A church was experiencing explosive growth. Attendance was skyrocketing. Giving was rapidly increasing. Building programs, outreach initiatives, staff additions, and baptisms were all going up year-after-year. Then, things leveled off. Attendance was no longer going up and other statistics no longer showed eye-popping rates of increase. The church dropped from their accustomed place on various “fastest growing” lists compiled by denominational staff. The church was still a great church being used by the Lord in their community and beyond. But the period of astonishing growth and exceptional numbers had passed.
Solution chosen by leadership: stop reporting some numbers and start spinning others. Just don’t talk about small group attendance, baptisms, and revenue growth.
Southern Baptists are accustomed to bad news, depressing facts, snafus, and serious missteps. It seems we are also accustomed to seeing leadership obfuscate, hide, and spin some of these things as well.
Thus, from the Southern Baptist hinterlands of the average-sized SBC church (formally referred to as “SBC headquarters” when leaders want to make a cheap point that they don’t really believe): How about our new leaders, younger leaders, fresh faces, insiders, and oligarchs being open and transparent, straightforward and candid about events in our beloved convention? This is the best way. “Trust the Lord and tell the people” is the best approach. After all, it is our convention, not that of the few dozen leaders and major influencers.
There was a day when Southern Baptist news outlets, Baptist Press and the state papers, did actual reporting. Now most of them proudly claim to be the source of positive “news” about what God is doing in the convention and among the churches of a given state. SBC clergy and the folks in the pews who care about SBC events and news understand that they must look to other outlets for some things because the SBC outlets aren’t going to touch it.
There was a day when Baptist Press could be counted on to ignore any and every case, high profile or not, of sex abuse in SBC churches and institutions. One presumes that they didn’t care to trouble folks in the pulpits and pews with bad news, lest they think ill of our wonderful convention. Fortunately, that day ended some time ago as the scandal of clergy sex abuse got to the place where it couldn’t be ignored. As evidenced by recent events, Baptist Press is changing. Part of the difficulty is with personnel and funding, Baptist Press has meager staff and funding. One presumes that it would benefit leadership to be ahead of some news items or to at least be prompt and candid in addressing them. We should not be forced to look to secular outlets, alternative religious press, blogs, and tweets to find out what is going on.
State papers are of little value on the whole in conveying, much less analyzing, SBC news. One or two, perhaps more, do some good reporting but I don’t read all of them. Is it unfair to say that those who are responsible for content in state organs are unlikely to offer a critical look at anything that might make their bosses unhappy? You can be the judge in your state.
Here are a couple of recent major stories that could have been improved:
CP exceeds budget for 5th year in a row in which the five year record of exceeding budgetary expectations is further explained (in the fifth paragraph) by noting that giving to the SBC share of the CP actually declined slightly. I’m glad the Executive Committee budgets conservatively and that they report all the relevant figures. At some point one surmises, the EC will get around to addressing the fact that our flagship giving program is at best flat and more accurately slightly declining. This is probably what most people expected. I had thought that the CP would show a slight increase in total giving for the fiscal year. Nope. Flat. Slightly below last year. I give credit for the EC promptly reporting receipts early each month after the monthly books are closed and totals are known.
A bit more concerning to me is the report that Lottie Moon Offering totals $156.6 million, “third highest ever” the article says. Nowhere in this article will any SBCer be informed that the latest offering total is $2.3 million less than last year’s offering, a salient fact noted by your humble hacker and plodder blogger here. I’m all for being positive but let’s at least include all of the relevant facts. Paul Chitwood, our new IMB leader, is accustomed to handing bad news, since he was a former state convention CEO and the state conventions have suffered more bad news than most SBC entities. We can be appreciative of the generosity of tens of thousands of SBCers and thousands of SBC churches and still report the facts. And, it is a great improvement for the IMB to show some prudence and sensibility in budgeting. About a thousand former overseas IMB personnel would have appreciated such a decade ago.
But, back to the church that went from explosive growth to being just a great church but without the stellar numbers. Who benefits from disguising, obfuscating, spinning, or hiding bad news? Perhaps leadership does for a time but eventually all is made known.
I’m not against a cup half full sort of approach to looking at our common and cooperative work. But let’s at least mix in all of the relevant facts and the most relevant fact about our beloved Cooperative Program is that it is as flat as an unleavened pancake. Maybe new leadership can do things to change this. And, sure, I’m pleased that the Executive Committee budgets conservatively but is it worth bragging about that our CP “exceeding budget for 5th year in a row?” Every household has to think sensibly about their spending. No one gets an award for this.
How about we have denominational news that exhibits the old axiom: “trust the Lord and tell the people”? We all benefit by that, good news or bad.
Overall, I’d rate BP as being on a path showing improvement (although I still haven’t forgiven them for their absurd attempt to foist “moderate-conservative” and “fundamentalist-conservative” on us back during the heat of the Conservative Resurgence). State papers are a vast wasteland, with an exception or two. Our entities are all over the field in their handling of news. Southwestern has improved but has yet to tell Southern Baptists some things that need to be told. IMB, seems to me, was candid about things during their Great Debacle but generally eschews hard news and just does mission stories. NAMB has often been proactive in some ways. SBC This Week has been a refreshing source of SBC news. It’s not a coincidence that the two principals there, Jonathan Howe and Amy Whitfield, have moved to positions of greater responsibility. I filter out about 90% of what appears on Baptist News Global, our moderate and liberal Baptist friends, but they still will provide things worth noting to Southern Baptists.
…and I’ll be the first to say that a top tier SEC team got beat Saturday…by another top tier SEC team.