Thursday, November 1, 2012

Staggering decline in number of California SBC churches

The number of California Southern Baptist churches has dropped, as in fallen off El Capitan, by almost half.

Egad. What's going on in The Golden State?

What is going on is a pretty good illustration of Southern Baptists and numbers.

Baptist Press has a story on the California Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting last week. Here is a quote:
Nearly 2,200 churches identify themselves as members of CSBC; however, as of Sept. 12 when the board's report was adopted, the number of churches meeting the definition of "cooperating" stood at 1,108.
Presto! CSBC churches cut in half.

Seems that the numbers were, well, rather soft with over one thousand churches that had little or no real identification with the CSBC anyway.
...the convention will report only cooperating churches, which is currently defined in the CSBC constitution as those "in sympathy with the purpose of this Convention" and have contributed to the Cooperative Program and are in agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention.
I commend the CSBC. There is likely no level of SBC life, no entity, no ministry that has not or does not put out some statistics that are misleading and meaningless.

Concomitant to the numbers adjustment comes a financial benefit for the CSBC, courtesy of the North American Mission Board whose funding formula for state conventions is based on the ratio of churches to population. Reporting soft or inflated church numbers can actually cost the state convention real dollars.

I am not suggesting that a crass financial motivation lies behind the CSBC's tightening of their statistical reporting but one wonders what would happen in the SBC at large if individual churches had a financial  incentive to report more accurate membership statistics. Would the convention instantly shrink by one third or more? Call me cynical but the answer is likely, 'you bet.'

In a similar, but reverse, fashion SBC seminaries are incentivized to report greater numbers, since they are funded by a formula that rewards larger student populations. I trust that there is honest in reporting among our six seedbeds for neophyte ministers.

I'm guessing that Kevin Ezell and NAMB by moving to a rational, data driven formula for funding allocation have done that which will cause many state conventions to tighten up their reporting.

Good for them. 


Jonathan said...

I don't find it crass or cynical to point to a people making modifications to maximize reward. The Scriptures are full of statements recognizing and encouraging this.

That an SBC agency is moving in the direction of linking rewards to data integrity is a positive development, IMO.

William Thornton said...

NAMB struck a blow for data integrity when they required state conventions to provide a physical address and name of pastor for church plants they reported. This immediately reduced the numbers somewhat.

The policy of linking the level of support to a church/population ratio was a second step.