The choices for SBC president next month include:
- One old-school mega-pastor (Steve Gaines) whose church gives considerably below the SBC average percentage to the Cooperative Program but which gives considerable sums directly to both NAMB and IMB.
- One new-school megapastor (J. D. Greear) who pastors another church that gives considerably below the average church's Cooperative Program percentage but which will this year be one of the top CP churches in North Carolina in dollars given and which church also gives large sums directly to the two mission boards and in partnership with them.
- One large church pastor (David Crosby) whose church gives above the SBC average percentage to the CP. It was not reported what sums the church gave directly to NAMB and IMB through the mission offerings.
Any of these would be a good choice and the three churches of these men each represents a different method of mission support. There is nothing wrong with any of the methodologies and our denominational entities, from state conventions and their related organizations, to the six SBC seminaries, NAMB, and IMB must and have accommodated themselves to the reality that churches of all sizes, but especially megachurches, have increased their direct giving either at a rate greater than the CP or at the expense of the CP.
Churches make opportunity cost decisions about their limited pool of missions money and the traditional choice was to give a healthy percentage to the CP (over 10% per church when I was in seminary around 1980) and participate in the entire panoply of state and national (but not associational) ministries and entities. This is, roughly, the practice of David Crosby's church. Traditional, heavy on CP, light on direct giving (except for a percentage point given to NABTS). The winners in this method are state conventions, who have always kept most of the CP revenues.
The old school megachurch pattern represented by Gaines and Bellevue Baptist Church is long established. His predecessor, Adrian Rogers, practiced the low CP/high direct giving pattern. It is the rare megachurch that gives above the average SBC percentage of about 5.4%. The winners in this pattern are NAMB and IMB, since they get considerably greater sums directly from the church. That dollar sent directly to IMB may be contrasted to the thirty or so cents IMB receives out of a CP dollar. The loser in this pattern are the state conventions which gets nothing when a church makes direct gifts rather than their average cut of CP revenues, about 61%. If all megachurches conspired to shift their giving from designated to the average CP percentage, then both NAMB and IMB would lose millions of dollars. State conventions would gain these millions.
Greear's church is the new-school megachurch - satellites, warehouse locations not purpose built sanctuaries, very heavy on church planting and international missions, light on participation in traditional state and associational missions. As a supporter of international missions, neither of the other two churches compare with Summit's, whose support is in direct partnership with IMB and where more current international missionaries are Summit members than any other SBC church.
In the current atmosphere where state conventions, particularly the large, legacy deep south state conventions, are moving to reduce their CP share, any church that looks in their state and sees expensive centralized headquarters buildings and staff, legacy institutions, and little church growth and evangelistic results, may well choose to put their mission dollars directly in those entities that have vision and show results, primarily NAMB and IMB.
My view is that the state conventions should manage with 40% or so of a CP dollar, should put a sunset on CP support of institutions that have had (some of them scores of years) adequate time to build a support base, and should find a vision that engages churches in their states. Such is sadly lacking in most states.
Churches as large as Greear's with a strong vision of reaching the nations have direct channels to IMB, formal partnership channels. They will continue to use these and have great results. Churches that do not have those kind of resources can adjust their CP and mission offering giving so that the bottom line support of NAMB and IMB reflects what the church desires. Churches that believe the current CP allocation best expresses their vision can continue to divide theiir mission dollar: 62 cents in my state, 19 cents to IMB, 9 cents to NAMB, 8 cents to the seminaries, a penny to the Executive Committee, and a fraction of a penny to the Historical Commission.
Any church with giving like these three is fully cooperative. No church has to apologize because they cooperate in ways supplemental to the Cooperative Program even if those supplemental methods receive greater allocations of the church's budget. The goal is reaching the lost, not propping up legacy entities and programs.
The SBC has almost always chosen the megapastor with a low CP percentage. I suspect that such will be the case next month. One thing seems certain, the giving patterns of the old-school megachurch and the new-school megachurch will continue to grow while the traditional CP above all approach will decline.