The season of state convention annual meetings is upon us. Our annual meeting in South Carolina is scheduled for November 16th-17th in Columbia. All across the SBC, states are gathering for times of worship, encouragement, inspiration, and difficult decisions during business sessions. Many of the state conventions are in the beginning phases of making adjustments after the passing of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations this past June during the SBC annual meeting in Orlando. The task force asked for SBC churches to shine the light upon how we as Southern Baptists can do better in fulfilling the Great Commission. So, state conventions, wrestling with struggling economies and fulfilling the desire of its messengers, are beginning to adjust their budgets accordingly.
Part of the budget decisions facing many state conventions is not just whether or not to increase or decrease their budget based on projected income from the member churches over last year. Another decision that states face is what to do with their percentages as it related to the Cooperative Program. The bare-bones question is this: “How much do we keep in state and how much do we forward to SBC causes?” Messengers from member churches make this decision. Historically, the percentage goal for allocation of CP dollars has been 50/50. At the beginning, Southern Baptists saw this as the ideal. In 1934, the SBC approved a distribution of receipts which called for “50% for Southwide (SBC) purposes and 50% for statewide purposes” 1
The 50/50 goal has not yet been embraced consistently across the SBC. Since that time, states have taken on their own buildings, agencies, schools, staff, and ministries. As a result, the distribution percentages have slowly but steadily shifted in favor of the state conventions. Since 1930, the division of CP funds between state conventions and the SBC has averaged 63.55% to the state and 36.45% to SBC causes.
Each state is autonomous. They can set their own budgets, choose which ministries to pursue, what and how much staff to employ, and decide what percentage of CP fund to retain. Currently, our South Carolina Baptist Convention retains 59.6% and forwards 40.4% to the SBC. Messengers to the SCBC annual meeting this year will see a proposal of (59% retain and 41% forward). I believe that our state convention is retaining too much of the CP dollar. Over the past years, and especially now with states being called upon to put more CP dollars to work on the mission field outside North America, the thought and necessity of a 50/50 split is being heard again. The state conventions of Kentucky, Florida, Nevada, and Tennessee will be at least considering recommendations to move toward a 50/50 division of CP funds.
I am in favor of such an allocation. To my knowledge there has been no mention if South Carolina Baptists will hear a proposal to move toward a 50/50 split. I hope we do. I hope the messengers get a chance to speak to such a recommendation in the future. Here is why I feel this way. Even if our messengers approve a 59/41 split, proportionally it seems out of balance. Here in North America, the barriers to the advancement of the gospel are fewer. Think about it for a moment. Physically reaching the lost across North America is easier. Days of difficult travel to reach people groups do not exist in North America. Technology has made a variety of delivery methods available. It has also made communication between workers quicker and more efficient. Networks of church planters and those who provide resources and training to them are already in place. For the most part, the language barrier is not as great a battle here as it is in other parts of the world.
The barriers to the advancement of the gospel are greater overseas. Travel to and from remote cities and villages s difficult, time-consuming, and potentially hazardous. Limited technology in many parts of the world makes it more difficult for missionaries to communicate with each other and with those whom they serve. In turn, this limits the ways in which the gospel can be delivered. We have the luxury here in North America to be able to use social networking (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc), video, unnumbered styles and varieties of gospel tracts, different Bible versions, and advertising to get the gospel message out. At times, our missionaries are the only “professional” in a particular area. I worked on several work and witness teams with an IMB missionary who was responsible for the Miskito people group. His area of responsibility covered the coastal and inland sections of both Honduras and Nicaragua. Contrast this with North America where we seemingly have churches on every corner with pastors and planters having each other to give encouragement, support, and resources in order to better reach people. The language barrier hinders any kind of work. Although our missionaries spend time in language school before arriving on their field, it still takes time to effectively communicate the gospel, especially when some of our words don’t even exist in native tongue.
Despite the contrast, we are sending more money and resources to North America, and more especially our state, and less to the foreign mission field. If we have clearly been given a mandate to reach all the nations with the gospel, and I believe that we have, then our funding should reflect the priority. Lostness is lostness, here and abroad. Should we not be funding our missions efforts equally? I believe there are a number of our state convention agencies that have the ability to gain funding outside of the CP channel. I firmly believe that the missions agencies of the SBC whose sole support is CP monies should have what they need in order to active in pushing back darkness around the world.
Would our state convention in South Carolina have to make adjustments in order to get to a 50/50 split in Cooperative Program giving? Without a doubt. Would a 50/50 split challenge the state convention and its leadership to make hard decisions and sharpen their focus on the lost beyond state lines? Absolutely. Would this be the right thing to do? I believe so.
1 – SBC Annual 1934 (pp. 38-49)