2007 SBC State Convention Analysis

Tim Brister —  November 30, 2007 — 20 Comments

Some of you may remember the little research I did on the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana (SCBI) entitled, “The Fleecing of the SBC.” Well, thanks to the “wrap ups” by Baptist Press, I have been able to gather some more information on Southern Baptist state conventions. I be up front in saying that three things in particular interest me. First, how much money is kept within each state for their own purposes; second, how many churches and messengers attended; and three, what resolutions were passed. Let me briefly speak to each of these three to explain my reasoning behind this.

Regarding state convention monies, I believe that the SBC can do a better job with handling the Cooperative Program money, beginning with the state conventions. While it is a legitimate argument to question the necessity of state conventions, what is pressing even more is whether or not CP money is going directly to support local churches and missions rather than cash-swapping between state conventions and SBC entities (such as the NAMB). The SBC will continue to falter in her mission and fail in planting churches unless we stop the fleecing of the SBC which principally takes place within our state conventions.

Regarding the messengers and churches represented in state conventions, I am interested to know how many or what percentage are still attending these yearly meetings. What I am finding is more evidence of a post-denominational world where churches are looking for other means of cooperation and networking that is more affinity-based than structural. Furthermore, the decline in messengers and churches again begs the question of why we even have state conventions to begin with.

Regarding resolutions, I want to know what state conventions find important. Now, what is interesting is that these resolutions are non-binding on local churches, so they really cannot have effect or be enforced. So what is the purpose of resolutions? A consensus statement perhaps? In addition, are state conventions trying to impose restrictions or standards upon local churches, thereby threatening their autonomy? Again, the negative work of resolutions raise the issue of whether state conventions are really serving any purposes at all (other than encouraging people to leave the SBC).

Now granted, I know that there are many important ministries sustained through state conventions (such as children’s homes). However, I am concerned that there is a duplicating of efforts and implicit hierarchical superstructure that has developed an unhealthy bureaucracy in the SBC. So now that I have told you my rationale, let’s take a look at some of the statistics.

I. State Convention Monies

According to my statistics, the total of all the state convention budgets for the upcoming 2008 year comes to a whopping 537,833,864.00. I don’t even know who to put that in perspective. Out of that budget, a grand total of 329,275,678.00 does not make it out of the state conventions (roughly 61.2%). I don’t know about you, but I would really like to know what we are doing in our state conventions with almost $330 million. How many churches are planted? Missionaries supported? Has anyone done any kind of researching on how well or what causes the state conventions are spending this massive amount of money?

Below are four top ten lists: the highest state convention budgets, largest amount kept in state, highest percentage of budget kept in state, and lowest percentage kept in state. For the sake of space, I will refrain from personal commentary.

Top 10 Highest State Convention Budgets

1. Georgia (GBC) 52,300,000
2. Alabama (ABSC) 44,585,000
3. Florida (FBSC) 41,023,077
4. North Carolina (BSCNC) 38,800,000
5. Tennessee (TBC) 38,500,000
6. Mississippi (MBC) 34,263,763
7. South Carolina (SCBC) 33,950,000
8. Oklahoma (BGCO) 24,600,000
9. Kentucky (KBC) 24,000,000
10. Texas (SBTC) 21,539,132

Total 353,560,972.00 (81.3% of total State Budgets)

Top 10 Largest Amount Kept in State

1. Georgia (GBC) 30,857,000
2. Alabama (ABSC) 25,859,300
3. North Carolina (BSCNC) 25,608,000
4. Florida (FBSC) 24,613,846
5. Tennessee (TBC) 23,100,000
6. Mississippi (MBC) 22,271,445
7. South Carolina (SCBC) 20,370,000
8. Kentucky (KBC) 15,120,000
9. Oklahoma (BGCO) 14,760,000
10. Louisiana (LBC) 13,655,182

Total 216,214,773.00

Top 10 Highest % Kept in State

1. Minnesota-Wisconsin 87%
2. Dakotas (DBC) 85.5%
3. Iowa (BCI) 80%
4. Utah-Idaho 78.5%
5. New England (BCNE) 78.5%
6. Montana 78%
7. Northwest (NWBC) 75%
8. Penn-Jersey (BCPSJ) 75%
9. Arizona (ASBC) 74.5%
10. New York (BCNY) 73%

Average 78.5%

Top 10 Lowest % Kept in State

1. Texas (SBTC) 54%
2. Illinois (IBSA) 57%
3. Arkansas (ABSC) 58%
4. Alabama (ABSC) 58%
5. Tennessee (TBC) 60%
6. South Carolina (SCBC) 60%
7. Florida (FBSC) 60%
8. Oklahoma (BGCO) 60%
9. West Virginia (WVCSB) 62%
10. Kentucky (KBC) 63%

Average 59%

II. State Convention Attendance

Now the Baptist Press “wrap up’s” did not all reveal information regarding how many churches were represented or how many messengers attended (I counted 29 state conventions reporting number of messengers, and 9 state conventions reporting number of respective churches represented). However, with the available information, we are able to see a trend happening in the SBC. Some of you might remember that the annual meeting of the SBC was anticipating some 12,000+ messengers this past year. The outcome was that 8,618 was in attendance (compared to 11,639 in Greensboro in 2006). Those 8,618 messengers came from only 3,558 churches. Mind you, the SBC is said to have some 44,000 churches. If you do the math, only 8% of the churches were represented in the SBC at its Convention-wide Annual Meeting.

With that said, let me mention some stats from various conventions. The Baptist Convention of New York (BCNY) has 428 churches with only 52 represented at their state convention, coming to 12%. For Colorado (CBGC), there are more than 400 churches; only 84 represented with messengers, coming to 21%; for Indiana, 433 churches with 111 represented, coming to 25%. These are just some of the state conventions where at least three out of four churches were not represented at their state convention. You might be thinking, “But, Timmy, that is conventions from the Midwest and Northeast, not from the Bible-belt. Cooperation at state conventions is not expected to be that high in those regions.” Allow me to mention my home state of Alabama. Last month at the Alabama Baptist State Convention, there were 806 messengers in attendance, the first time messengers dipped below 1,000 in attendance since 1946. It is the lowest attendance since 1945 where there were only 630 messengers registered. This is in a state that of several thousand churches and a budget of more than $44.5 million.

What are we to make of this marked decline of attendance of messengers and representation of Southern Baptist churches? A post-denominational effect? Alternative networking and affiliation outside the SBC structures? Younger generation dis-interested in Southern Baptist life? These are questions I think worth asking.

III. State Convention Resolutions

Finally, I want to take a brief look at the resolutions passed by various state conventions. As I stated earlier, resolutions in the SBC are non-binding, so the purpose of having these resolutions, in my estimation, is to call for a consensus or to make a unified statement on a matter. These resolutions often reflect the priorities of various segments of Baptist life. For instance, alcohol was addressed in five state conventions (Florida, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Alabama), two of them (Florida and Texas) requiring abstentionism in order to serve as a trustee, member of any committee, or hold any office in their conventions. Gambling is another hot topic for resolutions, where five state conventions also addressed it (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland-Deleware, and Missouri). And I suppose I should also mention that Georgia passed a resolution on blogging as well for good measure.

In all fairness, some state conventions passed resolutions on important matters, not the least of which is the issue of regenerate church membership (SBTC-Texas and Ohio). Other issues included child victimization, hate crime legislation, abortion, and family worship. Unfortunately, it is the embarrassing resolutions that often get the brunt of attention, especially the one on blogging and alcohol. It is unfortunate that unregenerate church membership and family worship does not receive as much attention as booze and blue chips. Why can’t we make it that a minister cannot serve one any committee or hold an office if they do not practice regenerate church membership? At least that is a Baptist distinctive that has defined Southern Baptists. But alas, I think I should sober up. ;)

These three areas, giving, representing, and resolving I think say something about the state conventions of the SBC. I have offered a little analysis, and I would be interested in yours.

Can the SBC do a better job with the church’s giving to the Cooperative Program or are you satisfied with the current structures and systems?
Are the churches and the mission frontier the first to directly benefit from CP funds, or are they only indirectly benefiting after state conventions swap funding from various SBC entities, eventually making it down to the churches?
If we cannot get one out of four churches to show up at our state convention meetings, should we consider the importance or relevance of them altogether?
Is the whole idea of passing resolutions a positive/fruitful thing or a negative/ineffectual thing?
How can we foster meaningful cooperation and constructive networking in the future?

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  • http://ministry-to-children.com Tony Kummer

    Timmy – Great work again. We need to keep in mind where this money comes from. In a typical SBC church it is taken from the hands of widows under the label “missions.” Conventions need some serious integrity when spend Jesus’ money.

  • http://www.profoundmystery.blogspot.com Darby Livingston

    “A post-denominational effect? Alternative networking and affiliation outside the SBC structures? Younger generation dis-interested in Southern Baptist life?”

    In my opinion, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I think it is absolutely affinity based rather than anything else. I came to the SBC shortly after becoming a Christian. I love the people and the missionary effort. For all its faults, it’s still the best system so far. I do agree it should be streamlined. The flow of local church offerings is filtered through the whims and eccentricities of a small number of people. Say what you want about autonomy. Money is autonomy. Not a statement of faith. Those who control the flow of money control an organization. Just read communist history. It’s not supposed to be this way in the church. I readily admit my perpetual thoughts of “what’s the use” about most aspects of denominational life. It seems to me often much ado about nothing. I think local churches must set the agenda of what they’re going to do, and let God sort it out.

  • http://gritsgrace.blogspot.com/ Greg Alford

    Timmy,

    The “Convention System” as a means of conducting the cooperate ministry of the SBC is woefully inadequate for a missionary organization consisting of 44,000 autonomous Churches. It is clearly just not working for the vast majority of Southern Baptist Churches… it is time for a change.

    How about some sort of Baptist Congress? Or, at least come up with some way of letting the Churches participate in the convention voting without having to travel half way across the country? For heavens sake It’s 2007 not 1857…

    Now for the HERESY… For all the praise heaped upon it by “every single” Southern Baptist leader alive, the Cooperative Program is a dismal failure as an efficient means of funding missionary efforts. I actually believe that our missionary agencies would be much, much, better funded without the Cooperative Program.

    The Cooperative Program has been great for the State Conventions which get to keep as much of the Churches missions offerings as they like… for the State Conventions the Cooperative Program has been the greatest thing since sliced bread. But I wonder how much our Churches would be sending to their State Conventions and how much they would be sending to our missionary sending agencies if there were no Cooperative Program? I know… this is heresy… but the Sate Conventions are keep and spending over 329 MILLION each year… on what???

    Ok, I have to go now… there are some men outside with torches let me go see what they want… “Hey brother Frank what are you doing hear this time of the ni… … … …

  • http://madenoughtopray.blogspot.com Laura

    Didn’t I read someplace that Dr. Mohler thinks the CP is taking its final, rattling, gasping breaths? Or was that just wishful thinking? I’ve heard he wants to take Southern independent — and I think that would be a pretty sizable fastening device in the lid of a certain organization’s comfy pine box.

  • John Mark Inman

    If we have moved/are moving to post-denominationalism, why would we eliminate the duplicate efforts performed by the state conventions. Wouldn’t it make sense to eliminate the non-localized ministry of the national convention. It seems like all the reasons for eliminating state conventions apply equally to the national convention(dwindling attendance at annual meetings, irrelevant non-authoritative resolutions)

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    John Mark,

    Well, that’s a legitimate point. I guess you need some sort of administrative overhead to handle Cooperative Program funds, assuming that SBC churches believe in cooperating together for the work of propagating the gospel. But good grief, $329 million is a lot of overhead!

    I am really concerned that very little of our “missions” money is going to missions and church planting. Churches are the last to see it. States get first dibs; then Convention: then Convention sends it back to State: State sends to associations, and on and on.

    With 329 million, why can’t we use a large chunck of that and support bivocational pastors and church planters in regions of the United States that cannot fully support their pastor? I mean, we do it on the mission field overseas with our missionaries and their families. Why can’t we do it stateside? We don’t have the same mission mindset (missional) in our convention.

    I have a real problem when directors of missions (DOM’s) are making twice as much money as the pastors who are *doing missions.* For beginners, I think we should make it a general rule that no individual employed by state conventions should make more than the median income of the pastors and church planters in that state. This goes for denominational executives, DOM’s, “strategists, and whoever else. Furthermore, state’s should set aside money first for church planters, new plants, and bivocational pastors before any other agenda comes on the table, no matter how pressing it may be (conferences, building projects, etc.).

    Is that too crazy an idea to think about? Of course I have other ideas, but they are probably even crazier. ;)

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    Darby,

    I agree with what you have said, especially about local churches setting the agenda. I find myself sometimes wondering if we are developing an Episcopalian structure to the SBC with elders, bishops, archbishops, etc. Is there not the perception at least that the Director of Missions (bishops) of a given association are telling his pastors (elders) what they can or cannot do or believe? Or, can the state conventions not be considered somewhat as a “presbytery” where a relatively few number of people speak and decide on behalf of the whole? In other words, does not the superstructure we have right now in some way work contrary to the congregational polity that is a Baptist distinctive?

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    Greg,

    You are right. If we are going to have these meetings, we have to find a way to get more churches and their leaders involved. If 8% of a company was represented at their annual business meeting, what would that say about the attitude of those it employs? Is that a “no confidence” vote?

    Laura,

    My guess is that is not what Dr. Mohler is thinking or planning. I certainly hope that the implicit divide can be prevented from an explicit fracture. I think that is some of what the building bridges emphasis is all about.

  • John Mark Inman

    Churches determine the salaries of DOM’s in most associations.

    I think the reason pastor salaries aren’t subsidized is because people assume pastor’s are lazy. The thought is that hardworking motivated pastors will build or move to larger churches that can provide livable salaries.

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but have you thought about addressing salary/money concerns a little closer to home(i.e. Southern Seminary). Not that some of your criticisms of state convention spending aren’t valid, but I think you need the knowledge of an insider to know where spending patterns need to be changed.
    I think you could get that insider knowledge in a place where you are currently involved.

    I’m all for responsible spending by entities. I’m also all for the release of salary information of convention employees including seminary presidents and faculty.

  • http://stephennewell.wordpress.com Stephen Newell

    John Mark, that’s a good thought, and as somewhat of an insider let me be the first to recommend that Timmy’s suggestion of providing for bivocational pastors be the very first resolution passed at next year’s Kentucky Baptist Convention. Both I and my senior pastor are such, and given that we’re in a Deaf church, that means the church’s ability to provide is extremely limited.

    Caveat: my pastor actually does work for KBC as a missions pastor to the Deaf in Kentucky, so at least he’s taken care of. But what about the rest of us Deaf ministers here who have to work second jobs, and often those jobs are barely enough to get the bills paid?

    It is difficult for Deaf people to get good jobs that allow them to live comfortably unless — like me — you can function in both the hearing and Deaf worlds. And even then that’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get a good job. Those Deaf who have committed their lives to ministry have consigned themselves to a lifetime of living on a budget, unless of course they have such a good second job.

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    John Mark,

    Perhaps pastors are lazy. Perhaps missionaries overseas are lazy. But it is also possible that pastors here encounter the same difficulty in some contexts (say Northeast or Pacific Northwest) as missionaries do in frontier regions of the world. To determine whether a pastor is worthy of being funded on a pragmatic scale would seem harsh (assuming that is the only criteria). How much money are we spending on agenda’s and projects that have little to no kingdom impact? God is building His church. God has appointed men to lead, pastor, shepherd these churches. If we can financially support them and empower them, then I think we should make that our #1 priority, not sophisticated church growth strategies, tangential conferences, or other forms of unnecessary overhead.

    Regarding SBTS, you would be surprised how little I know. In fact, I can say that I have virtually no “insider knowledge.”

    The bottom line for me is that I am looking seriously at the CP and what we are doing with it for the first time in my life. I am asking myself hard questions and want to know what we are doing with “God’s money.” I publicly share my thoughts assuming that others might be asking the same questions. I mean, if the future generations of the SBC are going to remain, it must be convictional and no longer superficial. I want to be a supporter of the CP with full conviction and a clear conscience. Right now, my conscience is pricked. Knowing that many Southern Baptists give sacrificially to support the cause of missions and the propagation of the gospel, I think it is important to get a better understanding of what $537 million a year does for the kingdom of God.

  • Ken

    Tim, Great post. I am a missions pastor and just recently I was discussing funding with one of our M leaders. The IMB regions did receive an increase in their budget which was basically eaten up by a falling dollar and inflation. The increase in money kept them at status quo. There is little to no new money for new M’s and little or no money for new ministry or ministry platforms.

    It is sad that so much of our “missions” money stays right here in the US, the most evangelized country on earth. Meanwhil approx. 1.6 billion people have no access to the gospel. I agree that the problem is not that we do not have the money, we are ineffective in what we do have. The state convention keep way too much money and it is unfortunate. BTW, Tim you do have the best blog out there, IMO. You have relevant topipcs in addition to great pics. Thanks for all you do to keep it going !

  • Jim Shaver

    If the SBC or the State Conventions would just make a concerted effort to get all pastors covered by some kind of basic health insurance it would make me feel a lot better about the “overhead”.

    The excuse you always hear when this subject is brought up is that because of the “autonomous” nature of SBC Churches we can’t have a real group insurance policy.

    I know some pastors who are serving in remote areas whose families are not covered by any kind of health insurance. That should never happen in a convention of churches with the kind of CP resources we have.

  • John Mark Inman

    Jim, Hopefully when a Democrat is elected we can get national health insurance and pastors and staff won’t have to worry about the lack of insurance any more. :) :) just kidding

    I think a lot of pastors take convention jobs to try to make up for the 20-30 years of low pay from churches.

    I think individual churches would need to be the ones to fund other pastors salaries. There is just not enough accountability for pastors built into a congregational system. It’s impossible to decide whether a pastor is doing a good job from a distance. That’s why conventions use pragmatic measurements.

    Local pastors can say, hey we know this guy isn’t going to sit on his duff reading theology books all the time, but he’s going to do the hard work shepherding and missions, so we feel like we should support him. We’ve seen him at work and we know this about him.

  • http://stephennewell.wordpress.com Stephen Newell

    I think individual churches would need to be the ones to fund other pastors salaries.

    What about those churches who, like mine, simply can’t afford to pay their pastor a decent salary? What about those churches consisting primarily of retirees with little or no pension? What about those churches consisting primarily of low- or no-income people?

    If a pastor is forced to spend the majority of his time, whether by circumstance or by choice, in a second job in order to provide for his family, we can’t be judging his effectiveness in the “regular” ways. Not all bivocational pastors are blessed to be working directly with their target groups or church members.

    If instead our state conventions were willing to use funding to support these pastors somewhat, so that some of the financial burden was removed, how much more ministry could these guys do? How much more time could they spend with their families? How much more time would they have for the personal spiritual growth from which they would teach their congregations?

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    Ken,

    I have wondered for some time who came up with the idea of state conventions being the first to decide how much money they want to keep. It is not theirs to begin with! And they can arbitrarily decide to keep as much as they want?! I think a good idea might be to have a regional director of the IMB designated to the top 10 states in giving to the CP and let them decide how much should go directly to the mission field. For instance, Georgia (Pacific Rim), Alabama (Southeast Asia), Florida (Central Asia), North Carolina (Northern Africa and the Middle East), and so on. Imagine on average 61% instead going to world evangelization!

    The deflating of the dollar is a big deal, and I don’t think we have paid enough attention to the recent consequences to that.

    Also, I do think we need to remember there still is a great need here stateside. Our ability to send missionaries and support them will be dependent upon the health and growth of churches stateside. We need to continue to plant healthy, multiplying churches in North America that are more about building the kingdom of God than their own civic center.

  • John Mark Inman

    Stephen,
    I meant other churches would fund a pastor’s salary. Churches/pastors need to partner directly, w/out the middleman of conventions. Paul talks about equality between churches in Corinthians. I’m all for sharing resources.

  • http://gritsgrace.blogspot.com/ Greg Alford

    Timmy,

    I think you “spot on” with the need to support or bivocational pastors as many of them are struggling to “revitalize” small churches or “plant” new churches… the bivocational pastors are our “home missionaries” and should be recognized and supported as such.

    Timmy, you and John Mark might be interested to know that “Homes Baptist Association” in Florida (my association) has dropped the DOM position and has replaced it with an Associational Missionary… we have said that we do not need a Director… we need a Missionary… We have just called our very first Associational Missionary who was serving as a Missionary in South America before we called him… Housing is provide by one of our churches and his salary is about half what some of the DOM’s from surrounding associations… I say all this because I think this is a model for the future of our associations.

    Grace Always,

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    Greg,

    That’s really encouraging to hear. I am planning to revisit Mike Day’s presentation at the Baptist Identity II Conference held at Union University. His message was and still is perhaps the most important to date regarding associations and denominational redundancy.

    The SBC is a convention of small churches pastored primarily by bi-vocational pastors. These pastors are called by God for the equipping of the saints for ministry. As thus, I think it makes sense that the SBC equip the pastors (including financially when appropriate) so that they can better equip the people. Ultimately, it should be that every church is self-supporting and self-reproducing, but that is not the case for most SBC churches. At the current rate, there are almost twice as many churches closing and dying as there are churches being planted. If that is the case, then that is a microcosm of the big picture of a dying convention. We need new life in the SBC, and I think it starts with taking a fresh look at why and how we do what we do.

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    For those interested in checking out Mike Day’s message I mentioned in my last comment, go here:

    http://www.uu.edu/audio/Detail.cfm?ID=288

    I live-blogged this event, and you can find my notes/outline from his message here:

    http://timmybrister.com/2007/02/15/baptist-id-dr-mike-day-on-the-future-of-baptist-associations-and-state-conventions/