April 23, 2014
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States budget more for Great Commission
Posted on Jan 23, 2014 | by Tammi Reed Ledbetter

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NASHVILLE (BP) -- Trending among Baptist state convention meetings this year was the decision to send more money to the mission field -- a challenge set forth by the Great Commission Task Force adopted by the SBC at its 2010 annual meeting in Orlando.

This year more than half of the cooperating state Baptist conventions increased the portion of undesignated Cooperative Program receipts from local churches sent to the Southern Baptist Convention. Those funds support the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, the convention's six seminaries, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and SBC operations by the Executive Committee.

The Dakota and Nevada conventions led the way by increasing the CP portion of their respective budgets by 4 percent. Both conventions made deep cuts to their budgets in recent years to deal with declining income. In both the Dakotas and Nevada, reorganizations took into consideration some of the priorities stemming from the Great Commission Task Force (GCTF, also known as the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force) recommendations.

SBC president

SBC President Fred Luter expressed support for the Cooperative Program in every state convention meeting he attended. State conventions need to be steadfast in their efforts to share with churches the importance of giving to the Cooperative Program, he told Baptist Press.

"Each state must talk about the benefits of giving," Luter said, citing church planting, strengthening existing churches and "supporting our missionaries to share the Gospel not only in America but all over the world."

While ministry beyond the state was the emphasis of the GCTF recommendations, Luter said local churches also should be mindful of the impact they can have on ministry within their states when they prioritize the CP within their budgets.

"In all the state conventions I had the honor of preaching at, there was an appeal given to the messengers about supporting CP giving," Luter said. "I thought each video or media presentation was well-received by the messengers."

Luter voiced confidence that Southern Baptists will continue to value the Cooperative Program as they see the vital role it plays in every level of ministry each year.

"I truly believe effective communication about how important CP giving is to our local, state and national convention ministry will eliminate any concern that messengers may have" about the viability of the Cooperative Program. Luter recommended churches consider the resources available from state conventions and the SBC to keep their members aware of the role of the Cooperative Program, and he suggested that they enlist people who have benefited from CP support to share their testimonies.

Luter also applauded the 1 Percent CP Challenge issued by SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page.

"The benefits of this challenge [are] truly rewarding" when each church and each state convention does its part, the two-term SBC president said.

50/50 split targeted

Following approval of the GCTF recommendations in 2010, state conventions began a movement toward greater efficiency in response to support for Great Commission-related funding priorities among messengers to their respective annual meetings, even amid a downturn in receipts from local churches. By fall 2010, messengers in Florida, Kentucky, Nevada and Tennessee called for moving their state convention budgets toward a 50/50 distribution of CP funds so that ministry resources could be increased worldwide.

Kentucky made quick work of getting further down the road toward a 50/50 allocation, moving from 61.9 percent to state causes and 38.1 percent to SBC causes in 2011 to 55 percent/45 percent in 2013. This year 53.5 percent of undesignated CP gifts from churches will remain in state while 46.5 advances to SBC causes.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which began with a 50/50 distribution when it was founded in 1998, currently forwards 55 percent to the SBC while retaining 45 percent for in-state missions and ministry.

Rounding out the top five in order of greatest portion sent beyond the state's borders are the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (54 percent to state causes/46 percent to SBC causes), Alabama (56.7 percent to state causes/43.3 percent to SBC causes) and Maryland-Delaware (56.96 percent to state causes/43.05 percent to SBC causes).

Shared ministry expenses

Fewer states are utilizing the practice of "shared ministry" allocations for items they deem dually beneficial to the state and national convention before dividing the net between in-state and SBC use. In 2014, 16 state conventions will utilize this practice: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland-Delaware, Michigan, Missouri, New England, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and Wyoming.

Items identified as shared ministry expenses vary from state to state but often include Cooperative Program promotion; mission efforts previously funded or jointly funded by NAMB; retirement benefits provided for pastors and church staff members through GuideStone Financial Resources; and the expense of the state Baptist paper. A few conventions also include various personnel, property and technology expenses.

Some state conventions, in backing away from shared items, either reduced that percentage or ended the practice completely. This year, Georgia Baptists adopted a "straight allocation budget." While previously categorizing nearly 20 percent of the $41.8 million budget as "shared ministry" items, the new model allocates 40 percent of CP gifts from Georgia churches to SBC missions and ministries, retains 48.97 percent for Georgia Baptist Convention ministries, and dedicates 11.03 percent for "Mission Extension Ministries" to fund various GBC institutions, including the three Baptist-affiliated colleges.

New Mexico Baptists reduced the portion in the shared ministry category, while at the same time increasing their budget and the portion going to SBC causes. Kansas-Nebraska eliminated the shared ministry category and set their CP distribution at 77/23.

Kentucky reduced the portion dedicated to shared items from 10 to 7 percent and increased the SBC portion of CP funds from 45 to 46.5 percent. Budget changes in New England, Northwest, Ohio and Wyoming prompted slight increases in the items classified as shared ministry while Alabama Baptists increased the category from 1.64 to 10 percent.

Budget goals

Seventeen of the state Baptist conventions that participate in the SBC's Cooperative Program approved increases for their 2014 budgets, continuing a rebound first noted last year across much of the SBC.

State conventions reporting budget increases are California, Colorado, Dakota, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New England, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania/South Jersey, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Baptist General Association of Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Flat budgets were approved in Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas/Nebraska, Kentucky, Maryland/Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.

Conventions reducing their budgets were Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota/Wisconsin, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Northwest, Tennessee and the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Utah-Idaho.

In 2013, Alaska Baptists led the SBC in making the most extensive cut to a budget with a 19 percent reduction, while at the same time beginning to classify 12.36 of the budget as shared ministry. While continuing to identify shared ministry items, Alaska messengers in 2014 were able to increase the portion allocated to SBC causes from 31.55 to 31.94 percent and increased their budget 13 percent over the previous year.

Nevada Baptists cut their budget by 8 percent in 2013 while increasing the SBC portion of CP receipts by one-half of 1 percent. In 2014 they will boost the CP portion from 31 to 35 percent and increase their budget, reflecting a surge in giving and reprioritization of church planting.

At least two state conventions -- the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Association of Virginia -- allow or encourage churches to customize what they label Cooperative Program giving, continuing practices established more than a decade ago.

Baptist General Association of Virginia has three pre-set giving tracks, and one that a church can customize to fund SBC causes or those of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The portion allocated for shared ministries with SBC equals 5 percent of total BGAV contributions to NAMB.

Baptist General Convention of Texas splits undesignated receipts from affiliated churches by retaining 79 percent for in-state use and sending 21 percent to out-of-state causes as specified by the church. Giving in 2014 from affiliated churches is forecast by BGCT to be $48.95 million and is set to provide $11.3 million to the Southern Baptist Convention, $1 million to Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and $1.8 million for the worldwide portion of what BGCT labels the Texas Baptist Cooperative Program.

BGCT also allows churches to customize the split between in-state and out-of-state allocations so that it matches a church's preference, as opposed to the preferred budget approved by messengers to the state convention meeting.

According to the SBC Executive Committee, contributions from each state convention amounted to $10,980,427 from BGCT and $1,395,463 from BGAV for the previous fiscal year ending in September.

States reporting increases in the portion of CP allocated to SBC causes include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Dakotas, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota/Wisconsin, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New England, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Penn/Jersey, Tennessee, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

In anticipating CP income for SBC causes, the Executive Committee staff attempts to make projections based on the distribution approved by messengers in each state, but recognizes that the actual dollar amount fluctuates. How well cooperating churches in each state convention are able to fund their respective budgets and whether more churches adopt the 1 Percent CP Challenge to increase the portion they send to the state by a percentage point will become factors in actual CP receipts received for SBC missions and ministries.

The trend in giving priorities is hopeful, said Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee president.

"Over a period of years, I have witnessed changing ministry paradigms in many of our cooperating state conventions," Page said. "Our state partners are responding to the desires of their churches to be more focused than ever on serving the needs of their churches while making sure that more resources go to reach the world for Christ. They have shown a keen willingness to do more with less. We value our state partners and thank God for the work they are doing to touch not only their states, but the world, with the Gospel."

Budget surplus goals

Ten state conventions adopted the practice of dividing any budget surplus equally between the state convention and the SBC: Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas/Nebraska, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, New York and Utah/Idaho, according to reports provided to Baptist Press. California went even further to specify that all of any surplus will be sent to SBC causes.

Aside from budget proposals, several state conventions addressed changes in messenger requirements. A portion of those changes included consideration of churches' track records in CP giving. Messengers in six states -- Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, South Carolina and West Virginia -- addressed the definition of a cooperating church.

Analysis of financial data is based on information supplied by Baptist Press and state convention reports with projections for 2014 calculated or in some cases estimated by SBC Executive Committee staff.
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Tammi Reed Ledbetter is managing editor of the print edition of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
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