Well, I suppose I voted for the thing a couple of decades ago.
The “thing” is the last remaining monument to the foolhardy faith of SBCers in an endlessly upward trend line; that is, we just expected more churches to give more money to the Cooperative Program year-after-year. Millions of new people were moving to my state, Georgia, and surely our several thousand churches would grow along with the influx of population.
Our Georgia Baptist leaders sold our old headquarters building and built this new one:
It’s very, very nice, still standing and in the year 2022 practically empty of Georgia Baptist Mission Board employees.
Mark Wingfield (almost gleefully) recounts the current situation of our GBMB Taj in his article, Georgia Baptists hit a snag on sale of 16-year old headquarters property in suburban Atlanta.
Here are a few figures:
- Built to accommodate around 300 staff
- Currently houses 33 staff.
- Costs around $1.3 million annually for upkeep.
- Georgia Baptists spend about $40,000 per employee just to provide them office space.
- Leaders have been saying ‘we’re going to sell the property’ for over a decade, I think.
- It hasn’t sold.
- When it does, using figures provided, it will probably bring less than the $43 million we paid to build it. Factor cumulative inflation since 2006 and the costs rises to $57 million.
- We have a buyer but the sale has hit a zoning snag and, besides, the GBMB isn’t even disclosing what the sale price is. Secret sale, or non-sale, for now.
As a Georgia Baptist pastor serving in the state (or as retired in the state) since 1997, I started hearing complaints about the new building as soon as it was opened. It has a pond. It has a rotunda with art work. It is in a prime location in suburban Atlanta, that no one in middle or south Georgia wants to drive to. Atlanta traffic is in the nation’s top ten for congestion. I’m only 60 miles away and I’d just as soon stick a shard of glass in my eye as drive to 6405 Sugarloaf Pkwy, Duluth, GA.
The Cooperative Program is great, except when it incentivizes bloat and waste. At the turn of the 21st Century, state conventions KEPT about 64 cents of every CP dollar given by the churches. It’s the law of free money. People get used to receiving it and will find ways to spend all of it, and clamor for more. We used to have staff paid to help churches do all kinds of stuff. Very few of these were essential services. But, we had the money so the staff was hired, buildings built. There were, still are I guess, life-sized oil portraits of all the Georgia Baptist leaders in our building. Thank God we only did paintings and not stained glass.
We are an old state convention, one of 17 or so that account for over 90% of all CP giving. There are legacy interests in every state that maintain a claim on CP revenue. They usually get it.
Now state conventions are down to keeping about 57 cents of every CP dollar. Don’t whine to me about how bad the Great Commission Resurgence was for state conventions if all the change that was wrought was to shift seven cents from state convention consumption to the national allocation budget.
Churches looked at their mission dollars and made opportunity cost decisions about spending. CP has lost support over time. The designated offerings (Lottie and Annie) have gained, along with a lot of independent mission spending. The building didn’t help the CP. It was the last gasp of legacy real estate showpiece spending.
The hunger and thirst for buildings and real estate, legacy showpieces, extends to all levels of Southern Baptist life – local churches, associations, state conventions.
Here’s the bottom line: churches don’t have to give to the Cooperative Program. Tell the small church in Podunk or Flovilla how proud they should be of our magnificent HQ building. My church faced a financial decision about doubling our clergy staff. We did it, went from one (your humble and only Pastor) to two. How’s that for an exercise in raw pastoral power, “We doubled staff while I was pastor.” My congregation and I concluded that spending our own funds on a new staff member was more important than maintaining our CP percentage. We cut it. No one regretted it, or noticed it.
But this is all old news. People have moved on. The building stays until we unload it on a developer. Besides, who reads blogs anymore anyhow and this article might be considered piling on. Same things have been said for years.
A now famous Southern Baptist once said to me that “if state conventions are weak, then Southern Baptists are weak.” State conventions are weak. I don’t see solutions being offered unless one goes the route of Texas and Virginia and a new, competing state convention is started. Out with the old. In with the new. But even those are subject to the principle of free money and administrative inertia. It’s our system.
As long as churches give a few percent to the Cooperative Program, state conventions will rock along. After all, keeping even half of CP gifts adds up to a decent sum. Churches are, ahem, stifling their exuberance for the CP as evidenced by declining support. It’s a good system and we have a centennial for the CP coming up. Seems we are distracted by other matters at the moment.
So, if it cost $40,000 per employee to have a physical office, how about paying me, say, $35k, to offer opinions from my basement? Yeah, I know, it doesn’t work that way. As long as there is even a small pool of money to be managed and spent, ambitious SBCers will fight for it.