As all informed SBCers know, the Southern Baptist Convention employs no one, fires no one, has no CEO, and doesn’t exist except for a couple of days each year when in annual session. The SBC has, though, a number of entities: mission boards, seminaries, Executive Committee, ERLC, etc. that are governed by separate trustee bodies. If the ERLC wants to hire or fire a CEO, their trustees do it, not the Executive Committee, not the SBC in annual session.
What’s complicated is how the various entities arrive at their trustee body makeup. A recent Baptist Press story, IMB study to examine trustee fluctuations, waded into the high weeds of trustee selection and representation. Read the story and then tell me if it makes good sense to you, that is, is it easy to follow and understand? I’m guessing that maybe one in 500 pastors has an understanding of the things written about in the article.
The gist of it is that state conventions, or territories, have to reach a certain threshold of church membership to qualify to have trustee or committee representation on the various committees or entities. The threshold varies by committee or entity. Some require 15,000 members, some 20,000 members, some 25,000 members. The membership number comes from the Annual Church Profile.
So when the ACP is published, if a state convention or territory falls under the threshold no replacement trustee is appointed. The state or area loses a seat. According to the article, the Alaska, Utah-Idaho and the Hawaii-Pacific region have lost trustee slots on the IMB because of membership drops (and someone will have to explain the difference between a “territory” and a “region” because I’m not clear if the terms used are legal terms or just chosen by the writer of the article…and I don’t want to get that deep into it).
The larger state conventions also get a limited number of additional trustee slots for higher membership levels.
The Executive Committee discussed the matter and these questions were reported to have been raised:
- Could waiver of an objective numerical standard for representation set an unhelpful precedent?
- Should states with large numbers of Southern Baptists have their representation reduced to keep the committee at its current size?
- To what extent should the cost of additional members factor into consideration of expanding the EC?
I’d answer, “yes,” “not sure,” and “to a great extent.” I’m glad there are some smart people on the EC.
A few high-weeds observations:
- Spreading trusteeships around should give a broader base of support for the entity. I’m not certain how necessary this is in the 21st century.
- Trustees are expensive to manage. Some years ago IMB was spending sums in six figures just to pay trustee travel and expenses. This may be money well spent although I have often heard entity people complain about waste on this.
- Any expansion of trustee boards should be closely scrutinized. In the past IMB had almost 100 trustees, a body considerably larger than the median SBC church and larger than tens of thousands of SBC churches.
- The ACP is less and less popular and return rates are declining. I think about 20% of SBC churches don’t file it at all. In some cases LifeWay just carries over numbers from the last reporting year for a church that fails to file. How reliable the membership numbers are is a good question.
- There are situations where membership numbers are incentivized for a state convention or territory and it pays to finagle the figures upward. Some SBC entities have had to tighten the figures they accept from the states and territories because of questionable numbers reported.
- My editorial observation is that states and territories that lose a trustee slot ought to be more concerned with declining membership that with keeping plum trustee slots.
On a slow SBC news day, this kind of thing might be worth thinking about even though it isn’t sexy or worth fighting over.
Perhaps some of the brethren or sistren can further educate me on these things.