Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A renaissance for state conventions?

Southern Baptist state conventions are in steep staffing and budgetary decline. There's no debate about that. Check the figures.

But if one stands back and looks at things from a sufficient distance, a distance that allows for an honest appraisal without being colored by friends who have lost jobs or resentment of whatever and whomever is blamed for declining Cooperative Program receipts from churches, perhaps the picture can be clarified in a positive manner.

It's true. Churches are giving far less to the CP than in previous years. Yes, important SBC voices have been critical of the levels of funding that automatically is reserved for state convention budgets (does anyone be reminded that about two-thirds of every CP dollar is kept by the state conventions?). And, sure, many state conventions were profligate in adding new staff during the flush years of CP receipts. A few states were, in hindsight, guilty of overreaching in building magnificent centralized HQ buildings.

Things have changed and there is no change in SBC life like the change that comes from less money being available to spend.

Yesterday, I noted the staggering staff decline of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Following up on that The Louisville Courier Journal reports  on the KBC's new strategic plan.

A downsized Kentucky Baptist Convention will focus more on launching new churches, advising existing ones and enabling their members to do mission work and support international missionaries, according to a strategic plan unveiled Tuesday.
“We were one size during our strong growth years,” Executive Director Paul Chitwood said of the state convention’s staff, which had grown as church membership and donations were on the rise. “That day has passed. We need to be another size” based on current realities.
Don't gloss over the Executive Director's stark statement: "That day has passed." Ah, a man who recognizes the reality on the ground rather than one who casts a wistful eye at the past. Good for him.
It is not insignificant that a major part of the focus is on starting new churches. Also in the article is mentioned that "The convention’s evangelism strategy would be “not limited to, but no longer separated from, church planting”. 

The concept sounds good to me. Exactly when did Southern Baptists decide that it was better separate the two? Just happened, I suppose.

I'm a long way from Kentucky but it looks to me like the state has solid leadership who has already decided to eschew the lamentations and recriminations of extreme budget decline and do some things differently.

In some quarters of the SBC the talk on the street is of states keeping even greater proportions of CP dollars or of providing churches with an option to defund the SBC entities. That sounds to me like living in the past, something not unheard of among we Southern Baptists.

But the KBC has chosen the better path here. I hope it leads to a renaissance for their state convention.


Steve Lemke said...

William, my friend, I'm just not seeing what you're seeing. I don't understand why you are so negative toward the work of state conventions, and I'm stunned that you would be so gleeful when dedicated Christian ministers in state convention positions are suddenly having their positions eliminated. Have you thought about the personal pain and the financial implications in these families' lives? Do you not realize that these are dedicated Christian ministers who have been making a meaningful contribution to the Kingdom?

You've said in a couple of posts that giving to Baptist state conventions are in "steep decline." The problem with that is, so is giving to IMB. So is giving to NAMB. So is giving to seminaries. Cooperative Program giving is down $10 million from previou years.

CP is not the only thing that is down. So is the housing industry. So is the airplane industry. So have most businesses in our country. (As much as you've blamed on state conventions, I hope you won't blame the housing indurstry decline, the national debt, and all the entire national and international economic problems on state conventions!). Why is all this happening? IT'S WHAT WE COMMONLY CALL -- THE RECESSION!

It just happens that the way that most churches give through the Cooperative Program is that they send their checks in to the Cooperative Program. So, if CP giving is down that goes first to the state conventions, that explains why the SBC (which receives less than half of what goes to most state conventions) is down by $10 million. The accurate thing to say is that giving is down for every SBC entity, due primarily to the recession.

I applaud the efforts of state conventions to increase the percentage of giving to SBC causes. I applaud their efforts to find efficiencies where possible. But I get worried when state conventions are prsented as the enemy. State conventions are our friends. They are important partners in doing the work of the Kingdom, including some things that no other SBC entity does (state Baptist colleges, campus student ministries, disaster relief, statewide evangelistic efforts, church planting, associational support, etc.). If we lose this, or even cut back on it drastically, Baptists will not have the impact that they once did. I would appeal to you to take this contribution and the human side of this issue into account as you think and write about this issue.

William Thornton said...

Steve, you aren't reading what I'm reading. Your use of the term "gleeful"is unjustified, as is your use of the term "enemy". I can only presume that you are too busy to read closely and comprehensively (I have a number of pieces on state conventions).

The "steep" decline, at least for some state conventions (my own, Georgia, for one) is beyond what NAMB, IMB, and your seminary has experienced. I believe the data support that.

The IMB and seminaries have a fairly clear, straightforward mission. NAMB has clarified their mission here recently so that churches can see what their money will do if sent to NAMB. Many state conventions have presented no such clear mission in my view. If one looks at the staffing levels and jobs, they are wide-ranging and scattered for every possible purpose.

It looks as if the KBC is attempting to clarify and focus their mission.

Eric James Moffett said...


I am not positive that de-funding one agency (state conventions) in favor of other agencies (SBC-level ones) could be equated with a 'renaissance' when it comes to how we do Kingdom work.

Over and over, in my opinion, you are pointing the finger at state conventions. I am a very PROUD supporter of my state convention but will not say that we are perfect. BUT, I have not seen the evidence that the state conventions are just standing in the way of doing Kingdom things or reaching the nations.

In our ministry it has been the state convention that has helped to mobilize us for missions. It has been the state convention that has been there when we needed it.

There is a much deeper issue and that is the decline in giving in general within our churches. As long as there is plenty of resources to go around, we rarely have these types of debates. When resources get scarce, agencies begin clamoring for their portion of the resource pie. To try and say (as some have) that the work of the IMB is more important than the work of a collegiate minister in Kentucky (or wherever) is both dangerous and stupid.

These are the days of choosing your favorite agency. As long as we do this we are ignoring the problem which is giving at the church level.

William Thornton said...

I think you are correct in that scarce resources are the source of difficulty among the various SBC entities. I also agree that the major SBC issue is the declining percentage of church offering plate dollars going to the CP.

The fact that states have declining revenues is partly because churches see less value for their scarce dollar from investing it in the state convention than they do in investing it in IMB or NAMB. Allocation of scarce mission dollars forces churches to choose.

The 'renassiance' in state convention work is a reference to the Kentucky Baptist Convention deciding to recognize that things have changed and the adjustments they have made as a result.

More will be written and said about this.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

"These are the days of choosing your favorite agency. As long as we do this we are ignoring the problem which is giving at the church level."

Some of the reasons the giving has dropped at the starting level (the local church) is:
1 - The reduction in their own income
2 - A lack of trust and/or transparency in the entities receiving our money
3 - The desire to do missions under their own roof, so portions of the missions dollar stays for that effort
4 - A wrestling with the idea that the local church is the one God called to reach the nations, not another group we pay to do it.

Each of these have their pros and cons but they are issues being discussed among the ones with the dollars to give. As it should be. The days of just sending money are over for many, a younger group of leaders do not do church like our grandmas did. PTL!

Jon L. Estes

Eric James Moffett said...


I agree with your reasons but I would like to add one. The one I would like to add is, in my opinion, the BIGGEST problem that we have.

- Selfishness and poor stewardship of individual Christ-followers.

In my experience as a Pastor I have found that this is really our BIGGEST problem. The majority of Southern Baptists are not aware of what happens to the money they put into the plate. (From the church-level onwards to the SBC level) They just simply are not giving.

Just a note - I am 28 years old. I am a younger church leader. While grandma got some things wrong - there are many things she did not. Cooperative giving is one thing grandma got right. I am an advocate for transparency - but the deeper issue is more of a heart issue.

William Thornton said...

Eric, the denominational programs designed to boost individual giving are myriad. In a macro sense, they are all failures. The solution is not a denominational one.

Over the years when I have taken time to explain some of the details, the inside baseball, of the CP (about once or twice a year, usually with small groups), laypeople have been surprised and less than pleased. Example: here in GA about twenty cents on the CP dollar gets to the IMB.

Anonymous said...

"- Selfishness and poor stewardship of individual Christ-followers."

This is true but the local church owes the state convention or national convention nothing, especially funds. I may be wrong but in my 30+ years in ministry, the state and national convention seem they are entitled to a certain percentage of the local churches funds. I lead the church I pastor to work with the funds we receive. The state and national conventions need to do the same and quit asking for more or fighting for what they think they deserve.

Don't misunderstand me. The state and national conventions do good things but they are not the church and the scripture did not speak to them to reach the world.

Jon L. Estes

Jonathan said...

I agree with the move by the KBC to establish a sizing and scope based on realistic budget forecasts.

What concerns me is that the SBC is just not doing the same thing. The Executive Committee's budget, under the GCR recommendation, is reduced by 30%. That's pretty much the only tightening that I see. Are we sure that we need 6 seminaries? Are we sure that all of the degree programs offered at each seminary are critical? Do we really need a separate IMB and NAMB (along with two sets of properties, administrative personnel, management chain, support staff)?

Churches are cutting back, associations are having to streamline, state conventions are having to budget based on economic realities. The longer the SBC goes without sharpening their pencils and looking for non-essential areas to cut..and then actually cutting them within a reasonable time window, the longer the states are going to have a valid complaint here.

Brenda Rick Smith said...


Thank you for your thoughtful analysis of the recent restructuring of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. I just wanted to add some clarity to this good discussion:

You are quite right in your assessment that declining CP giving was a factor in the reorganization. My hope is that this restructuring will lead to a renewed sense of excitement for and commitment to the work Kentucky Baptists do together, and thus increase giving through the Cooperative Program.

The economy has also been a factor in decreased giving, as it has been for so many other organizations, including local churches and the International Mission Board. Hopefully, the economy will continue to improve, for the sake of the families in our communities, the churches we serve, and the causes we love.

The third key factor in this decision was Kentucky Baptists' strong commitment to cooperating together for the sake of the gospel. In 2010, messengers voted to reprioritize how CP funds are distributed so the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and other national Southern Baptist causes gain an increasing percentage. Within ten years, Kentucky Baptists' goal is to achieve a 50/50 distribution of CP dollars between KBC and SBC causes. This reorganization keeps us on track to meet that goal.

The exciting part of this plan for me is the refocusing of the work of the Mission Board staff. Our staff will be focused on providing services on the field directly to our churches, particularly small to medium size congregations -- churches that I know are close to your heart and mine. I've worked with the convention for around 15 years, and it has been my privilege to witness the wisdom, passion and commitment our consultants have for equipping and encouraging church leaders.

Here's what Dr. Chitwood said in his latest post that KBC staff will be doing to help churches reach Kentucky and the world for Christ:

- Provide comprehensive ministry consulting for KBC churches;
Facilitate training and networking opportunities for leaders and churches;
- Facilitate missions partnerships and church planting opportunities in Kentucky, North America, and to the ends of the earth;
- Facilitate relationships between Kentucky Baptist churches and their agencies and institutions;
- Promote and process Cooperative Program giving in order to assist churches in their Great Commission obedience; and
- Mobilize Kentucky Baptist churches to influence society with the Christian principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.

I hope Kentucky Baptists are pleased with these changes, and that we look forward to our next 175 years together (if the Lord tarries!) with excitement and purpose.

You can keep up with the latest on the restructuring of the KBC at Thanks for your interest!

Brenda Rick Smith
Electronic Media Specialist

William Thornton said...

THanks for the additional info on the KBC. I'm sure that other state conventions are watching closely.

God bless you.