Monday, November 26, 2012

New wrinkle to the Cooperative Program

South Carolina Baptists are doing something that ought to raise at lease a single eyebrow around the Southern Baptist Convention. 

They are taking a significant portion of their Cooperative Program receipts from the churches and sending it directly to the International Mission Board thereby bypassing the Executive Committee, all of the seminaries, the North American Mission Board, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

I am unaware of any other state convention taking this course.

The Baptist Courier has the story, carried here by Baptist Press:

S.C. Baptists increase direct giving to IMB

The direct allocation to the IMB was boosted from $400,263 to $583,768, while the amount of Cooperative Program funds to be forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention remained unchanged at $11,685,000.
State conventions are autonomous, just like churches, and may direct their funding any way they wish but if they choose to take the traditional route of taking Cooperative Program receipts, keeping a portion for in-state use (the SCBC keeps about 59%, below the average for state conventions across the SBC), and forwarding the remainder to the Executive Committee, the International Mission Board would receive 50.2% of that amount.

A simple way to express this is to say that the SCBC gives about 5% of their SBC allocation directly to the IMB, that portion not being diminished by funds taken for the seminaries, Executive Committee, NAMB or the ERLC.

Another way to understand this is to realize that with direct giving the SCBC is multiplying their support of international mission by simply routing the $573,768 directly to Richmond. Under the usual CP allocation formula for SC and the SBC, SC Baptist churches would have to give about $2.8 million to the CP to net that much for the IMB. 

What the SCBC is saying is that International Missions has higher priority in their CP allocation and they are taking steps to accelerate IMB support.

I like the concept.

The Cooperative Program is our main channel for missions support, a mammoth funding engine. Here is what I see happening:

1. Churches are giving less of their offering to the CP. This is a trend a generation and a half long.
2. State conventions are moving to keep less of the CP dollar in their states. This trend was initiated mainly by the Great Commission Resurgence report. Many state conventions are making tentative moves from keeping 60% or more of the CP dollar to a 50/50 split. This is a very slow process that only marginally helps the IMB.
3.  State conventions giving directly to the mission agencies, bypassing the Executive Committee, seminaries, etc. So far as I am aware, only South Carolina is doing this but if other states follow it would be quite significant and sufficient to be felt, mainly by the seminaries and NAMB who lose potential funding in this process.

SBC life is interesting these days. There are few firm ground rules.

Having formerly served in SC, I am familiar with things there but I do not recall hearing any reaction from SC Baptists on this nor can I find any discussion of it. I'm curious if there was any reaction.


J L Carver said...

When the goal becomes the support of international missions instead of blind financing of the CP, more state conventions,individual churches,and individuals will discover new approaches to missions giving.

William Thornton said...

The old CP conundrum: Since the CP is "everything" it sometimes becomes "nothing."

Anonymous said...

J L Carver,

You are correct. When the SBC chose to redefine how the support for CP would be viewed (GCR giving specifically), they demonstrated that the sacred cow was no longer sacred. As churches discover this, they will also redefine what CP means, to them.

IMPO, I think it will be financially difficult as things change but the end result will be more money going towards the mission endeavors (IMB & NAMB).

Good post William.

Jon L. Estes

Anonymous said...

Today it is understood to rectify a problem.

Tomorrow, however, there will be less cooperation and more competition among agencies.

Cooperation. Not such much in the SBC DNA.

Society giving, here we come.

Dave Miller said...

The old curse, "May you live in interesting times" is coming to pass.

Jonathan said...

Echoes of the SBC's charter statement from 1845 (from the last sentence):

being created for the purpose of eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the Baptist denomination of Christians, for the propagation of the gospel, any law, usage, or custom to the contrary not withstanding

Might it be that centralization of SBC power (for the sake of the centralization of SBC power) in the hands of a few is increasingly being seen as a "custom to the contrary not withstanding"? Might it be that churches are starting to realize that a significant amount of SBC CP spending has very little do with the global mission?

The growing number of IMB front line folks in the 1040 region with whom I have a close personal relationship all state that if the current funding levels remain (even if keeping pace with inflation in the US), the IMB will only be able to fund 50% of its current missionary force in 10-15 years. This is primarily due to the rise cost of living in those dangerous areas.

Once this information gets out to a large number of churches, I predict the diversion of funds to the IMB and away from the other agencies pick up speed. When it does, no SBC blue ribbon task force will be able to even slow this down...and that will be a positive development.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan -

Good word. I would like to see that move, sooner rather than later.

Jon Estes

Tom Parker said...

I've come to a very sad conclusion about the SBC world--Cooperation in the SBC world is an oxymoron.

William Thornton said...

Aw, come on Tom. Several hundred million annually through the CP is pretty cooperative.

Anonymous said...

Isn't any giving, cooperative and designated, now considered CP, which undermines the intensity of the concept cooperation? But the point is taken, thus the question becomes "how long will it take before societal giving supercedes cooperative, as it was formerly understood, giving?"

William Thornton said...

We have had a dual system of both societal and cooperative giving since 1925. In a sense, the SCBC is choosing to do what many churches have done, add emphasis and funds to Lottie Moon, though the SCBC isn't calling it that.

The new Great Commission Giving category may or may not supercede the CP. The Annual Church Profile asks churches to report both totals. I'm guessing that CP giving will still be scrutinized.

Anonymous said...

The Moon and Armstrong funds are like the extra point(s) after the touchdown, thus neither seem like a societal thing, unlike the SC decision. Perhaps it will only serve as, thus only need be, a shot over the bow and initiate a process for a realignment of priorities, which would then justify SBC structure. On the otherhand, ATBE, don't underestimate ego's strength relative to reason, even among those leading religious organizations.

William Thornton said...

Since under thirty percent of the IMB budget comes from the CP and well over forty from LM, one would have to say that LM is a touchdown and the CP a field goal.

Seems to me that the SCBC action was a recognition of the fact that the CP allocation formula is and will be frozen; hence, giving around it.

I agree with you to the extent that LM and AA do not seem like a societal thing...but they precisely that.

Hey, I'm a Southern Baptist and have learned to never underestimate ego.

Anonymous said...

My analogy is bounded when pressed beyond its usefulness of the major point: the traditional funding of CP agencies was an agreed upon process that did not facilitate competition for funding among agencies. GCG is a move away from CP, formerly understood, and the SC move is a step away from either. The CP funding mechanism, however defined, is the way to reinforce institutional coherence and cohesion, which is being threatened, regardless of all talk to the contrary. What I am not addressing with this comment is the perceived legitimacy of funding ratios, which may by SC's behavior eventually result in an SBC funding revision or an increase in societal giving at the expense of cooperative giving. And it could have no impact at all, of course.