The state conventions in the south (and, counting some border states one might take sixteen of these which would account for ninety percent or so of all SBC metrics – churches, members, money, CP giving, mission giving, etc.) have been around for a long time, many preceding the founding of the SBC in 1845. Some SBC history nerd can inform me as to which state convention will be celebrating their bicentennial soon. My state, Georgia, has a state convention that was founded in 1822. Likewise, several institutions that are or have been connected with the GBMB and which are funded in part by them have very long histories. It’s not a criticism to apply the term “legacy” to these.
Here in the Peach State, new leadership for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board is attempting to manage declining revenues; thus, a study of two decade’s worth of annual audits over the period 1999-2019 has been done. Here are a few results:
- It is admitted that there has been “a longstanding practice of consistent cash overspend for nonbudgeted items.”
- The two Georgia Baptist conference centers had losses totaling over $23 million during this period. Ouch. No fraud or malfeasance, just a willingness to subsidize losing facilities. There are other examples.
- Thankfully, after decades of losses new leadership concludes, “We no longer have the ability to underwrite related party losses.”
- Cooperative Program giving has declined. No surprise there.
- Unrestricted investments held by the GBMB declined by 96%.
- The overall position of the GBMB is that previous years “have brought the Georgia Baptist Mission Board to a current reality of a 100 percent decrease in cash and cash equivalent” resources [emphasis mine]. A “100 percent” decrease in a sum means you’re reduced to zero, right? We’re out of cash?
- As a consequence, the GBMB is cutting stuff including staff benefits and retiree benefits. The one remaining conference center is being shut down and is for sale.
- We have real estate for sale: An antebellum mansion in Atlanta that has accounted for the loss of millions, a few hundred acres in south Georgia, a house in another south Georgia location, and, our sparkling GBMB headquarters in a desirable metro Atlanta location. Our greatest asset seems to be real estate.
Might one be forgiven for questioning the leadership in this state, both staff and Executive Board, for where we are? Anyone brazen enough to blame COVID or the economy?
Make a note: The GBMB has always kept around 60% or more of every Cooperative Program dollar. Money from the pews, from the churches has steadily flowed into the hands of state convention leaders. Georgia is one of the top states in CP revenue. The state leadership has had 60% of those millions to spend.
Let us consider the unassailable point that is the great flaw in our fabulous system of cooperation, The Cooperative Program. Once it is made routine that churches will allot a percentage of their revenues to the CP and that the state conventions consider it a birthright to keep the majority of these funds in state, and that legacy institutions are accustomed to receiving considerable sums out of this, then incentive for change is removed. Institutional inertia. It’s easier to just rock along with spending deficits than to make entities justify their existence and prove that they are capable of operating without being a drain on mission money.
That will be the result until revenues reach a crisis point and changes have to be made.
One thing I liked about Ronnie Floyd’s time as SBC president was that he addressed such issues in a general sense in his blog. He said,
“Weighty, needless structure prohibits immediate response to the churches,” he said. “We need to rid anything in our state conventions, anything in our associations and even our national entities that slows down our responsiveness to the churches.”
Here’s another thought: pastors and churches have long been ambivalent about state convention work and as a result Cooperative Program giving has steadily declined. The fewer Georgia Baptist pastors and churches that understand how 60% of their CP gifts remains between the Chattahoochee and Savannah rivers the better. The fewer that know only small slices of their CP giving gets to IMB or NAMB or the seminaries, the better off the state convention is. Bryant Wright, he of the Great Commission Baptists moniker change, notably said that the state convention should keep more like 25% of CP. I agreed with him then. Probably moreso now.
Ours is the state, you know, where population has grown explosively but baptisms have declined. Until a short time ago, I think we had a running decline of a decade or so. During this time the state convention has rebranded, reorganized, downsized and many other things. With tens of millions to spend each year in this state, exactly what is being accomplished?
Maybe new leadership has a different plan. I do commend the new leader for plain speaking. At the present, I’m not optimistic the state can make drastic strategic changes other than to just do less of the same stuff we’ve been doing and live within our income.
I’ve watched this too long not to be skeptical about state conventions accomplishing much, but I am persuadable.
Few people will read this in it’s entirety. Ho hum and bah humbug on us all. But then, churches and pastors have discovered how to send money directly to IMB and NAMB and local ministries, so the state conventions aren’t at the top of our list of worries.
No one will read it but this isn’t too bad on state conventions.
That building pictured above is our magnificent albatross HQ. We’ve declared it up for sale for a decade or so now. Is it time to refamiliarize ourselves with a bit of Shelley?
The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. No need for pessimism about that.