The Fleecing of the SBC

Tim Brister —  October 5, 2007 — 36 Comments

Political conservatives don’t believe in big government. The bigger the government, the more entitlements and dependency American people will have on politicians in Washington D.C., thus disabling them from achieving individual success or accomplishing their goals. The basic idea is that conservatives believe Americans can spend their money better than Congress, and when our money is tied up in Washington, the control, direction, and future of the country is also in the hands of these elite men and women. The smaller the government, the less pork barreling and excessive spending that will occur. Americans simply want to know that all their tax dollars going to the American government is not being wasted or thrown away. That is why the NBC Nightly News special, “The Fleecing of America,” became such a popular and at the same time troubling series of investigative reporting.

As a Southern Baptist, I am a big fan of the Cooperative Program. It is one of the most ingenious ideas for the cause of missions ever devised. Yet I am of the conviction that we should not only passionately promote CP giving but also CP stewardship. Southern Baptists should be even more concerned about how CP money is spent than the average American taxpayer because in our case, it is “God’s money.”

One of the questions I have been thinking about is how redundant the SBC has become over the years. We have money being given on a national level, state level, and associational level. On this bureaucratic or hierarchical superstructure of spending CP dollars, how much of it is duplicating efforts? As SBC entities continue to grow, what percentage of CP money is spent on denominational executives and “specialists” rather than missionaries and church planters? Probably the biggest concern I have is the legitimacy of the existence of our Baptist state conventions. I mean, what do they do that local associations or other SBC entities cannot or are not doing? Why are they holding the majority of CP monies for themselves rather than sending it to Nashville? It has even gone to the point that a church cannot send messengers to the SBC annual meeting to vote on issues and resolutions if they choose to bypass the state so that their CP contributions don’t get stuck within that very state.

Let’s take the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana (SCBI) for example. According to the October issue of Indiana Baptist Monthly, the 2008 proposed state budget (not be confused with CP giving) comes to a total of $4,689,203. Out of that, $1,050,001 is given to “missions”, or 23.9% of the budget. Indiana churches gave $2,834,621 to the Cooperative Program, with $1,914,005 or 65.5% never making it out of the state. I projected in the post “From the Cruiseliner to the Battleship: What Will It Take?” that the average SBC church spends 70-75% of their annual budget on staffing and buildings. It appears that the state conventions are doing likewise, with 76.1% of the budget not going towards missions. Bear in mind, 65.5% of CP money is kept within the state.

Now here’s another kicker. SCBI sent out $920,616 to Nashville from their CP piggy bank. Yet, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) is putting $1,098,776 directly back into the SCBI piggy bank. Doing a little math will tell you that the SCBI is receiving more money from NAMB than they are giving out, resulting in a net income of $178,160. Put simply, the SCBI is making money off the Cooperative Program (if NAMB is financially bankrolling the SCBI – does that mean that the SCBI is basically being run by NAMB?). And this after the state convention is keeping 65% of all Cooperative Program monies from Indiana churches and 76.1% of the budget not going towards missions. After having looked at these statistics, one must believe that there must be explosive growth in churches and numerous churches being planted. Let’s take a look.

In 1996, the SCBI was comprised of 447 churches. After ten years of considerable state funding, the SCBI church count was 425, a net loss of 22 churches. Furthermore, membership in 1996 was 95,571; in 2006 it dropped to 91,583–a net loss of 3,988 members. On a yearly basis some $3 million is kept within the state, and over a ten year period of time, this amounts to over $30 million. Likewise, if the stats were analogous to the 2008 proposed budget, NAMB gave roughly around $10 million. In total, that’s $40 million in a state that has resulted in a loss of some 4,000 church members and 22 churches. Ugh.

In the September issue of the Indiana Baptist Monthly (which is currently available online), the 2006 Annual Church Profile run down looks like this:

Church membership – 100,873
“Resident” church membership – 78,251
AM Worship attendance – 41,979
Sunday School attendance – 25,747

Now strap on your SBC seat belt here. There are currently 22,622 “non-resident” church members in Indiana Baptist Churches, coming to 22.4% of the entire church membership. So one in four members in the SBC churches in Indiana aren’t even residents of their respective churches. Moreover, 58,894 Indiana Baptists do not show up for regular worship on Sunday mornings, some 58.4% of Indiana Baptists. But the story continues. Only 25,747 Indiana Baptists ever make it to Sunday School. Sunday School is a big deal, right? Not for 74.5% of Indiana Baptists. Three out of four Indiana Baptists are not attending regular Bible study in the churches where they claim membership.

Brothers and sisters, if there are more church members stay home on Sunday mornings than attending church, we’ve got a problem. It’s called unregenerate church membership. If three out of four don’t come for Sunday School or Bible study, how can we say that we are a people of The Book?

To their credit, the SCBI is attempting to deal with some of the problems they admit have existed for years. A new proposal is on the docket where there will no longer be Directors of Missions (DOM’s) but five “Regional Catalyst Strategists” (that’s got to be in the Bible somewhere). These strategists will be paid be the SCBI who is being funded by NAMB. The hope is that more money and emphasis will be targeted to church planting by these specialists, and I hope that indeed is what will happen. But I have to be honest. This “catalyst specialist” business sounds really suspect to me, or maybe I have been reading too much David Wells. In any case, they will replace the DOM’s who, I have been told, have been pressuring church leaders to submit their Annual Church Profiles. Do you want to know why? This is because the more profiles turned in, the higher the statistics and the more money (funding) they will receive from the state or NAMB.

So put the two together. The state convention wants the ACP’s to beef up their statistics; the association needs the stats to maintain adequate funding, and all this is being perpetuated by a state comprised of unregenerate church members. This, my friend, is called the fleecing of the SBC through unregenerate church membership.

In conclusion, how responsible are we as Southern Baptists when we give money to a state convention that keeps more money than it gives to missions? How just is it that a state convention even makes money off the Cooperative Program when over half their membership don’t darken the doorsteps of their churches? Why are we not being more careful with the millions of dollars, we are told, is going toward “missions?”

As a Southern Baptist, this is tough for me to swallow. Probably I would have been better off never looking at where and how our money is being spent. I am lead to believe that is precisely what some denominational leaders want me (and you) to do. Just ignore it. But I can’t. And I won’t. And I hope you don’t. Money is a powerful thing, especially in the hands of those who have little to no accountability. If we are going to do this CP thing, my only request is that we get it right.

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  • Ken Richardson


    I believe in church planting but if we plant churches just like the ones we have will it make a difference?

  • George Rank


    Indiana churches gave $2,834,621 to the Cooperative Program, with $920,616 or 65.5% never making it out of the state. $920,616 is 32.5% of 2,834,621. I wanted to point that out only because someone might give you grief over the math.

  • The SCBI is pursuing the same course of action taken by the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists several years ago. Basically, they realized that DOM’s were just sitting around drinking coffee and playing golf (you’ve heard the term, I’m sure, being “a pastor to the pastors”) and drawing big paychecks. So NAMB and CCSB de-funded the whole lot, telling the associations, “If you want a DOM, that’s fine, but we’re no longer footing the bill for the luxury.”

    The DOM’s were replaced by church planting missionaries, sometimes referred to within NAMB as “strats and cats” or church planting strategists and catalysts. That was my role in Florida until enough pressure was put on the state convention leaders to get rid of me (because it was an embarrassment having a Calvinist on staff) in 2003. These are seasoned church planters who can help develop strategy and train church planters for a particular region, very similar to the “strategy coordinators” with the International Mission Board.

    I think every state convention and/or association should do this! Most DOM’s are a waste of money. Don’t need ’em. They’re supposed to be directors of MISSIONS, but many of them have assumed other more pretentious titles, like “executive director” and other more such nonsense. Our DOM in Pensacola was making nearly $100K per year in salary alone and church planting wasn’t even on his radar screen.

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  • George,

    Thanks for pointing that out. Correction made. I had originally planned on putting the figure that went onto Nashville (the 34.5%) and then changed it without changed the dollar figure.


    That’s crazy about the DOM making that much money! I have pastor friends in Indiana who have told me that their DOM has a bigger salary than the pastors in his association. That’s troubling to me.

  • Timmy,

    Most Southern Baptists would absolutely DIE if they knew what most state convention staff get paid. I was one of the lowest guys on the food chain at the Florida Baptist Convention and my salary package was $78K per year. When you added the employer’s contributions, it was just over $100K and that was four years ago. My department director earned another $15-20K above me and a division director was a huge bump up from him. That’s why they don’t report the details to the churches: only the State Board of Missions was privy to that sort of information.

  • John Willis


    I am not a Southern Baptist but, having recently moved to Indiana, I find myself attending an SBC church. I’ve been reading your postings and find them quite interesting and enlightening.

    I would especially like to thank you for your link to the Indiana Baptist Monthly. I was shocked to read the column by Diane Davis (wife of the SBCI Executive Director) promoting the creation of a prayer labyrinth. Are the New Age people that entrenched in the SBC?

    I realize this is off-topic, but combined with the unregenerate membership, the cooperative program situation, and anti-Calvinist positions, I wonder if I should find a different group to worship with.

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  • Bill,

    I really don’t know what to say. In Indiana, over half of the churches (I counted 282 of the 425) churches have regular Sunday morning attendance under 100. I wonder how many of these state execs and specialists have a larger salary than the entire budget of some of these churches.


    Prayer labryrinth? Promoted by the Executive Director’s wife? Really? I need to go back and see if that is in the $4 million budget somewhere.

    Hang in there. I know this week probably has been tough for those who are new to the SBC, but we cannot have our heads in the sand. If we can be honest enough to admit that there are problems, courageous enough to speak out about them, and determined enough to deal with them, then the reform we desperately need in the SBC can begin to occur. It will not happen with prayer, repentance, and sacrifice.

    Trust me, you are not going to read what I wrote this week on Baptist Press or any denominationally supported media outlet. It wasn’t hard to put all this together, only a little effort and time. Yet we are so politically deadlocked and entrenched that our mouths stopped and ears are closed. It is only a matter of time before our hearts get hardened. That is why I put my $.02 into the mix. Being in a position where I am not looking for a seat at the table or some leadership position provides a freedom that others who have their thought and writing filtered through their political ties simply do not have. Trust me, there are those who read in silence but do not speak out. What I like about those new to the SBC is that they haven’t been suppressed by that silence. It is like the new Christian who asks a bunch of questions and has a real hunger for the truth. Just don’t lose that hunger and become jaded. Be encouraged and press on!

  • Good post and good points Timmy. You’ve been busy this week! If you’re not careful, you may find some cooperative program-funded black helicopters flying over your rooftop. πŸ™‚

  • I have to take a cooperative program class here soon…now I have a head start on how it all works!

  • Darby,

    Indeed, I have been busy. Nine down, one more to go. My family is from the Middle East. We are used to black helicopters. πŸ˜‰


    The thing about the CP is that the states have first dibs, and they can determine just how much they choose to keep. Some states give out more to Nashville while others hold back. Just imagine, though, if 65-75% of all CP gifts made it past the state level instead of 35-40% where it is currently. Should the missionaries and church planters have first dibs? I don’t know much about the CP, but I don’t think churches should be penalized if they choose to bypass the state bureaucracy as they currently are by disavowing messengers to the annual meeting. It these churches want to put the mission first, then it doesn’t make sense to criticize them for it.

  • John Mark Inman

    I’m not out to defend how any convention state or national spends their money. But the numbers should probably be put in perspective. As of 2000, Indiana had 345 SBC churches. Alabama had 3,148. Kentucky 2,424. Maryland 405. Illinois 981. Indiana had 78,191 resident members. KY 574,707. AL 806,724.
    i’m not good with HTML. the study is titled “Comparison of Changes in Population, Southern Baptist Churches, and Resident Members by Region and State, 1990 to 2000.
    I think the fact that NAMB gives more to IN than IN puts in makes sense in light of the number and size of the churches in Indiana. Indiana is the 14th or 15th largest state and the presence of SBC churches in IN is small relative to the total population. NAMB is committed to supporting and planting churches in underdeveloped(as far as SBC churches) states. I think it makes sense that IN receives more than it gives at this point.

  • John Mark,

    I have been told that Indiana is a “pioneering” state I assume according to the data you mentioned, namely that the resident membership of SBC churches is a small percentage of the actual population. But all that aside. Approximately $40 million has gone into IN from 1996-2006 resulting in a net loss of 22 churches as well as a net loss of close to 4,000 members. Is this not problematic? Furthermore, is it ethical for a state convention to take in more money than it sends out? I mean, they already get to hold whatever amount they want from the CP in the first place. Then they get NAMB kick backs. It seems like a win-win situation if you are working for state conventions. But for me, it looks a lot like a fleecing of the Cooperative Program.

    Perhaps it would be a worthwhile project to examine how much each state holds of the CP gifts from their respective churches, how many churches were planted, increase/decrease in baptisms and church membership, and just as important to look into the state stats of the percentage claiming membership and those actually attending their local church.

    The fact is, we have 16.3 million so-called Southern Baptists with just about six million showing up at all. So until we can make the numbers we tout legitimate, I cannot the rationale of distributing CP funds in proportion to the stats they turn in. For all we know, we could be sending Cooperative Program money to stats that reflect non-residential membership and even possibly the deceased. Where I come from, that just ain’t right.

  • John Mark Inman

    Perhaps the loss of 4,000 members is the result of more accurate counting of membership.
    If the giving is done in the spirit of cooperation, then no it’s not unethical to receive more than you give. What mission field gives more money to the SBC than it receives?

    I’m all for convention employees reporting their salaries and more accountability. I’m all for honest reporting of membership. I wish convention leaders would take the lead in doing these things. I wish convention leaders would take voluntary pay cuts, so that when they talk about “war-time footing” or whatever it doesn’t sound empty.

  • Timmy,

    This is a very good and informative post. It’s made me wonder about local “missions”. I wonder how much money is sent to the CP from churches vs. how much those churches actually spend spreading the Gospel locally in their own community. I can’t help but think that some or even many have the idea that simply giving to the CP is their way of helping out and spreading the Gospel which doesn’t include personally spreading the Gospel.

    Shouldn’t the local church being biblically educating and training her members how to share the Gospel “as they are going”? This would most likely produce more people with a heart for evangelism, which is the responsibility of all of us anyway, that could in turn produce missionaries sent right from the local church if God so allowed via resources. I’m just saying that the local church should have more responsibility in this area. We’re pretty much self sufficient with everything else, right? And why can’t local churches help other local churches if help is needed? I’m just thinking out loud here and don’t mean to say we should do away with the CP, but it certainly seems that it can be simplified.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to get off track.

    Thanks again,


  • J.M. Inman,

    Perhaps so. But if that is the case, I would hate to know what the stats were before that. I don’t want to sound harsh, but we are talking about the integrity of the church as well as the power of the gospel. If 50% of church members profess a faith where the gospel does not inspire them to attend church on Sundays, then what are we saying to ourselves and the world around us?


    I agree with where you are thinking. I wonder if it would be possible some of the CP money could go directly to the churches to help make it possible that pastors might not need to be bivocational and could give extra attention to the church. We have a lot of middle men in the SBC between the CP and the churches. Not to sound too pragmatic, but what made Wal-Mart so effectively in their “strategy” is that they got rid of the middle man, thus providing products at a lower price with a fraction of the cost of delivering the goods. In our case, we have a lot of state conventions, entities, executives, specialists, and what have you before the churches, missionaries, and church planters see a dime of the CP.

  • Jim Shaver

    When the creators of the Cooperative Program left the local Baptist Association out of the giving formula they set the stage for the demise of the association in Southern Baptist life.

    Look at enough local SBC church budgets and you get the picture. The average SBC Church is encouraged by SBC and State Staff to send 10% of its undesignated receipts to the CP. There is no such emphasis on local mission giving through an association.

    However many Southern Baptists are so frustrated with the redundancy at three denominational levels of SBC life that they are taking matters into their own hands and cutting CP giving in order to enhance local cooperative missions and ministry through their local association.

    With the right leadership and the right team structure in an association there is no more effective nor efficient way to do missions in these United States of America.

    What Timmy says is true not only of Indiana but many other “pioneer conventions”. We’ve spending millions for net losses instead of net gains!!!!

    Surely there has to be a better way.

  • I would rather have missionaries than messengers…easy decision for me. But I’m not SBC…

  • Timmy

    Thanks for this post. I do believe that in many cases this is an “elephant in the room” that must be discussed seriously. I have no doubt that there needs to be serious discussion in regards CP stewardship as well as how conventions and associations operate.

    I work for both an association as a church planting strategist (in Kansas City) and part-time for a state convention as a member of the church planting team in the “pioneer” state convention of Kansas-Nebraska. I will tell you from what I see in both places that money is spent very judiciously. Our major priority is to plant new churches and whatever funds we receive from NAMB are directed towards starting new works. BTW in both states together we have just over 400 SBC churches, so there is much work to do. Also I will say that our DOM is not a pastor to the pastors. If he was I would not have taken the position at the association. He is the former strategist therefore he is too is focused on starting new churches and helping churches become healthy. All this to say that not every place is as you describe.

    At the same time I believe we can and must do better. I was encouraged a few weeks ago when we had our state convention staff/missionary meetings when the state executive (who is a very good missiologist) had everyone read the book “Hitting the Bullseye.” While it isn’t a perfect book I believe it is a very good start for us to retool denominational life to be more effective and efficient.

    After that meeting I posted a very short piece on the book. Please keep bringing this topic to the forefront. Thanks!

  • If interested here is a link to that post on “Hitting the Bullseye.”

  • Thanks Brad for your input on this matter. I am hearing goods things from the Midwest, in particular from the St. Louis and Kansas City regions. I will check out the link.

  • Let me encourage you guys also to check out something Tom Ascol wrote a while back entitled the “cooperative program allocation.” You can read it here:

    Unbeknownst to me, Tom was saying the same thing I am saying now, only almost two year ago!

  • Timmy,
    Thanks for posting this information. I have been aware of this type of crazy information for a couple of years. I started learning about it in my Baptist Heritage class while studing the contemporary SBC. While I appreciate subsidising of my seminary tuituion here in Houston I personally think that the cooperative program has gone corrupt and membership of the SBC must call for it to be fixed. I have my own opinions about how it should work, but there would be some people without a job and that doesn’t go over well. Our church decided to withdraw from the SBTC here in Texas because of the use of our money to bash our convictions of the Doctrine of Grace. May we continue to hold these brothers accountable to the integrity we must promote.

    I won’t even begin to start to talk about the absent members from those churches….its just embarassing–Dirk

  • Dirk,

    You bring up a great point, something which I failed to mention. Three of our state conventions (MO, TX, and FL) have felt it incumbent upon themselves to pass out anti-Reformed messages to all their pastors. Now, whether this propaganda was financed through the Cooperative Program I know not, but what I do know is the fact that such tactics show just how politically damaging state conventions can become. Yes, we Southern Baptists believe in the autonomy of the local church, but we also don’t seem to mind to use our political muscle (and even financial muscle) to promote our own agendas. And to hold these states accountable as your church does causes them to dub you “uncooperative” since you are defunding the state. We must dance to their ditty.

    I know, I know. Southern Baptists don’t dance, at least not in church. πŸ˜‰

  • shamgar

    I knew abiout this in florida but hadn’t heard about it in TX. Do you have a source for more information on this?

  • Timmy,

    Interesting post. I have been studying the proposed ’08 budget for the Missouri Baptist convention, whose AM is coming up end of month. I have never really been quite as concerned with it as I should have been and decided to look closely at it this year. The proposed CP budget is 16.5 million. Of that, 36%, or 5.92 million will go to the SBC. Leaving slightly over 10 million to stay in Missouri. After we fund our remaining schools and entities, the E.B. keeps 6.86 million. I am working on getting a breakdown for this amount. But 42% of our CP dollars are being funneled to a group of guys in an aging skyscraper in down town Jefferson City to pay for an infrastructure that is aging and over departmentalized. Keep in mind that church planting is funded out of the Missouri Mission Offering with an 07 budget of 800,00.

    This may not seem out of the ordinary to your readership that might be more learned than I when it comes to such things. But I am looking back and seeing the percentages. I see them failing in priority. I see them paying for paper and staples salaries and not Scripture and souls and salvation.

    Is there a state convention that gets it right? Is there a church that gets it right? My church spends 55% of its budget on salaries. Add to that 10% CP and you have 35% left to “run the shop” and do local missions. As for state conventions, would a 50/50 split be a better? Is there a sufficient percentage to keep for “administrative costs?” Or should we continue down the current path that will someday lead to the Oral Roberts/Benny Hinn steps to institutional financial freedom?

    And the DOM position. Who in their right mind came up with that? My association is just another bureaucracy. Everyone talks about “planting church.” But more starts are failing than ever. Have stopped relying on the Lord? In fact, do we need to plant new church when we cannot fix the old ones?

    Boy did God mess up when he put us poor sinners in charge of such spiritual things. There really ought to be a class on how to do God’s work. πŸ™‚



  • Shamgar,

    I believe it was Don Cass, director of evangelism for the SBTC who passed out copies of a message by Paige Patterson and Roy Fish’s “The ‘C’ Word” sermon, which by the way, was also distributed in MO. The TX situation was briefly discussed here:

  • kmichael,

    If not a class, at least we need an explanation for why our CP money is being spent the way it is. I just don’t understand it, and when more Southern Baptists do the little research I did, I don’t think they will either.

    Yeah, I was struck by the parallel of individuals, families, churches, and state conventions by what percentage of money they spend on things. We are living in an age of financial prosperity but our families and churches are accumulating greater debt. If 75% of the average church budget is spent on salaries and budgets, and 75% of state convention budgets are spent within the state on other things, then it is no wonder why we are not as on mission as we should be.

    I would just encourage you to continue to do your homework on the matter, humbly ask questions, and seek for answers to these serious matters before us.

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  • Tim,

    Great breakdown. Thanks for making us aware of the situation. While there may need to be a few tweaks of the CP itself, there especially need to be some tweaks of how the CP is used.

    Bill Loller,

    In defense of DOMs: πŸ™‚ While I agree with you, some are getting paid way too much for nothing. However, my father is a DOM who gets paid too little for doing a lot. He is a DOM for a rural area. He has lead several mission trips around the world. These mission trip teams were made of of several different churches. My father works a lot with his churches. He’s close to SEBTS where I work, and he here about every week meeting with Pastors who attend school here. He does a lot more than I know I’m sure. He also does a lot of stuff for NAMB and for Lifeway. His major comment to me has always been, most DOMs don’t know, or don’t take the time to find out how the convention can help them do missions in their area.

    Now, I’m not disagreeing with your statements. I just wanted to point out what my Father is doing so that you may know that any CP money given there is being put to good use at least in rural NC.

    But, your point is made and agreed with. Just not in this case. πŸ™‚


  • Timmy,
    I don’ t know where else they would get the money, except the CP? Can they take private funds for a specific cause (I really don’t have a clue)? Even if they do, the salary of the people working there was partially funded by the churches on the day they did that work. Keep up work with all the info you are putting out!–Dirk

  • Thanks Dirk. From what I understand about the FL situation, it was financed independently of the FL state convention but was distributed through the state convention to boot. Tom Ascol would have the 411 on all that. Thanks for the encouragement, but I think I have upset enough people for now. πŸ˜‰

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