One notable, relevant thing about Fred Luter (by William Thornton)

The SBC Plodder is back with his insights into all things SBC.  We always welcome and appreciate his thoughts.  Thank you, William!

Fred Luter (image from BP) is expected to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in just a few weeks in New Orleans. If I am there (and it’s not looking like I will be) I would be unhesitant in casting my vote in his favor. His election will be notable because he will be the first black president of the SBC.

That’s good.

But there is something more notable about Fred Luter that is acutely relevant to the SBC. He is a megachurch pastor and would be the latest in a long string of megapastor elected president of our convention. But he is a megachurch pastor whose church gives an above average percentage to the Cooperative Program. 

This is unusual as these things go.

Fred Luter’s church gives about six percent, not a large percentage but quite healthy for a megachurch. His six percent is more than given by our current president, Bryant Wright, whose megachurch is in the 4% range. Previous megachurch pastors who were SBC presidents, Johnny Hunt, Jack Graham, and James Merritt were in the 2% range (although Hunt notably increased his church’s CP giving in recent years).

Fred Luter will be the first megachurch SBC president whose CP giving is above the SBC average since Jim Henry back in the mid-1990s.

That is notable.

For all the laments about the decline of the Cooperative Program (we have gone from an average above 10% a generation ago to under 6%) when messengers meet in our annual session they rarely find a megachurch pastor that they are unwilling to elect as president, regardless of the low giving to the Cooperative Program.

Wright was easily elected in 2010 even though alternative candidates far surpassed him in their church’s CP giving. That is the usual scenario. I can think of only one megachurch pastor, Ronnie Floyd, whose CP giving was so low (around 0.3%) that it cost him the election (he has since raised it to around 5% last time I checked).

If Southern Baptists are genuinely concerned about falling Cooperative Program giving, one of the ways we ought to express our concern is to consider unelectable any candidate for major denominational office whose church gives less than a threshold percentage. Five percent is a good number, though I made an exception for Bryant Wright who was a little under that.

One of the more ridiculous things regularly heard about the SBC is all the  complaining about megachurches having undue influence, when we regularly elect them to the top SBC office in spite of their low CP giving.

I hope that Fred Luter’s election establishes a precedent in ways other than related to his race. Such would be good for us all.


  1. says

    I applaud Dr. Leuter for demonstrating what all who study African American Christianity and History know, namely, that African American Believers are often strong models of what they believe. Of course, there are those as there are among the Whties who do fall short. However, generally speaking, it has been my lot to find that there some tremendous Christians among African American Believers. Due to that as well as a vast amount of reading that I have done in the area of African American Studies, I am preparing a sermon on the subject, The Ethiopian Proof, texts. Zeph.2:12 & Ps.68:31b, which I hope to cast in terms of a scientific experiment which can be replicated by anyone wishing to test the validity of the hypothesis. Your prayers are requested to that end.

  2. says

    I am in favor of Fred Luter, but it’s not because he’s a mega church pastor. I am over this whole mega church fascination myself.

  3. Dwight McKissic says

    Dave and William,

    This a great post. I appreciate the focus on Pastor Luter’s credentials, as opposed to his color.


  4. Frank says

    So, we are excited about 6%. That is setting a “trend.”

    Sounds like the oil companies raising gas prices $1 per gallon so when they lower $0.25 we feel they are being generous.

    So, our standard should be the poor performance of those preceding Luter? Should all SBC churches follow this “new trend” and seek a threshold of 6%?

    These are “credentials?”

    I’m just not “feeling the love” in regard to the CP thing. I think we are headed for disaster if we push this “credential.” I know that my church (which is not a strong CP participant) gives much more than that.

    If I am missing something I’d gladly take redirection. No need to convince me that Luter isn’t a great man and good choice for president. I’m on board with that. I just don’t think we should give “passes” for bad behavior, regardless of other credentials.

    • Smuschany says

      I know it is off topic, but since you brought it up…FYI Oil companies dont set the price of oil. Further, oil companies make less on a gallon of gasoline than most state governments, and defiantly the federal government.

    • William Thornton says

      It is not a trend, Frank, but every state convention executive and SBC entity executive would love for it to be a trend because it would mean that church giving percentages to the CP would go UP instead of DOWN for the first time in over three decades.

      I have no idea what you are talking about in regard to bad behavior. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my article.

  5. Bruce H. says

    When choosing a candidate, it would be a difficult measure of their character when a “list” of things of their own doing has to be in place. Agreed, they must support endeavors of the SBC, or at least the church body should want to. In some cases the pastor can only recommend and the church may decide not to increase giving based on how they view the CP. Leadership is based upon the influence of example, not a CEO influence. I would hope that those who choose the candidates would do so based upon the Spirit’s leading no matter how much they give to the CP or any other part of the SBC. The CP is great, but every great organization can use some trimming in order to utilize God’s money wisely.

    “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7

    • William Thornton says

      I’m focusing on megachurch CP giving here because the complaint has always been that they are poor givers, proportionately and relatively, to the CP, and yet the SBC continually elects their pastors as president. Luter would be different in this regard than most of his megachurch pastor predecessors. That is significant.

      Many pastors may have limited influence or control of their church’s CP giving but I don’t think you can make an argument that pastors of megachurches lack such influence and control. They call the shots.

  6. Ron Hale says

    Fred Luter will make a great President of the SBC. He has preached in many state evangelism conferences, Bible conferences, and revivals across the convention. He is well loved! I hope he receives 100 percent voting.

    For the stat record, are you forgetting about the 12.4 on CP for Frank Page as he was elected?


  7. William Thornton says

    I believe you are right, Ron. Although his former church isn’t listed as a megachurch now, I checked and attendance when he was elected prez was claimed to be above the megachurch threshold. I was thinking that his church was a large but not mega church. I wuz wrong.

  8. Eric Myers says

    6, 5, 4, 2, % shows just how much churches believe in the cooperative program. Our tiny average sized church gives 20.5% to the cooperative program because they believe in it. Churches can say they believe in and support the cooperative program…but what the churches give reflects what they truly believe in. Just sayin’.

    • William Thornton says

      The problem, Eric, is that a megachurch that gives 6% gives dollars that pay far more bills than your (or whomever’s) church’s much larger percentage pays.

      One approach to increasing CP giving that will not work (t’s been tried for the past several decades) is shaming lower percentage giving churches. This is particularly ineffective, probably counterproductive, on megachurches.

      The simple truth here is that Southern Baptists don’t agree with you and have shown that repeatedly over the last couple of generations.

      • Bill Mac says

        I think if we looked closely, another factor in the fact that small churches tend to give more, percentage wise, than mega-churches is the simple fact that it is easy to write a check and stick it in the mail. Small churches simply don’t have the resources to plan and distribute their missions giving widely. Mega-churches do.

  9. W. Perkins says

    “The problem, Eric, is that a megachurch that gives 6% gives dollars that pay far more bills than your (or whomever’s) church’s much larger percentage pays.”

    SO WHAT?