“We don’t report anything,” sayeth a younger pastor colleague whose church is biblical, Baptist, active, growing, missions-minded, and non-traditional.
This is the time of year when about 40,000 of the 50,000 or so Southern Baptist Churches gather their statistics and compile them in a report usually called the Annual Church Profile (although here in Georgia it is called the Annual Church Report) the aggregate numbers of which are reported next June at or just prior to the SBC annual meeting.
The churches I pastored always filed the report.
Why would anyone not respond to the request from their state convention and provide a short form, simple compilation of the church’s activity for the past year?
I have heard a few reasons:
- Some of the data is used as a weapon against you and your church. If your church doesn’t baptize many people you might expect that to impact your suitability for service on a trustee board or your electability to a denominational position. Even if you do not file the report but you have sent Cooperative Program funds to your state convention, that data will be reported. It is still routine for CP percentages to be used as a club against churches and those that pastor them.
- It’s a waste of the pastor and staff’s time to gather and report this data. I don’t know what other state conventions do but my state convention asks for data on a single sheet: membership, attendance, baptisms and other additions, music participation, men’s and women’s ministry participation, missions participation, Sunday School, small groups, discipleship, budget receipts and offerings, mission gifts. Assuming that a church already collects attendance and financial data, it shouldn’t take long to fill out the entire form even if someone had to guess at some of the numbers. Not a great excuse in my view.
- It is irrelevant. Let me disagree somewhat. Some of the data are irrelevant, even useless as asked and reported, but generally it is important to all of us to have an annual snapshot of denominational numbers. Trends can be spotted and addressed. Besides, taking a deep dive into SBC numbers is always a fun thing to do.
Perhaps you would add a reason or two to this if you deign to respond to ACP requests for your church.
I think the response rate is in the neighborhood of 80% which is quite good.
There are some things I don’t like about the ACP:
- It is not standardized across the convention. Different states gather different data, ask different questions, ignore some questions and report in such a way that some of the data is unusable in the aggregate. The best example of this is the newest major data point, Great Commission Giving. My state asks for this and does so properly. GCG is clearly explained on our forms as the sum of associational, state mission offering, Lottie Moon/IMB, Annie Armstrong/NAMB, Cooperative Program, and other SBC mission causes. Definitions provided further assist in explanations. When the SBC makes their annual statistical report (look for a BP story in June, 2017), check the footnotes to the tables. Last year the data for GCG was footnoted, since the state conventions in Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma did not ask or collect this data. I’d call that a childish response to the SBC’s creation of GCG as a category. Yeah, I get it…state convention autonomy.
- It is based on a non-calendar year. Seems to me that asking in January or February for data for the previous year would be simpler. Maybe not but I haven’t heard reasons why.
- Associations have been bad about passive-aggressive shaming of low giving, low baptizing churches. I’ve sat in many an association annual meeting (usually October or November) and watched people cringe as the annual report that presents the naked truth about what the churches did. (“Look at Podunk Church. They didn’t baptize anyone this year.” Or, “How about First High and Exalted Baptist? They are swimming in money but don’t do squat in missions.”) You’ve been there.
Perhaps LifeWay ought to offer an incentive for any church that completes the ACP. Maybe something like this.