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.