RNS has a story on the top religious news stories for 2015. To the chagrin of many among us who see our beloved Southern Baptist Convention as the center of the religious universe, only one SBC event made RNS’s top 25. See if you can guess what that one is…shouldn’t be hard.
Here is my personal list of top SBC stories for 2015. I’m presuming, of course, that nothing much will happen between now and December 31st. It shouldn’t, since most SBC pastors get past the Christmas church events and skate for the rest of the year.
1. The International Mission Board announces mandatory reductions of 600-800 personnel.
IMB has been overstaffed for years and the financial chickens finally came home to roost. Past IMB leadership used a secret sauce of financial reserves combined with revenues from overseas property sales to avoid bursting the over-inflated personnel bubble. It wasn’t really a secret but not until David Platt and current leaders declared that current and projected revenues will only support about 4,000 or so personnel was any action taken to spend within the normal revenue stream; hence, downsizing by 600-800 personnel.
Several important news stories are related to this: the positive response of Southern Baptists to providing for returning missionaries, questions about previous IMB managers and their decisions, and issues about overseas property sales and tracking those revenues; however, nothing tops telling our overseas missions workers that hundreds of them will have to retire, resign, or be terminated. Thus far, reductions are being made by voluntary acceptance of retirement incentives.
I’d call this the second biggest SBC news story of my lifetime. The Conservative Resurgence would be the biggest.
2. Millions in direct gifts sent to IMB
After IMB’s announcement of shortfalls and personnel reductions NAMB sent them an astonishing $4 million for missionary support and transition. This deserves its own listing here as a top news story. It is astonishing that one SBC entity would voluntarily give this sum to another entity…and to think, NAMB was our dysfunctional entity not long ago. No longer, thank God. The South Carolina Baptist Convention just voted to send one million directly to IMB as a year end gift. The SCBC is the only state convention (of which I am aware) that sends some funds directly to IMB apart from the regular Cooperative Program channel through the SBC Executive Committee.
3. The Supreme Court’s approval of same sex marriage.
Hey, we all knew this was coming, so, how has this affected SBC churches and ministers? Thus far, churches have began adopting formal policies that prohibit their ministers and facilities from being used for SSM events. How our institutions and individuals are affected by SSM is still being litigated.
4. Our declining numbers.
We report about 15.5 million members now, down from the 2003 peak of 16.3 million. No one is surprised but it’s still news. Lost in reporting of numbers is the fact that we have more congregations than ever, 46,449.
5. The SBC portion of the Cooperative Program was up slightly.
The $189,160,231.41 in CP receipts by the SBC Executive for their fiscal year ending September 30, 2015 was more than the last fiscal year and more than budgeted. CP money is always big news and this is good news.
6. State Conventions are making some pretty significant changes.
More than half of the 42 state conventions affiliated with the SBC increased their percentage of CP gifts forwarded to the Executive Committee. This is no small thing although we have yet to see a decrease of the 62% average of CP giving that the states keep. Aside from this, there has been a hodge-podge of changes by state conventions. My state did a name change that will take me some time to get accustomed to (Georgia Baptist Convention to Georgia Baptist Mission Board). Some states dropped the confusing business of calling some CP funds “shared” and will just report plainly what the state keeps of a CP dollar and what is sent to the Executive Committee. Some states significantly reduced personnel.
7. No major Calvinist blowups, blowouts, or meltdowns.
Frank Page called Calvinism our number one problem a few years ago. Perhaps we have found a way to tolerate each other on the SBC level. I don’t recall any big controversies this year although we are never far from the next Cal/non-Cal blowup.
8. NAMB had a mammoth SEND North America conference in Nashville.
IMB was involved as well. The attendance of around 13,500 was about two and a half times the registration for the SBC annual meeting in Columbus.
9. LifeWay announced the sale of their downtown Nashville property for $125 million.
Cash. NAMB gave IMB $4mil and didn’t even have a property sale windfall out of which to do it. Will LifeWay trustees consider doing something similar? Don’t bet on it.
10. The Georgia Baptist Convention gets bailed out of massive building debt.
A small, but wealthy GBC-related foundation gave the GBC the $25 million to pay off the debt on the oversized, overbuilt GBC headquarters building. The GBC declared their intent to sell the building when an appropriate offer is made. That will be a top news story for another year.
This is my list. What would you include in the top ten?