Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Proposed SBC messenger formula: Not very small church friendly?

The SBC Executive Committee is considering a proposal to change the messenger allocation formula for the annual meeting. Baptist Press reports on the proposal. 

This subject erupts regularly at our annual meetings. BP says that motions concerning the messenger allocation formula have been made no less than 16 times in the past 35 years. 

For the past 136 years messengers have been allocated as follows: 
  • One per cooperating church.
  • One additional per $250 "paid to the work of the Convention" or per 250 members.
  • Maximum of 10. 
Give $2,250 to the work of the Convention? You get the maximum number.

The proposal under consideration would change this to the following:
  • One per cooperating church.
  • One additional per $6,000 given through the Cooperative Program or designated SBC causes or to SBC entities, or, per 250 members.
  • One additional for each full percent of a church's undesignated receipts through any combination of Cooperative Program, designated SBC causes, or to any SBC entity. 
  • Maximum of 10.
Give $54,000 to the work of the Convention and max those messengers, or, get the max if you can come up to 9% of undesignated receipts by adding Cooperative Program giving, designated SBC causes, and gifts to any SBC entity. Or, come up with a way to claim 2,250 members. 

There are several ways to look at this:

Large and megachurches need give only a pittance percentage to get their max. What's $54,000 if you have a million dollar budget? It is the SBC average for Cooperative Program giving, 5.4%. 

Small churches have a harder time getting to the maximum, needing to give 9% to SBC causes, far above the SBC Cooperative Program average and somewhat above the average for giving to all SBC causes.. Let's see. A megachurch can give in those low single digit percentages and get the maximum but a small church has to work much harder to do so. This may be right and proper, large,, heavy giving churches should have more say-so. That is a statement that few of us is willing to express, however.

Who cares? Attendance is way, way down for these meetings and it is unlikely that any fiddling with the formula will make any difference unless we have another knock down, drag out fight along the lines of the Conservative Resurgence. Even then, I cannot see much impact of the change.

Do we really need a messenger reduction plan? Unless scads of really small churches want to start sending more qualified messengers to the annual meeting, which they could do by claiming additional slots for their percentages, it's tough to see this as providing anything other than that which reduces the numbers of messengers.  

What's the problem? Is the problem low percentage giving? Does anyone think that requiring more of churches to qualify additional messengers will provide any motivation to increase that? I hardly think so. Is the problem low dollar giving? Will raising the dollars-per-messenger figure cause churches to consider and increase giving. I cannot see that. Does the Executive Committee think that there is some compelling reason to make a change other than that the dollar figure hasn't been changed since 1888. If so, what is that reason?

The proposal sets no realistic threshold of SBC commitment to qualify for a messenger. Since every cooperating church gets one messenger, a church giving pocket change to SBC causes gets a messenger. Jerry Falwell became a Southern Baptist by giving a few hundred dollars out of his mammoth independent Baptist enterprise. This may be what we intend, that any church can be in friendly cooperation by giving very little. Have we reached a point where we should tighten what is necessary for "friendly cooperation" beyond saying that a homosexual-friendly church is not in friendly cooperation?   

As I read the tea leaves around the convention, the complaint of many is that small churches are under-appreciated for their above average Cooperative Program percentage giving while megachurches are rewarded for their below average Cooperative Program giving. I'm not moved by that argument but that's the complaint I have heard for years.

Frank Page is quoted as saying that "if the perception is that it will hurt small churches, this is DOA." While I don't think this will hurt small churches the optics here look bad for the Executive Committee in regard to small churches. Clearly, the new proposal impacts small budget churches more than big budget churches.

Someone will have to convince me that this isn't a solution in search of a problem. The Executive Committee chairman even said that this proposal "is not a hill on which to die."  If the Executive Committee chairman is that ambivalent about it then why are they doing this? I allow for the fact that perhaps a case was made for changes but not reported in the Baptist Press article. 

One point made was that the Cooperative Program will be mentioned by name if the change is adopted into our constitution. There was no Cooperative Program in 1888. That's good, though not particularly significant, especially since no church is required to give to the Cooperative Program to qualify messengers.

It is extremely difficult to thread this needle. I don't detect any agenda on the part of the Executive Committee but I'm guessing that there is less profit and more cost in making this proposal.  

What would be significant is if the Executive Committee would pass a resolution that encouraged a minimum Cooperative Program percentage for officers, trustees, and employees. This would be non-binding, simply a statement of the feeling of that group at that time, but it would send the right signal. I don't see much of a positive signal in this proposal to change the messenger allocation formula.

What would really be significant is if the Executive Committee would begin to explore the possibilities of messengers for the annual meeting who are not physically present at the assembly hall. Some form of remote participation and voting may be an idea whose time has come. It is certainly technologically possible. If the idea is to increase messenger participation this is one guaranteed way to do that.   

I'm wide open for someone making a case for changing this. So far, it's been tossed out with yawns and caveats.


TOM PARKER said...

Sounds to me like there will be less qualifying messengers. I do not understand this proposal at all.

Anonymous said...

Page ... told EC members ... “I will not tolerate something that even seems like it's going to hurt small churches ... My heart is with small churches ....”

Anonymous: OK with the former, but the latter, really? He is where he is based on his love for the small church? While he is to be commended for looking out for the small congregation in these messenger discussions, he needs to jettison language like “my heart is with small churches” unless he can provide a vita detailing full-time, non-supply-interim, experience that differs from his current wiki page.