La. exec assesses GCRTF final report
The GCRTF report, titled "Penetrating the Lostness," encompasses a passionate plea for Southern Baptists to take a fresh look at the lostness of the world. The report asks the question, "What's Holding Us Back?" Baptisms are down. Giving has fallen to the extent that the average Southern Baptists only gives 2.5 percent of annual income to the local church. To further exacerbate the problem, SBC churches are giving an average of 6 percent of annual receipts through the Cooperative Program, down from an average of 10 percent just a few decades ago. In recent years, state conventions have adopted strategies to move more dollars to SBC causes but those incremental increases are linked to the increased giving from the churches.
While all this is happening, the lostness in the world and North America continues to abound, so the GCRTF issued recommendations that call for a realignment of Southern Baptist Convention priorities based on the truth of the Gospel and the centrality of the local church.
Hankins began his remarks by stating appreciation to the GCRTF members who listened to his concerns and those of his counterparts and incorporated the concerns into the modifications to the report. He further noted that the final report is phrased in such a way that it is amenable to the rules of the convention. If the recommendation has to do with a specific SBC entity, a request is made to the entity's trustees to address the specifics of the recommendation. "This is how we do our work," Hankins said. "We select trustees to oversee the governance of our entities. The convention requests that appropriate action be taken. If adopted, it becomes the work of the particular entity or entities to study and give the best response to the convention."
As to the GCRTF's first recommendation for a mission statement, Hankins stated that the articulation the task force used is a good statement and worthy of consideration.
The second recommendation is a list of core values for Southern Baptists to consider. "We can say 'yes' to these things. They describe the people of God on mission with God," Hankins said.
The third recommendation creates a new term, "Great Commission Giving," defined as Cooperative Program giving and any other giving a church makes to a convention entity (SBC entity, state convention and/or local association). "Some say this will replace the 'total mission giving' on the church's Annual Church Profile [ACP]. Churches have always had the freedom to do mission giving to any ministry they choose to fund," Hankins said. "However, a key component of Cooperative Program giving is that it is allocated by the state convention and the SBC and not just one church.
"When the preliminary report was released in February, we explained that this term could harm the CP and encourage people to opt for a self-directed giving pattern," Hankins said. "This new and final report spends a great deal of time and information on supporting the centrality of the Cooperative Program as our preferred method. 'Preferred' implies there is something our churches do not prefer, namely self-directed, allocation for our state conventions and the SBC entities.
"Some struggle with using the term 'Great Commission Giving,'" Hankins continued. "Some still wonder whether this will have the unintended consequence of diminishing CP giving and give greater credence to designated giving. It will be disappointing if we put a conflict between the Cooperative Program and other SBC designated giving. We don't need to send a mixed signal. The preferred method is Cooperative Program."
The fourth recommendation "received the most attention" from "most of my colleagues in state convention mission work," Hankins said. "Each state convention currently has a cooperative agreement with the North American Mission Board. While the percentages vary, Louisiana has a 50/50 partnership with NAMB. In some newer work states the partnership is 90/10. In the 2010 LBC [Louisiana convention] budget, that amount comes to $825,000 from NAMB. It is matched by Cooperative Program and Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering funds. With those funds, we do things like church planting, ministry evangelism, resort ministries, language missions, evangelism training and initiatives."
In its February progress report, the GCRTF called for the cooperative agreements to cease in four years. The final report now suggests a seven-year period. "The net effect is that Louisiana Baptists will need to find $825,000 to underwrite the ministries we are currently funding or we will have to stop doing them," Hankins reported. "We have several options. If we are serious about reaching the lostness of the world, our best strategy is to encourage our churches to increase Cooperative Program and Georgia Barnette State Missions giving.
"Failing that, another way to find resources is reallocation from LBC entities [Louisiana Baptist Homes for Children and Families, Louisiana College, the Baptist Message newspaper and the Louisiana Baptist Foundation] or the SBC. However, that would make it more difficult for them.
"I specifically asked that the GCRTF give us more time and we would try to replace the funds through growing our resources without diminishing support for existing endeavors."
Hankins noted that the newer work states have a larger struggle. If not for some kind of funding mechanism from NAMB, some conventions in the north and west would not have any staff to do their work. In the GCRTF final report, and verified during a May 4 conference call, the task force believes new work states will receive significant assistance to do their work through the NAMB.
"I believe our state mission services staff does its work effectively and efficiently," Hankins said. "Our state mission strategists are fully engaged in reaching the lost and strengthening the churches. In this new paradigm, we will be partners with NAMB but we won't have cooperative funding agreements anymore. We will take care of Louisiana with Louisiana-generated resources and they can invest NAMB funds in an area determined more needful," Hankins said.
"This report gives me hope," Hankins added. "The negative inferences regarding state conventions have been removed. This report affirms the work of the state conventions and the partnership with NAMB."
The fifth recommendation is a request to give the International Mission Board non-geographic parameters for carrying out its work. "The IMB and the NAMB must determine how this will work or it will create misunderstandings and duplication of our work," Hankins said. "The upside is that it would allow IMB presence on the ground with a people group living in the United States. The downside is the potential for overlap and confusion between the mission boards."
The sixth recommendation involves a unified strategy for Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education. "Several of our state conventions have been diligently collaborating with the SBC Executive Committee for the last few years to enhance these areas," Hankins said. "The report simply encourages further partnership with the state conventions and the SBC Executive Committee."
Hankins commented, "When I began pastoring churches nearly 40 years ago, my duty was in four areas: 1) grow the Sunday School; 2) lead people to Christ and baptize them; 3)keep the budget going in the right direction and 4)promote the Cooperative Program." Hankins noted, "That fourth pastoral aim has fallen on hard times and our work has been hurt because of it. We've dropped from 10 percent to 6 percent in Cooperative Program giving [in the average percentage given by churches through CP]. We need to join with others and encourage others to work together to reverse this trend."
Regarding the seventh recommendation, Hankins stated, "I desire to see more of our funds allocated toward reaching the world for Christ. The seventh recommendation, to raise the IMB CP allocation to 51 percent, is a symbolic step in the right direction. However, I do believe we ought to leave it to the normal processes to determine how and when we change this. To arbitrarily remove one third of the Executive Committee's budget demands some careful research and study."
Hankins said he was concerned in February when the GCRTF progress report was released that it could cause division. "Now, this modified report can allow all of us to rally around addressing lostness, to talk about the value of CP giving and to pursue a renewed interest in working together to fulfill the Great Commission for the glory of God."
The GCRTF report will be formally presented on Tuesday afternoon, June 15, during the SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. For the full final report and recommendations, go to www.Pray4GCR.com.
John Yeats is director of communication for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.