Most Cooperative Program money, well over half of it, goes to fund state conventions and their mix of ministry causes and activities. Almost all of the state convention share of CP dollars, 90% or more last time I checked it, stays in sixteen Southern states from Missouri, down to Texas, then east through the gulf states, Florida, and up the east coast to Virginia.
With several hundred million dollars to spend, are these states baptizing more people, gaining more members, and increasing the number of their churches?
The simple answer is, “no.”
Measurable statistics are declining across the board. I’m not the only Southern Baptist to think that maybe we should start thinking about putting our resources in ministries that result in baptisms and churches. My new state convention leader made the pointed statement that “activity is not accomplishment” and I like that way of thinking. Not enough time has passed to see if his leadership has impacted accomplishment.
Here are some things shown by the latest Annual Church Report:
Total number of churches: The number of SBC churches showed a tiny decrease overall, down 88 from the previous year. Among the Big Sixteen state conventions only Arkansas (14), BGCT (118), SBTC (30), South Carolina (8), and SBCV (41) showed any increase in numbers of churches. North Carolina (-41), Mississippi and Kentucky (both -26) showed the most loss of churches.
My state, Georgia, is one of the largest and richest state conventions. It is home to the North American Mission Board and our state has experienced considerable growth, particularly in the Atlanta metro area. We have a large state denominational presence, three colleges, 90 associations, a geographical network of state convention area representatives, and many dozens of associational mission strategists. There are 3,378 churches which received over $1.2 billion. All that yielded a net loss of one church.
Total Baptisms: We’re still in a long, slow slide downward with baptisms. The report showed a decrease of 7,680 from 2017, about a 3 percent decrease. My state was down a staggering 2,606 from the previous year (almost 13 percent), the largest numerical decrease of all the states. How about requiring all state convention staff, consultants, campus ministers to share their faith on a regular basis and report it weekly? How about campus ministers being evaluated for their evangelistic efforts and results? We are interested in “accomplishment” not merely “activity.” Or, are we?
How can a major state convention where our oldest and largest seminary is located show a decrease in baptisms? Kentucky dropped 1,347 from the previous year.
State conventions, almost all of them showing declining statistics, may argue that they are pressured to send more of their Cooperative Program receipts to Nashville and, if not for that, might be able to to more at home.
I’m not buying that. While the percentage that the states keep varies from state-to-state, on average it is still around 60 percent, with only 40 percent of CP dollars going to the mission boards, seminaries, and other SBC causes. I would favor the new state executive who says, “Vote to let us increase our part of the CP from 60 to 75% and I will commit to either increasing the net number of churches in the state by 1,000 within five years…or I’ll resign.” Not gonna happen. We’d rather have non-measurable goals with no one responsible to achieving them.
But, sure, I understand the general trends in our society. I understand that our families have less children. I understand that we are a ‘mature’ convention and that the halcyon days of growth are a couple of generations behind us.
But surely there are some denominational leaders who will do more than deplore the status quo of slowly declining numbers. How about letting legacy ministries, the ones who have always been on the denominational dole and for whom existence apart from that is unthinkable, either make it on their own or fail. NAMB would fund personnel for decades in places where no church growth was being shown, then they decided that it would be good to show growth rather than just have a presence. If we put hundreds of millions of dollars in ‘home missions’ then we ought to at least be able to show that we’re doing something positive with the money and that something should be measurable.
Or, we can talk the good talk, employ the latest buzzwords, indirectly blame demography, the culture, the churches, (or even God – for not sending revival) and more-or-less keep doing what we’ve been doing. I don’t hold JD Greear, Ronnie Floyd, or state execs responsible for doing the work of the churches but maybe some of these brethren have some ideas about how to help churches do better.
By the way: The Florida convention is showing increases in both churches and baptisms…and they have been the leader in cutting their state share of Cooperative Program dollars.