to Cooperative Program

2011                     5.407
2012                     5.414
2013                     5.500

These are encouraging figures, especially in the context of the decades long slide of percentages. When I entered the pastoral ministry in 1982 the average percentage for a church was over ten percent.

So, if the percentages are up, even slightly, why the prediction that they will never go up to six, seven, eight percent or greater? Here are several reasons why.

1. The Cooperative Program is static, fixed and no substantial changes will make it more attractive.

States now keep about 60% of the CP dollar. There is a movement towards a "50/50" split of funds between state conventions and the Executive Committee. This movement has shown some success. Baptist Press reported that 23 states strengthened global missions last year and were "moving toward a goal of a "50/50 allocation between in-state causes and SBC causes."

The state conventions depend almost exclusively on CP dollars to fund their staff, buildings, and ministries. As a result, their main incentive is to preserve their funds, jobs, ministries, and entities. In doing this they are accustomed to carving out ten percent of the CP dollar off the top and applying a label of "shared" ministries or other label. This accounting technique (standard for decades and not nefarious, just not well known) allows them to keep the first ten percent and then move towards a 50/50 split of the remaining 90%. Not all states do this but most of the CP dollars go through this fuzzy process making 50/50 almost a meaningless figure. The upshot of it all is that the states are making incremental changes that are unlikely to alter the behavior of individual churches, in my view.

Additionally, the SBC allocation formula is pretty well set in concrete. No one expects the seminaries to ever say they need less than 21.92%. No one I know believes that the IMB should be cut from their 50.41%. NAMB has some critics but they are not calling for a reduction of its 22.79%. The Executive Committee cut their percentage to 2.99% a few years ago. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is generously funded at 1.65% and better watch out because their $3.1 million looks awfully generous for what we receive in return, but there's no big money there, just tiny percentages.

No one. No one, is making any grand vision statements about the CP that will motivate churches to change their behavior and give considerably more and I see no signs that selling the program we have will suddenly have greater success.

2. Large and megachurches will never give at average and above average percentages. 

Our 175 or so megachurches fuel the trends in SBC life to a certain extent. They supply our most visible leaders. Smaller churches seek to emulate their success.

Ronnie Floyd, megachurch pastor and our current president, is a vocal CP supporter and his church is a heavy CP giver, but I haven't seen anyone claim that his church is at or above the SBC average of 5.5%. That's not a problem for me (I'll take the dollars that always pay bills rather than the percentages that never pay bills) but the string of megapastors we elect are influential and they are not going to motivate many churches to give above average CP percentages. They don't practice this in their own churches.

3. Very high CP percentage giving churches have correspondingly higher pressure to reduce that percentage. 

I was pleased to see BP's article about our SBCV colleague whose church is a 30% CP giver. That's almost six times the average, very impressive and altogether commendable. Awesome, really. I commend him and them for it. I'm a long way from the flatlands of Arkansas but I would guess that when discussions occur in his church, or in any other church giving 15%, 20% and more, they center on CP reduction, not increase. Sooner or later someone in these churches will make a proposal to cut the CP percentage by five or ten points and the church will think it to be a good idea. This is a battle that only has to be won once by those who would redirect some of that CP money, whereas CP supporters have to win year-after-year-after year.

Consequently, it is likely that a very high percentage church will eventually be reeled back towards the pack because there are considerable pressures in every local church for local ministry, staff needs, programmatic initiatives, and building plans. A high CP percentage is a big, big target for all of these. It always gets shot at and sometimes hit.

4. Churches will inch the CP percentage upward in fractions but move downward in large numbers.

I am familiar with a church that cut their CP percentage from over 15% to 10% to free up funds for local ministry. A 5% cut. Show me churches that increase their CP percentage by 5% from 5 to 10% or 7 to 12%. Seldom happens. This is why Frank Page's Great Commission Challenge which asked for one percentage point increase by churches, can be widely successful with thousands of churches accepting it but the CP can still decline. A church that goes up by 0.5% or by 1% is more than offset by churches that drop by 1%, 3%, or 5%.

The CP was undoubtedly helped by Page's initiative but the math is such that it isn't showing in any considerable increase in revenues or lifting of percentages.

5. It's official, we are mostly a societal giving convention anyway.

OK, my erudite SBC colleagues. What is trending upwards in SBC life? Lottie Moon is, record offering in 2013. Annie Armstrong is, SEND North America is thriving, offerings are up. Churches doing direct missions both here and overseas are up. Churches partnering directly with IMB (and thereby bypassing both their state convention and the Executive Committee) are up. None of these are CP driven. All of them are CP unfriendly.

And it's old news now but for two years straight the Executive Committee has received more in designated dollars than in undesignated, Cooperative Program dollars. At the SBC level we are mostly societal, brethren.

6. The Cooperative Program is a dying brand. 

I asked a thirtysomething, solidly Southern Baptist pastor what he thought of the Cooperative Program. He looked at me and replied, "Oh, that's a state convention thing." Not said was, "That's a state convention thing and we aren't all that interested in funding central staff and expensive buildings. We are much more attuned to local ministry and supporting North American and international missions. The CP is a tough sell. In fact, the CP does much better the less pastors and laypeople know about it, since the less people know them more they believe that the CP is mostly IMB and NAMB. The brand is not dead but it is slowly dying.

But let's be positive here. The CP still puts hundreds of millions of dollars into ministry all over the US and the world. It is a huge funding engine. We should thank God for it and support it. But it will never recover from where it was.

I have several hats and will be glad to eat any one of them if the CP goes northward of 6%.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top SBC Good News Stories of 2014

Bah humbug! Bad news all around...but...here's my list of the top good news stories for SBCers in 2014:

1. Lottie Moon hits record total, $154.1 million.

Southern Baptists may be giving less to the Cooperative Program and less of their disposable income to churches and mission causes, SBC entities may be mired in retrenchment mode because of flat or declining giving, but the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions is at its highest level ever (but I am not allowing anyone to recalculate this in real dollars, adjusted for inflation, so as not to rain on good news).

2. Messengers elect a president who has greatly increased his church's Cooperative Program giving.

OK, so Ronnie Floyd's church is still below the average percentage and Baptist Press didn't report what that percentage was but he did lead his church to give substantially more to the CP than in earlier years. The CP has no chance of any increases if messengers elect leaders who show no interest in supporting it and most megachurches are not heavy CP supporters. This year, the election of a megachurch pastor was a positive move relative to the Cooperative Program.

3. Our housing allowance is safe from federal constitutional challenges.

At least it is safe for now, the previous federal district court's ruling that it was unconstitutional having been overturned on appeal.

4. IMB trustees show a willingness to embrace the 21st century.

With the election of thirty-six year old David Platt as the new IMB leader, replacing his seventy-year-old predecessor, trustees demonstrate that they recognize that some new thinking is in order for our flagship institution. Younger Southern Baptists are encouraged thereby.

5. Southern Baptist leaders and entities recognize mental illness as a grave problem.

The SBC, it's leaders and entities, have been AWOL on the serious business of mental illness among us. While leadership cannot force change at the local church level, at least there has been a steady stream of sensible initiatives from our folks. Regretfully, this has come as a result of the suicides of two children of high profile SBC leaders.

6. At various levels, the SBC is showing engagement on racial issues.

The response to racial turmoil of Ferguson, Missouri and of the death of Michael Brown in New York has generated sensible commentary from our leaders and mostly civil and profitable discussion among us. This is a change and is good news.

7. NAMB's church planting initiative, Send North America, is continuing to thrive.

While some critics snipe about it, SNA is engaging large numbers of younger Southern Baptists who are interested in church planting and large numbers of SBC churches who wish to partner in planting churches in North America. One is hard-pressed to name any other national SBC initiative that shows success.

8. Great Commission Giving is up.

Southern Baptist churches gave $777 million in Great Commission Giving for 2012-2013, an increase of $23 millions from the previous reporting period. GCG is the aggregate of giving to all SBC causes. Although these figures are somewhat soft in that churches self-report as they choose, any increase is good news. Critics of GCG will have to explain why it is not good to give to SBC causes and why such should not be celebrated.

9. The key Cooperative Program percentage increased.

That would be the percentage of undesignated church offering plate dollars given to the CP. We moved up ever so slightly from 5.414% to 5.5%. This makes two years straight there was a tiny, tiny increase. Frank Page concludes that the CP has reached its "nadir". An increase of 0.086% isn't much...but it's something.

10. Average SBC clergy salaries are up.

The 2014 LifeWay Compensation Study revealed that total "package" compensation for senior pastors was up 1.8% from 2012. Not much but up is up and not down...has to be good news. Senior pastors are advised to thank God for this and not to complain that the average pay for non-senior pastor staff positions were up by a good bit more than for senior pastors.