William is the SBC Plodder.
My insightful friend and fellow blogger, Bart Barber, has a short article on SBC Voices entitled, “It’s the CP, not the SQ”, in which he says,
“I write today to disabuse you all of the idea that defending the Cooperative Program means defending the status quo.”
I’ve concluded that our venerable denominational funding scheme, The Cooperative Program, has become an inherently status quo system with little chance of accommodating major changes. This article explains why.
To discuss this necessarily involves dividing the question of status quo into two parts: (1) state convention spending and the percentage of CP revenues that they keep rather than forward to the SBC Executive Committee for allocation to national entities. This is commonly called the “split”, (2) the SBC Cooperative Program allocation formula, the percentages of CP revenue forwarded by the EC to the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, the six seminaries, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the Executive Committee itself.
I believe the status quo is vigorously defended and quite evident in both.
State Conventions and the Split
State conventions keep an average of about 62% of every CP dollar. There has been little variation in this split with states dipping below 60% only twice (when Truman was president). In the 35 year period I have been either a seminary student, SBC church pastor, or retired SBC pastor the percentage has had a very narrow range, between a low of about 61% (1987-1988) and a high of about 65% (1979-1980). The recent trend is slightly downward, measured by fractions of percentage points.
I recognize a couple of things about the split.
(1) The original CP agreement of yea scores and scores of years ago was that states keep half, plus the expense of promoting the CP; so, states expect to have a floor of 50% and add to that various percentage points for promotion. This 50% plus agreement means a guaranteed and expected floor of 55 or 60 percent, depending on the accounting techniques of the individual state conventions. Even a new state convention like the Southern Baptists of Texas, although free of some the legacy constituencies that the states have accumulate, varies only a little from that. They keep 45%.
(2) Many of the states have declared an intent to move to a 50/50 split, although 50/50 in some cases means 55/45 or so, depending on the promotional expense add-ons individual to each state. No state is talking about major percentage changes. Not one.
When people like Bryant Wright, former SBC president, speaks of state conventions needing to move to a 25/75 split, moving from 62% to 55% or so looks a lot like a lot of resistance to change and some rather aggressive defense of the status quo. We could all do like Texas and ditch the current convention and get a fresh start with a another one where there would be competition for church CP dollars and then move a bit below 50% in the split but that is unlikely to happen. State conventions could indeed vote to give away a substantial part of their revenue stream. I don’t see that happening but if some state wishes to make me a believer, I’m ready for it.
SBC allocation formula
Here’s the current allocation formula:
There have been changes over the years but the three major components, IMB, NAMB, and the six seminaries have always the main recipients consuming almost all CP dollars at the SBC level. IMB has been bumped up a fraction of a percent. NAMB was allocated more after swallowing some smaller entities in a reorganization. ERLC has been given a bit more and the EC relinquished a fraction of a percent to IMB after the Great Commission Resurgence process.
Looks a lot like status quo to me. Does anyone anticipate any large changes in the Big Three? Since the two mission boards have the two major mission offerings, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, any chance for significant change would have to come from the six seminaries. Does anyone anticipate that the seminaries will ever be allocated less than they have now? We have a track record on them, the Great Commission Resurgence, where they successfully defended their percentages.
One could argue that even fractions of percentages involve tens of millions of dollars and that such changes are anything but status quo, but I’m at the place where it looks like we can fiddle with fractions at the SBC level but that’s about it. Status quo.
Jimmy Draper, old CR lion, former SBC president, and former SBC entity CEO speaks of the CP needing to be “revised, restarted, reinvented or something” because of the decades long CP giving lethargy. Ronnie Floyd current SBC president raises all the usual questions about the split, the allocation formula, church giving, and individual giving. Both seem to be saying that we need to move away from the status quo.
But CP money, as Ronnie Floyd says, is church money and judging by their giving patterns, churches have looked at their mission giving and concluded that the CP is important but only about half as important as it was decades ago. Churches have changed their mission status quo, I suspect after concluding that the state convention and SBC allocation status quo is not likely to change.
I am one who thinks the CP, although heavily weighed down by the status quo, is irreplaceable. I like it. We need it. The SBC we have would be unrecognizable without it. If there is some new idea that would revise, restart, reinvent, or reinvigorate it…I’d like to see it. I just don’t see the CP status quo being overturned.