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
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%
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%
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?