Tuesday, June 7, 2016

State conventions should add value, not guilt, to churches

...the value of a state convention will not be determined by the size of its staff, its building, its budget, or its programming. Value will be determined by one metric alone—investment in the local church. When we bring value to the church, we bring glory to God.

The quote above is not mine, although I have made many such statements over the past decade or so. These words are from the chief executive of one of our largest state conventions - Tommy Green, Executive Director-Treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention.

There have been times when it has seemed to me that the only tool in the toolbox of state convention staffers and leaders has been a single, blunt club whose design was to bring a feeling of guilt onto church pastors and laypeople over their level of Cooperative Program giving. That has proven to be an ineffective tool in the long haul, CP giving by churches declining slowly, steadily, relentlessly over the past several decades.

Thank God for a fresh, new approach to promoting one's state convention to the churches: bringing value to the local church.

SBC presidential candidate J. D. Greear has a blog, Conventional Futures, in which has this timely article by Tommy Green: Bringing Value, Not Guilt, to Local Churches: The Role of the State Conventions. I have found the articles and podcasts on Conventional Futures to be interesting and valuable in addressing things that will matter to SBCers now and in the years ahead.

It is not lost on many pastors that state conventions are in a tight spot, declining revenues, aging ministries and attendant physical plants, struggles to define mission, difficulties in showing exactly how value is added to local churches through the millions collected, budgeted, and spent by the state organization.

The energy and innovation in state convention seems to be coming from either (a) state conventions that have started fresh and new (Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, possibly the SBC of Virginia) or (b) states that have made rapid and drastic changes in their approach to doing their work. The Florida Baptist Convention is an example of the latter.

In my own state convention here in Georgia drastic changes have been made but mostly as a result of revenue declines. If changes have added value to the churches I am at a loss to explain exactly where or how. State staff are to an individual, solid servants of Christ who desire to help pastors and churches and I have always appreciated that.

As to my state convention's value, I offer this positive example. I was asked recently by a church near me to conduct a review of the church's finances, policies, and procedures. The source for sample policies, recommended best practices, and other resources is one of the offices of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. I was able to meet with church leaders, show them the results of my review, but also hand them sample policies and other documents to help them implement the administrative structures and controls needed.

Tommy Green, again:
When it comes to CP giving, we do not guilt our churches. I have not initiated any individual conversations with pastors concerning their church’s commitment to CP. I fully believe that the local church decision must be valued and honored by our SBC. The percentage a church gives is not the litmus test for our involvement with that local church. As a former pastor of a local church, I fully understand the nuances of resources, commitments, and factors that impact a local church budget. The state convention exists for the church and not the church for the state convention. Our goal is to bring value and not guilt to the churches of Florida.
My state convention practices the same thing: the church with the most tenuous connection to the GBMB, the church that gives only a token amount to the GBMB will receive the best the state staff can offer. That's the way it should be.

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