I was overseas in 2012 or so and happened to be present for a meeting of our missions personnel in one of the high-security countries. The discussion turned to tight funding and what the future looked like. The mission leader asked me, just an ordinary SBC pastor, what the thinking might be the states about such things. Not willing to speak for the several millions of active Southern Baptists, I made the observation that the Cooperative Program looked like it was flat or slightly declining but that I expected that Lottie Moon would show some increase. I offered that my average-sized church would do our best to give more than we did last year to the LMCO which we did.
The general history of SBC missions funding is that (a) the CP has declined greatly as a part of church offerings but has leveled out at between five and six percent, and that (b) the LMCO, after several years of decline has had its two best years in 2013 and 2014 with $154 and $153 million, respectively. Southern Baptists have as a convention indicated that the CP is at the level we can support. We also are indicating that wish to and are giving a little more to missions through both the international and North American mission offerings.
If you step back and took at the past five years in the aggregate, Southern Baptists have given about three quarters of a BILLION dollars through the LMCO, all of which is overseas spending. That’s not loose change and there are few missions sending organizations which would not love to have even a fraction of that sum.
The problem has been that the LMCO, plus the Cooperative Program and other revenues, has fallen short of meeting IMB budgets by over $200 million during this period.
If we want a missions sending agency that is staffed at around 5,000 personnel, we need about $30 million more than we are giving; hence, the VRI plan to cut 600-800 people.It’s tough to argue that this isn’t the most realistic goal to seek. How to get there is a legitimate issue to debate but, debate as we may, the die has been cast.
For the past few years the thinking seemed to be to find enough money in selling assets and reserves so that attrition could slowly gnaw away at employment levels. I’m not sure how serious an effort went into this, since almost 500 new personnel were appointed by IMB as recently as 2014. In retrospect this doesn’t look like much of a plan to get beyond serious budget shortfalls. I don’t know of a business that would operate by selling assets and maintaining employment levels without having a realistic, workable plan to raise revenue.
The vast majority of IMB’s revenues come from Lottie Moon and the Cooperative Program. I know of not a single SBC leader who thinks the the CP has any possibility of generating significantly higher revenues that it does now. All the entities have adjusted to the reality that the CP will be, we hope, hovering between five and six percent of SBC churches undesignated offerings.
Lottie Moon has had years where it generated additional millions. In 2006, it was up $12 million and in 2003 it was up an astonishing $21 million from the previous year. It is to be noted that IMB deficits are running over $30 million annually and an additional $10-20 million would be welcome but not enough to cover deficits. While I am hopeful that a $30-$50 million increase is possible, one that would put the LMCO over the $175 million goal and close to the $200 million threshold, even this would come too late to change the IMB’s organizational ‘reset.’
So, what does the financial future look like for our first and foremost SBC entity, The International Mission Board, SBC?
The Cooperative Program, our premier funding program, yields about 31% of IMB’s budget. In 2013 that was about $94 million. Last year was a better year, about $95 million. There are some positive things happening concerning the CP and missions support, namely
- The Executive Committee has plans in place to encourage churches to increase their CP percentages
- Some notable SBC leaders like Ronnie Floyd, current SBC president, have raised their church’s CP giving significantly.
- Several state conventions have already or have made concrete plans to cut their CP percentages. The average ‘keep’ for the states is over sixty percent now. I suspect this will be lowered to the mid to high fifties in the next few years.
Add all of these together and there might be an increase of a few million annually to IMB. This is good but not enough to avoid the drastic changes the IMB is implementing.
Frankly, the funding solutions that take a crisis in international missions like this one and use it to promote the CP, where most of any increased revenues will be left in the legacy Southern state conventions, borders on denominational malpractice, but I recognize the reflexive desires to do just that. The IMB needs another $30-35 million annually, immediately. If a revenue plan asks churches to give another $150-175 million to the CP to meet the shortfall, it cannot be considered serious. If your house is on fire the best way to address it isn’t to start hosing down houses down the block.
SBC life is different that it was in 1980 when we were at 10+% CP giving. The clock is not going to be turned back. The CP is indispensible to the SBC but it is not a viable route to expand our Great Commission efforts.
Lottie Moon Offering
IMB reports that the LMCO accounts for 58% of their total income. It would if the LMCO goals were met. Since they are not, the percentage of IMB revenue through LMCO is closer to 50%. Why IMB confuses the issue by presenting such figures is beyond me.
Perhaps the current crisis could awaken pastors, churches, and members to the needs and motivate them to give more than ten or twenty bucks apiece to the LMCO. We could double the LMCO without a lot of difficulty but some new thinking would have to occur, mostly by SBC pastors, and those by the tens of thousands.
Apart from more pastors being on board with the IMB being our primary sending route to reach the billions overseas, we could reassess our practice of spending enormous sums to send short term teams to cheap, easy, and open locations for a few weeks after which we feel good and presume exposure to missions will increase funding. I don’t think the evidence supports this. Besides, most of the world’s lost billions live where you cannot send a church team to do much other than be tourists. We could at least reassess the balance of church resources spent on these vs. career personnel through IMB.
To be fair, IMB uses short-term missions as a part of their strategy and has promoted and facilitated such mission endeavors for decades. I’m not sure how effective these are. Most churches I’m around just do trips, mission activities rather than missions that are a part of of any overall Great Commission strategy.
There are things that can be done that would help:
- More resources than you can digest are available at IMB’s website, with extensive links to others.
- Already, over 6,000 churches have partnered with IMB on specific projects.
- Only a lazy pastor cannot find some IMB missionary speaker for his church. Pastors whine about the lack of connections to IMB work. If the pastor wants a connection, he can find it.
- Graphics galore are available for LMCO, most are free. Why any church wouldn’t educate their membership on international missions, on Lottie Moon, on the LMCO is puzzling to me.
- The WMU provides many of these resources but someone from the church has to ask.
Direct funding for IMB
IMB receives certain revenues direct from churches as part of partnership arrangements mainly with larger churches. Not a lot is said about this and I don’t know how significant it is but I’d speculate that it is a growing revenue stream. The IMB’s future strategy announcements will likely deal with these.
I have no idea where SBC international missions is going in the next year, several years, or decades. There are indications that both the major funding engines for IMB, Lottie Moon and the Cooperative Program, are positioned for the future to move back to providing increasing amounts for international missions.
The best short term revenue plan to for churches to give significantly more to the 2015 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The best the intermediate and longer term plan is for churches to nudge their Cooperative Program percentage upward.
We will see where this all goes.