A Tale of Two Mission Boards
The boon in designated giving has been handled differently by the SBC’s two missions entities, which have benefited the most from this shift to designated giving.
IMB President David Platt announced Aug. 27 the overseas mission group had overspent what it had received by more than $210 million since 2010 – despite “the increased giving to the IMB over the last four years.”
He said the organization had intentionally drawn down contingency reserves and sold global properties in order to keep as many missionaries in the field as possible, but that this approach was unsustainable because reserve levels had been drawn down too low and there were fewer global properties that could be sold. Consequently, Platt announced the IMB would reduce missionaries and staff by 600-800 people, “in order to get to a healthy place financially at the IMB.”
NAMB, on the other hand, has been able to solidify its financial position, in part because of restructuring, but also apparently because of the surge in designated giving and, perhaps, the benefit of Cooperative Agreement monies recovered from the state conventions.
According to data published in the SBC Annual, since 2010 NAMB has seen a $33.7 million drop in post-retirement benefit liabilities: a $2.4 million drop in current liabilities; a $77.4 million growth in unrestricted assets; and, an $8.3 million growth in restricted assets.
Combined, this translates into a $121.8 million improvement in its finances since 2010. Moreover, by shifting assets, NAMB has been able to increase its investments by $135.5 million and purchase about $4.4 million more in property and equipment.
Signs of Hope or More of the Same?
Earlier this year, NAMB released information regarding the class of 2010 church plants that showed this group of 757 congregations had contributed $3.3 million to missions in 2013 (the latest ACP report available at the time) – amounting to about $4,539 given by each church plant.
Although the report shared that this was a year-to-year increase of 12 percent, no other descriptive data was offered about how this group of churches gave.
However, NAMB previously published research in the Church Survivability and Health Study 2007 showing church plants typically receive $70,000 in annual receipts.
If the class of 2010 averaged $70,000 in contributions annually, it would mean the average $4,539 they forwarded to support SBC missions and ministries amounted to an average 6.5 percent of what individuals gave to them.
Likewise, if all of the $4,539 was given through the Cooperative Program, it would mean the next generation of Southern Baptist churches is more committed to cooperative giving than more established SBC congregations, which in 2014 averaged giving 5.47 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.
But NAMB was explicit the $3.3 million figure included the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings, combined. Unfortunately, this aggregate figure effectively masks details about how these church plants specifically are giving toward SBC ministries.
The Baptist Message asked NAMB for a breakout of how much of the $3.3 million given to missions by the class of 2010 was given through the Cooperative Program compared to amounts contributed to the LMCO, the AAEO, and other Great Commission Giving efforts, information they used to compile the $3.3 million figure they have shared with the public on multiple occasions.
We also asked for the total undesignated receipts for this year group.
Together, this information would have shown whether church plants are on par, ahead of or behind other SBC congregations in how they support the SBC causes, specifically through the Cooperative Program.
Also, in order to see whether outside ties make a difference (such as connections with Acts 29), we asked about affiliations of these church plants with other denominations and church planting networks.
This information might have helped settle whether Southern Baptists’ concerns about Calvinist church plants are merited or not, at least with regard to support of the Cooperative Program.
Unfortunately, NAMB declined our request.
The point of this analysis is not to position the Cooperative Program against the special missions offerings for the IMB and NAMB, but to illustrate the duress of the cooperative system with which Southern Baptists have successfully funded state and worldwide missions and ministries for 90 years.
Fortunately, IMB and NAMB each have a special offering to offset lost support from the Cooperative Program.
But data shows even those funding streams are under extreme pressure, and, it is no stretch to suggest that as the Cooperative Program declines, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering will follow.
Moreover, the signs already point to the real possibility of such trouble.
For instance since 2000, total undesignated receipts for SBC churches have gone from $ 5.98 billion to $8.75 billion, rising 46.27 percent, although this revenue has declined in recent years. But the AAEO rose just 20.02 percent ($48.5 million to $58.1 million) and the LMCO went from $113.18 million to $153 million, a 35.19 percent increase.
In other words, both mission offerings trailed when income rose, and now SBC churches are in an era of overall financial decline.
The SBC is “in extremis,” which in a nautical context, requires drastic action in order to avoid the loss of the ship.
So, what do we do next?
Southern Baptists are robbing God.
Members of SBC churches have stepped up giving from an average of $1,438 to $1,541 from 2011 to 2014. But, in 2014, the median household income (half of households were above this number and half below it) in the United States was about $52,000 and the average household income (skewed by higher income bracket households) was $72,000.
Both metrics reveal Southern Baptists are not even approaching anything close to a tithe of their total income.
Southern Baptists teach tithing, but whatever we are doing is not connecting with our people, and we must urgently find an effective way to communicate the importance of tithing—not for funding SBC missions and ministries, but for obedience to God.
But, if Southern Baptists tithed, undesignated receipts would be more than 3 to 5 times what they were in 2014 ($29.5 billion to $40.9 billion, compared to the $8.75 billion that actually was contributed).
Likewise, congregations must do more to reach our country and the world outside of the local mission area. Nearly 89 percent of all receipts stayed within the walls of the church in 2014, an amount that has held steady since 2000. The world is growing but our outreach to it is not.
Finally, most importantly, we must once again be evangelistic – we have got to reach the lost.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 offers a very specific sequence to follow in obeying God’s command to reach “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth”: evangelize, baptize and teach.
It is apparent that too many of our congregations are content simply to teach those who already are among us and are neglecting evangelism among the lost.
In just four years, Southern Baptist congregations, combined, lost 520,980 weekly worshippers, or 8.4 percent of our active membership.
If we do not restore evangelism as a priority, we face extinction, not just a loss of cooperative funding!
In His letter to the church at Ephesus (the primary center of evangelistic effort in Christendom at the time), Jesus warned they faced losing their lampstand because they had lost focus.
Today, only archeologists and tourists visit that place.
The SBC must remember, repent and return to our first love as well, or we face a similar demise.