Friday, July 19, 2013

Percentage-philes: Put up or shut up

I'm smiling when I say this, but it's time for those who believe that the percentage of undesignated receipts that a church gives to the Cooperative Program is important to put up or shut up, and in these ways:

  • Stop electing those whose churches give low percentages to the CP to high SBC office.
  • Stop nominating and putting these people on our entity trustee boards.
  • Stop hiring to high denominational office those who as pastor led their churches to give low percentages.
  • Ignore Great Commission Giving for elections and appointments 
How hard is it to do all of these things?

Actually, rather difficult, based on past experiences.

Stop electing those whose churches give low percentages to the CP to high SBC office

SBC messengers have almost never rejected high profile megapastors with low CP percentages for SBC president. The last example of this was Bryant Wright whose church gave in the 3% range. If the thinking is that megachurches and high profile leaders should set examples for average SBC pastors and churches to follow relative to the CP, then it is counterproductive to put these men in the highest elective office of the SBC.

But we have been doing this since the 1970s with only a stray occasion or two where a man whose church gave above the average percentage to the CP was elected and a pastor who gave in the low single digits to the CP was rejected. 

One can understand that during the years when the convention was being redirected in a more conservative mode through presidential elections, it was reasonable to set aside consideration of CP percentages to elect folks like Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, and others. Now that the theological direction of the convention is more to our liking, there is no reason to elect leaders from low percentage churches, unless we think the CP is not of major importance to our work. 

Stop nominating and putting these people on our entity trustee boards. 

While it stands to reason that a seminary which receives large donations directly from a given church would not be too concerned about that church's CP percentage and would happily choose that church's pastor or layperson as a trustee, such doesn't help the overall thrust of the CP as our chief funding plan. Fred Luter said that he would be checking CP giving records in his nominations. I'm not sure how that came out. Someone who keeps score can check it and let me know.

Stop hiring to high denominational office those who as pastor led their churches to give low percentages.

Sound so simple, right? Two words: Kevin Ezell. He was offered NAMB for reasons other than his CP record and has done well which makes setting an arbitrary percentage threshold for entity heads difficult. 

Ignore Great Commission Giving for elections and appointments 

When the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommended and the convention subsequently adopted a new giving metric, Great Commission Giving, the idea was presented as a recognition that it is valuable to acknowledge that churches are giving directly to more SBC causes that in the past. GCG offers a simple way to measure this. Thus far, I haven't seen this figure reported widely. In reporting the giving of each Georgia Baptist church my own state paper ignores this and sticks with three categories: Cooperative Program gifts, Other Mission Gifts, and Total Mission Gifts. The latter two may include whatever an individual church wishes to report, SBC or not SBC.

Periodically, the SBC has had national-level CP study committees. In 2006 there was such a group, called the Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee. That committee made a number of recommendations, including these two:

  • Challenge every Southern Baptist church to give no less than 10 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.
  • That we encourage the election of state and national convention officers whose churches give at least 10 percent of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program. 
Care to speculate what happened to those specific recommendations?

Some megapastors complained and the Executive Committee overruled the Ad Hoc committee and deep-sixed those two specific parameters, removing mention of "10 percent" and also any mention that election of state and national officers be from churches that give at least the 10 percent. 

While ten percent may be unrealistic, the average church hasn't given that percentage to the CP for decades, some percentage minimum is realistic, unless we wish for the CP to no longer be our chief denominational funding plan.

When surveyed about the CP, SBC pastors overwhelmingly profess their appreciation of and satisfaction with it. When it comes to electing and hiring SBC leaders, we don't seem to be too concerned about CP giving records. 

It may be time for some of the higher profile SBC leaders to toss out a CP percentage threshold, say five percent, and see it they can make it stick in elections, trustee appointments, and hiring.

I'm not optimistic.


Lee said...

The SBC, even before the resurgence began in 1979, has always been a very backward, provincially organized operation, where personal prestige and prominence, based on a very narrow image that forms within the bubble of a closed media market, are the highest values. Among my friends, many of whom served as pastors and church leaders outside the deep South, it was referred to as "The Southern Monarchy."

It has improved somewhat since 1979, but the "entourage politics" are still the way things are done. There are wannabe kings, and there are kingmakers that they must suck up to to get where they want. So there are favor exchanges. The megachurches have money committed to all kinds of projects, mainly paying the expenses they run up because their worship costs a fortune, they pay gigantic salaries and bonuses, and they've accrued massive debt on lavish facilities, all of which are part of their continued effort to attract worshippers and their checkbooks from other churches. They aren't going to put much into a cooperative ministry over which they have minimal control.

The problem is made bigger by smaller and smaller pools of messengers who show up to vote. Those who attend conventions tend to be the ones who read their own press, and from a denominational perspective, live inside the bubble. So the leadership pool gets narrower and narrower.

Anonymous said...

"it was reasonable to set aside consideration of CP percentages to elect folks like Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, and others."

Only if one ignores the literature concerning the development of culture. SBC cannot have it both ways, but it is certainly trying.

TOM PARKER said...


How can the SBC function financially if the amount of money from the CP program continues to decrease? What is going to have to be cut?

William said...

Dunno, Tom. We haven't found the floor yet.

Anonymous said...

"We haven't found the floor yet."

Given institutions typically become a bit bloated over time, like a good many baptist pastors and laity, some cut back in (ineffective) programming (thus personnel, too) is not a bad thing. But with that aside, it is not that goals reflecting value will not be enacted and supported by available funding, but absent additional funding from one year to the next, the number and level of worthy goals will eventually diminish, which for a good many SBCers will be perceived as quite painful, given it indicates SBC is less than it would be otherwise. Clearly “in decline” is better than “declined,” but neither, assuming worthiness of presence, is desirable.

Tom said...

We have seen the downward spiral effect here in Florida over the last several years. More and more programs getting cut, convention workers losing their jobs as programs are combined, etc. CP giving is probably at an all time low.

Jonathan said...

Given the current participation rate of small to medium sized churches in the SBC annual meetings, one could argue that these churches have already started to "shut up"...and the implications are showing up in the slow decline in giving.

The MiniMega to Megabrethren have won the battle regarding percentages and absolute amounts...but looking at the slow decline in might be that those in prominence may lose the war.

One result of this type of thing is that fewer in each generation of Southern Baptist have the type of denominational loyalty required to put up with this type of arrogance. They're finding much easier to pick separate meat from bones in listening to prominent evangelical (and reformed) pastors and missional types knowing that they're not having to foot the bill for it.