About the only meaningful change wrought by the Great Conservative Resurgence Report, which blue ribbon GCR committee was chaired by Ronnie Floyd and adopted overwhelmingly (3 to 1 ratio in favor) by the SBC in annual session a decade ago, was that the North American Mission Board be
“liberat[ed] to conduct and direct a strategy of reaching the United States and Canada with the Gospel and planting Gospel churches…Thus, we believe that the North American Mission Board must be refocused and unleashed for greater effectiveness.”
The expression of that was NAMB being able to control their own budget and spending. As the letter puts it, this would “leave the states with little or no role in the assessment, supervision, or evaluation of church planters or statewide personnel.” The secret (I have never seen one, nor ever seen one published anywhere, thus my use of “secret” a word SBCers hate) system of Cooperative Agreements between NAMB and state conventions was altered in favor of NAMB. SBCers give $100 million each year to NAMB through the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. The AA offering has been at or near record levels for several years an indication of support from the churches.
So, why the complaints from some state conventions?
The essence is that NAMB expects to spend their own money rather than relinquish control to the states. The complaints about NAMB are not new and are perfectly legitimate in the sense that state convention leaders would rather just get a general grant of money from NAMB that the state can spend on what needs they see. I admit that this characterization oversimplifies the system.
I might as well be candid and opinionated here. SBCers put money into state conventions for decades with not a lot to show for it. Just like in the southern states that still make up over 90 percent of SBC revenues, membership, and churches, a state convention with a building, staff, and accouterments was considered important. These non-south state conventions (some cover several states) enjoyed money from NAMB to pay their staff and other things thought to be priorities. NAMB would rather put money where they saw priorities; thus, conflict.
Notice that the first name on the letter to NAMB is Randy Adams, leader of the Northwest Baptist Convention, candidate for SBC president had we had an annual meeting this year, and longtime critic of NAMB. He classified most SBC churches as “not fully cooperative” if they gave less than the average CP percentage. That was a shot at J D Greear back in 2018 (links in an earlier article here). Maybe Adams will continue his quest for the SBC presidency when we can meet and vote again. Southern Baptists will have a choice. I’d expect Adams to be a favorite with the new network. All is fair. We get our guy. You get your guy. We vote.
NAMB isn’t perfect but the SEND program (plural now that we have SEND Relief) seems to be the most popular national program with Southern Baptists. Critics have various complaints about NAMB: they have too much money, they’re buying properties for planters to live in temporarily in some of the SEND cities, they’re unnecessarily spending money on this or that, their church planting metrics are poor, etc. Nothing new under the SBC sun.
NAMB does have a clear role, something lacking in the past. To get all macro on readers, state conventions, especially in the south don’t have a clear role whatever slogans or declarations they may make. NAMB can take their budget and apply it in new ways. State conventions are burdened by a ton of legacy spending. For now, I trust NAMB more than state conventions.
What can the six states do? Here are the options that they mention in the letter:
As we have attempted to understand how we fit into the evolving NAMB paradigm and
continue to support the work of the churches in our state conventions, many of us and our boards have contemplated such responses as declining to enter into any agreements with NAMB, retaining a larger percentage of Cooperative Program funds for the work of the state conventions, designating giving only to specific SBC work, reducing promotion of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and replacing it with a more robust state missions offering, or even creating unique state-facilitated partnerships. Some of us would like to go on an annual block-grant system like southern state conventions. They each receive $300,000 annually from NAMB. No non-south convention will receive even close to this amount by October 2021.
The option to decline to enter into cooperative agreements has always been there. All of the states are autonomous and may choose this.
The option of retaining a larger percentage of CP funds is entirely the state convention choice. These six states account for around 3% of total CP revenues so the reduction of what is received in Nashville is regrettable, but not highly significant. Were I a CEO in one of these states, I’d make an opportunity cost decision on CP percentages. If I thought I could spend the money better in Alaska, or New Mexico, I’d make my case to the churches in that state.
If these states choose to promote the Annie Armstrong offering less vigorously, I’m not sure what impact that would have. NAMB can promote directly to churches and pastors. If a state replaced Annie with another offering of their own, that would be regrettable but it has it’s own difficulties. Annie is an established brand. Maybe the state could effectively replace it. Maybe not.
The creation of “unique state-facilitated partnerships” is, I suppose, a threat to bypass NAMB and activate a direct state-to-state arrangement, Alaska with Louisiana, for example. It would certainly signal a deterioration of overall cooperation among the 42 state conventions through our national entities, offerings, and the CP. States in the south (associations as well) have long created cooperative partnership arrangements with non-southern states. What Adams and the others are threatening is a magnitude or two escalation of those partnerships.
The states want “block grants,” money just given, not controlled. Denominational politics at work. Churches in a state like Georgia put millions in NAMB through the CP and AA and NAMB returns a small part the churches’ money directly to the Georgia state convention. I get the concept. I also get that Georgia keeps for their own use about 60% of every CP dollar given by churches in this state. One might ask why 60% of total CP revenues isn’t enough without any block grant kickback to the state?
Above my pay grade.
NAMB has responded (the response is reported here) by saying, in part:
[NAMB] Board members pushed back on what the six state convention leaders criticized as a lack of cooperation, instead calling it “our way of stewarding the resources we invest in NAMB strategies.” They also disputed the earlier letter’s assertion that NAMB had drawn up the SCAs with no input from the conventions.
One might look at the six states banding for this as sort of a lobbying group. It’s a public, civilized way to debate current denominational policies concerning funding and spending.
One thing for certain: NAMB will always have critics. But, imagine an SBC world where we have civilized, respectful debates about policies publicly, and not in back rooms or airport hotels. I like the concept. If this letter promotes that, I’m all for it even if I don’t share the goals of the six state leaders.
Some of the SBC Voices team are non-south pastors. They may view this differently than your humble hacker and plodder blogger whose mortal body will be unlikely to leave the Peach State but soul and spirit headed to a fairer land. Just not anytime soon, one hopes.
Recognize the graphic? NAMB’s SEND logo.