Monday, March 12, 2012

The Great Commission Resurgence, is it alive or dead?

There is an old illustration about someone holding a bird in their hands and challenging an observer to tell them, "Is it alive or dead?"

This is one of those common property preacher stories. It's a good one.

It sounds like a fable although the oldest use of it that I find after a quick search is from Toni Morrison (here). Most of us have used it, usually in a sanitized form suitable for a staid Baptist church.

Now...this matter of the Great Commission Resurgence, you remember, the vaunted task force, recommendations, and all that of just a few short years ago.

Is it alive or dead?

I'm thinking that there is abundant and repeated evidence confirming that it is dead. Please note that I'm not cyber signing the death certificate of The Great Commission, it is very much alive, but I am reading enough from around the SBC to not be hesitant to say that the SBC's program of Great Commission Resurgence is dead.

It's simple: a major, perhaps the major thrust of the GCR was in encouraging the transfer of greater Cooperative Program resources from state conventions (which keep about two-thirds of them in-state) to the Executive Committee and on to the mission boards and seminaries.

Many state conventions commendably took steps in this direction. Most did so in very small, incremental ways but the Kentucky Baptist Convention took a pretty big step by voluntarily cutting their share of CP receipts by significant percentages.

How's that working out?

Well, take a count the former KBC employees in about six months, after the completion of the KBC's early retirement incentive offer to employees.

Kentucky is not alone in this. The Georgia Baptist Convention just cut staff, again, a process that seems to be going on in all the states.

My observation is that most of these budget and staff reductions are coming from continued drops in Cooperative Program receipts from churches, not from states adjusting their budgets to keep less money. Kentucky's seems to be a double dose, combining both.

Either way, through declining CP revenues or through deliberate budget decisions to keep less, the results are the same - significant, severe cuts in staffing levels.

I don't know what the pain threshold is for state conventions but I'd guess that it has been reached and they will figure out a way to call off the move to 50/50 split. And that means the GCR as a grand programmatic thrust is dead.

Ultimately, control of the matter is in the hands of the 46,000 or so SBC churches as they decide how to spend their money. The comment was made in Kentucky that churches had cut the percentage of offering plate dollars they send to the Cooperative Program by fully one third, and that in just the past decade.

Seems to me that the evidence is that this bird is a dead bird.


Jon L. Estes said...

I do not believe it was ever alive except in the hearts and minds of those who underwrote the plan, while in the meeting and on the platform giving the motion.

In essence, you had the national convention telling the state conventions how to distribute their incoming CP dollars. The church was not offered and counseling unless they wanted to bypass their state and send their CO dollars directly.

I liked the idea at first but the continual lack of transparency concerning this whole matter, left a bitter taste in my mouth.

It has settled with me that it is more a let's get rid of other autonomous organizations who have dollars we want and let's title it the GCR. No one will vote against the GC...

I say, put it all on the table for all to see and let the churches decide what they want to support. We are cutting percentages on any entity that will not answer our questions or give us what we determine is vital information to help us make financial decisions.

There is a generation going to be heading our churches, real soon, who have little interest in convention games. The CP can be shelved if it is not seen as productive. Old time baptist cliches will not grab the heart strings of these pastors to lead their people to support greater. many of these will be leading their churches to be GRC's and will keep their $$$ to see it happen.

William Thornton said...

John, you said, "We are cutting percentages on any entity that will not answer our questions or give us what we determine is vital information to help us make financial decisions."

What entities do you find lacking?

Thanks for the comment.

Jon L. Estes said...

I find NAMB and our state church plant offices lacking, or speaking in circles.

Even our church planting dollars are now being distributed )at least in our assoc) on an as needs basis and you must ask for funds 3 months in advance, detailing how you plan to use them. Then after all planning is done, a church planter could easily be told no. Hasn't happened yet but the structure for it is in place. We are told not to worry but when I ask if we are not to worry why change the structure mid stream.

I have also been told that this formula does not apply to all church plants. Many ethnic church plants will not under this because they use the money for salaries for whomever.

Maybe it is all on the up and up, but I am uncomfortable.

We just cut another 2.5% and will use that for our in house mission projects.

Anonymous said...

The GCR was dead on arrival. They promised to spend the first year in prayer for Spiritual Awakening and prayer for revival among our churches. Once it was voted in -- there was no mention or action toward any serious prayer efforts.

GCR has been about power and the control of the purse strings. It's been about deconstructing state conventions, associations, and getting certain people out of the way.

Our GCR leaders put out the promises in one hand, but they had a hand behind their backs with their fingers crossed. We bought it and now we own it.


Tim Dahl said...

Personally, I think the generation is already in the pulpit. I've been in this one right at 9 years.


Jon L. Estes said...


I agree that the trend for the younger pastors being in the pulpits has begin but the percentage is still not to the place (in number and longevity) to see the trend really swing.

I am (as I call it) in that age bracket where I am old enough to do it old school, young enough to want to do it new school but aged just so right that there will not be a lot of interest in me to be used to help make the charge.

I feel like the Lewis Drummond of SEBTS years. Sorta the in between guy whose legacy will not really be noticed. Now, I am OK with this, God is so good and I am so blessed and I simply want to make a difference for His name sake, in a big way.

[rambling has ended]

Jonathan said...

The GCR follows the long standing SBC tradition

1. A crisis is "discovered"
2. A blue ribbon panel is proposed.
3. Panel makes recommendations to the acclaim of the messengers
4. Focus switches from the original crisis to protecting the reputations of the folks on the panel, defending institutional change plans, etc..

The problem is that we never utilize the most effective component: objective evaluation.

Questions that are rarely asked:

1. Are/were we really in a crisis?

Is it really a problem that CP giving is down (especially as we measure it)? If we really prioritize the IMB, then we lock that budget (with its needed increases) in and establish budget forecasts for all other agencies that are modified with regard to actuals in giving.

2. Did the task force recommendations actual fit the original statement of the crisis?

In the end, only 1 direct action was mandated: the slow elimination of NAMB financial partnership with legacy states. The other two big items were "we really hope they happen" type actions: relying on churches to increase giving (we're really, really, really serious this time!) and state conventions to significantly reduce their own budgets (we've been treating you like step children for decades...and we're going to continue not answering questions about particular agency corruption...why wouldn't you want to forward a larger % to Nashville?).

3. What are the evaluation metrics?

Will the panel get back together after 1, 5, 10 years, have some of Rainer's people crunch the numbers and report how well the GCR has performed?

Note that we're doing the same thing with the Name Change...err...nickname proposal and with Fred Luter's upcoming election.

It is very difficult to see all of these things as finding/creating opportunities to pat ourselves on the back.

Several times each year, I get to sit down with IMB folks in the 1040. I've found it very helpful to hear their perspective on these matters. There is nothing like the cold water feeling of seeing the eyes (attached to beautiful feet) rolling in response to the latest pronouncement here.