Evaluating Missions Support Tricky

May 11, 2016

Dr. Rick Patrick | Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL

Twenty years ago, evaluating a Southern Baptist Church’s support for missions at the associational, state, national and international level was fairly simple—report the percentage of undesignated receipts forwarded by the church through the Cooperative Program and through their local association and you would have a pretty good idea if they were cooperating.

Today, churches that are primarily on the “CP Plan” can still be evaluated in just such a fashion. However, churches on the “GCG (Great Commission Giving) Plan” require further exploration and analysis. It may not be that we can really compare these two approaches any longer on the same scale since this is truly an apples to oranges comparison. This essay will look at various factors to explain this reality.

Multi-site Churches

Let me begin by saying that I include myself among those who feel that multi-site churches are not biblical and that each site should actually be reported as a separate church rather than lumped together. In essence, I believe these organizations are actually structured like mini-denominations featuring a type of connectional polity foreign to the Baptist tradition.

Having said that, these little denominations called churches have become popular. Our present accounting approach is to add all of the individual campuses together and list them as if they were only one church. This approach provides a scope and scale of achievement that is impressive but in some cases a bit misleading. Sometimes, for example, the multi-site campus network swallows up pastorless churches, bringing them into the fold through a merger and growing overnight.

In our association, if I were to partner with our ten largest churches to become a multi-site “church” we could easily multiply our giving records, baptisms, membership and attendance, creating the impression of genuine growth when in fact we were really just merging with other existing bodies.

At that point, I would argue, it would no longer be fair to compare our baptisms, for example, with the baptisms of other churches, because we would have lost the one-to-one aspect of the comparison. Perhaps we could more properly describe this approach as the comparison of one apple with ten apples. If one were to count, for example, the number of missionaries appointed from one’s church and compare it with the number appointed at other churches, it would make sense first to divide that total up by each individual campus.

Redirected Giving Channels

Under the Great Commission Giving Plan, some churches choose to give few dollars through their local association, few dollars through their state convention, and few dollars through the Cooperative Program, Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon. At first, that doesn’t sound cooperative, but it would be inaccurate to say that these churches are not at all cooperating in reaching the nations. They just go about it in a very different manner—so different that any comparisons are once again rendered confusing if not utterly meaningless.

Let us suppose, for example, that a ten-campus church with a multi-million dollar budget decided to give next to nothing through their local association, their state, the Cooperative Program, Lottie and Annie—minimal amounts around 1%.

Let us further suppose that this church redirects the millions of dollars saved through this approach so as to finance a very substantial gift at one of our seminaries to create a church planting school. Suppose they also give massive dollars directly through NAMB and IMB, creating connections and building relationships within the denomination that can be helpful when candidates from one’s church apply for the church planting school or the church planting program through NAMB or missionary appointments through IMB.

Preferential Treatment Not An Accomplishment

Does it stand to reason that a church that gives big bucks directly to various organizations might be on the receiving end of some preferential treatment when it comes to appointment decisions? In other walks of life, large financial contributions by organizations tend to purchase strong levels of influence.

Within the past year, I received a phone call from a Calvinist who felt marginalized in today’s SBC appointment process. At first I was incredulous, as it seemed to me that Calvinist church planters at home and missionaries abroad were being appointed at numbers far exceeding their representation in our Southern Baptist Churches. Then this brother explained to me that while his theology was Calvinistic, he was not the kind of movement Calvinist with ties to any highly connected or popular church planting and missionary launching pads. He seemed to imply that candidates coming from some of our Southern Baptist Churches might have an easier time gaining their appointments than candidates from others.

Comparing Candidate Acceptance Rates 

When a Southern Baptist Church boasts of the number of missionaries they send to the field, it raises a few red flags. First, I don’t ever really remember any church using this as a missions support metric before. Second, if one believes these appointments are divinely led, then God should receive all the glory for those who are called, and it just seems weird to share some of that glory with a local church. Third, if the candidates from that local church have been accepted by the mission boards at rates higher than the average rate of acceptance for candidates from other Southern Baptist Churches, then I want to explore that fact. Are the candidates from this church superior to those from other churches? I find that doubtful, believing that terrific candidates can be found from a variety of churches all over the convention. Is it possible that the superiority was not found in the candidates but in the connections—connections purchased by the combined spending power of several different campuses pooling their resources and cutting out associations and state conventions in order to finance large and direct donations? This notion was clearly the hypothesis of my poorly connected Calvinist friend.

Conclusion

I certainly appreciate those serving on the mission field, both in Southern Baptist life and in other denominations. I am glad our churches are sending out missionaries. Every single time it happens, it is worthy of celebration. This essay does not call into question the desire of our churches to reach the nations. Further, I celebrate all missionary approaches within our denomination, even if these approaches do not fall into the category of my preferred CP Plan approach.

However, until we can get more information from our mission boards enabling us to compare the acceptance rate of each individual church with the acceptance rate for all churches, we cannot rule out the existence of the kind of appointment bias alleged by my poorly connected Calvinist friend. I believe it would be a mistake to credit a church with some type of missionary achievement when it may simply be on the receiving end of preferential treatment due to a stewardship tactic of replacing the CP Plan with the GCG Plan and pouring millions into a relatively new missions giving channel.

When Southern Baptists had only one plan—the Cooperative Program—and only one type of church—single site—it was much easier to evaluate the missions support achievements of each congregation. Now that other plans are being utilized by structures that may actually resemble mini-denominations, we must revise our evaluation processes to compensate for these changes. Since missions support has become more complicated than ever, it stands to reason that the missions support evaluation process has become trickier as well.

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Will

Personally brother, I think you are pretty off base here and have used a number of false cause fallacies to reach the conclusions you have. There are certainly reasons why some churches would have higher acceptance rates than others. One, all flocks are not pastored with the same level of doctrinal integrity. The IMB and NAMB have high theological thresholds that its candidates must pass in order to be accepted. Inevitably, people that have been pastored well theologically (i.e. taught beliefs congruent with the BF&M) will get through at a higher rate. Two, the areas of the world in which churches focus their efforts will affect how many people get accepted to work with the IMB. Churches focusing specifically on the 10/40 window will get more of its congregants sent through the IMB than those focusing on South America, Europe, ect. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being involved in places like Brazil or Mexico. However, with limited financial constraints the IMB (wisely, I think) are focusing on areas of the world with the greatest amount of lostness. Churches willing to send people to these difficult areas will inevitably send more people.

Honestly though, why don’t you directly name JD Greear and Summit Church here? Everyone reading knows who is being talked about. If you have an issue with him or the church, why not deal with it directly? I still think you’re off track, but if you want to discuss the issues, lets discuss the issues openly. For Summit specifically, it benefits form its close proximity to SEBTS (20-30 miles if my memory serves me correct). The IMB is prioritizing candidates with theological education, and those at Greear’s church have ready access to it. I don’t know Greear and I used to be more familiar with his church than I am now, but if my understanding is correct, they work almost exclusively in the 10/40 window. Again, as mentioned above, greater access to theological education and a deliberate targeting of the 10/40 window will inevitably lead to higher acceptance rates by the IMB.

    Rick Patrick

    Will,

    Thanks for interacting here. My thesis is that we cannot really compare our CP Giving Plan churches with our GCG Giving Plan churches because their differing approaches will render such direct comparisons as skewed. Perhaps that is off base, but I think both the multi-site versus single-site differences, along with the giving channel differences, make it hard to compare a GCG mini-denomination with a CP neighborhood church.

    Presently, I cannot analyze or quantify the difference in acceptance rates, so I don’t even know if one exists. If some churches are experiencing higher acceptance rates, then my hypothesis of connections is worth considering, but so are some of your hypotheses as well. I find your “doctrinal integrity and theological superiority” argument to be spurious, elitist, arrogant and condescending. Much better is your theory about our geographical appointment strategy, although I have separately argued that I think we have gone too far in promoting the frontier mandate at the expense of the harvest mandate, so while this may explain matters in part, I don’t believe it should.

    In my article, I chose not to mention any churches directly. There are quite a few multi-site churches with special connections to some of our mission boards and seminaries, having developed partnerships that I believe create competition with our usual Cooperative Program channels. Perhaps I should have named names. But the church you identified is not the only “megachurch to seminary to appointment” channel one finds in SBC life. I could name others. The point of the article was not to name names, but to question the wisdom of evaluating one method’s support levels by using another method’s evaluation metric.

Lydia

“The IMB and NAMB have high theological thresholds that its candidates must pass in order to be accepted. ”

So not participating in the CP before appointed as president of the IMB is a high threshold? But that does not matter because he has correct Neo Cal Doctrine which is BFM approved, right? Never mind common sense.

Critical thinking skills are not needed in the world of Neo Cal indoctrination.

William Thornton

Hey, Rick finds a Calvinist that he likes. Coincidentally, the anonymous brother is a critic of IMB. “Preferential treatment” he declaims. This is pretty thin gruel, Rick, and I can’t believe that you would take this on face value. You declared that you are not lazy, so I presume you trained your digits to email Platt and Greear and ask about preferential treatment? What did they say?

You can do much better than this, Rick.

    Rick Patrick

    For the umpteenth time, William, I get nothing, NOTHING of substance every time I contact one of our entities—a referral to a mid-level communications officer who responds with a form letter saying absolutely nothing in a very polite tone. I think they call it the “run around.”

    If you think it’s so easy, YOU show me how it’s done. Maybe they will talk to you. Find the acceptance rate for The Summit in North Carolina or Lakeview in Alabama or Cross Church in Arkansas—any of the megaconnected churches with seminary extensions or ties and massive numbers of appointees—and compare their acceptance rates with those from the convention at large. I would be happy to publish the information if they will only provide it, but I have no access to IMB acceptance rate data, and no confidence that anyone there will provide it.

      Scott Shaver

      Of course they’ll talk to William….sure he’s had lunch/coffee/personal interaction with several of em.

    Lydia

    “You declared that you are not lazy, so I presume you trained your digits to email Platt and Greear and ask about preferential treatment? What did they say?”

    What would you expect them to say? “Oh yes, we have a system in place that gives preferential treatment”.

    Why don’t we just call Hillary and ask her if she thinks her email system was a potential national security breach? Or better yet, we could call Mark Driscoll and ask him if he is guilty of the RICO charges. If he says no Then we should automatically believe that, right?

    You come here a lot with this sort of silliness. As if the if only the important big cheeses, who have a certain pattern of behavior over many years, are the only ones to be believed because of a title or position. It is the people with power you have to watch the closest.

    So, I wonder William if you think CJ Mahaney gets preferential treatment from any of the SBC big cheeses? Is systemic preferential treatment something that has been totally foreign to this Neo Cal movement over the last 10 years? Only the wilfully blind would agree to that.

    Rick Patrick must be marginalized by you and the Pravda boys, eh?

Scott Shaver

William Thornton…..you little crybaby.

Back with your patented “Rick, you can do much better than this.” Is there any possibility that Thornton can do any better than this? I doubt it.

Spoken like a true Shill…..Will. I have a couple of digits “trained” for you.

    Mary

    Scott, Thornton is a troll who’s been trolling for years. He plays one note “Why don’t you ask NAMB, IMB, ERLC etc…..” and the answer to that question is always the same “I did ask them and they refuse to answer” Now of course Thornton himself has NEVER gone to the agencies with the questions being asked and gotten answers so he can then come back and post “AHA I’ve got the answer and you are wrong” because the agencies don’t give answers to questions that may make them look bad. Thornton is perfectly ok with agencies refusing to answer questions from pew sitters.

Greg Roberts

To me it seems to be 2 different mission strategies and that makes it hard to compare. The problem i have is the call for CP dollars from leadership who in the past have not supported the CP with their dollars.,

    Scott Shaver

    Probably because pre-sbc notoriety, they weren’t recipients nor held favored status in the division of spoils.

    What it looks like on the face Greg, is very often the case.

norm

“The IMB and NAMB have high theological thresholds that its candidates must pass in order to be accepted.”

Can you quanitfy this, Will?
Is the threshold higher now than it was before the Calvinist insurgence?
“High” is both a relative term and a matter of perspective. If the threshold has moved to include the espousal of Calvin’s tripe, then I would not consider that move as one in the upward direction. Nope, not at all.

    Lydia

    “Can you quanitfy this, Will?
    Is the threshold higher now than it was before the Calvinist insurgence?”

    I snorted my Earl Grey when I read that. I am seriously starting to view that movement as a thought reform cult. They have brought in so many cultic type leaders.

    Would that high threshold include the missionary pedophile embraced at Chandlers Village church whose young wife was told she needed Elder permission to divorce and then put under church discipline when she refused to cooperate until it went public and viral? Are those the thresholds we are discussing? Because that threshold came from their “correct Doctrine” in practice

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