For almost a year now members of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) have been discussing a strategy to increase the effectiveness of the Southern Baptist Convention as a “Great Commission” people. They were assigned the task at the 2009 Annual Convention of creating a proposal for the 2010 meeting that would propel Southern Baptists forward in our goal to reach the world for Christ. Last week the task force released their final report which will be presented at the Annual Convention meeting in Orlando, FL the week of June 13th. As is to be expected, the report has been met with both positive and negative reviews. I would like to simplify and summarize the report’s proposals in “lay people” terms as a good many of my readers do not regularly follow the ongoing news of the Southern Baptist Convention leadership. I do believe this is an important report, whether for good or ill, and we should prayerfully consider it.
The report is entitled “Penetrating the Lostness” and begins with a statistical reminder of the urgent need to share the gospel. The stats demonstrate that out of 7 billion people in the world, 6 billion are lost and another 3.5 billion have never heard the gospel message. Another stat shows that baptisms among Southern Baptists are considerably down today than they were in 1950. Thus, something must be done.
Next, the report asks the question “What is Holding Us Back?” Acknowledging that financial resources are necessary to win the world for Christ, the report highlights the actual contributions received at the national level. The Cooperative Program (CP) is designed where churches set aside a certain percentage of their undesignated giving for the Cooperative Program. The SBC encourages churches to set aside 10%, although most come in at around 6%. This amount is then forwarded to the state convention. The state then decides how much they keep for their own expenses and ministry, and then forwards the rest to the national level. The average state convention keeps 63% of CP dollars, meaning that the SBC gets around 37% to budget. So, since churches are not giving a full 10% to the CP and since the states keep a good portion of the funds, there must be a renewed awareness of the necessity for consistent CP giving.
From here, the report offers 7 components to be adopted at the 2010 annual meeting.
The first component is to establish a mission statement that unites all Southern Baptists for the Great Commission mandate. That proposed statement is: “As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.“
The second component calls on Southern Baptists to embrace a set of core values. They list these values as: Christ-likeness, Truth, Unity, Relationships, Trust, Future, Local Church, Kingdom.
The third component, and one of the more controversial recommendations, is that SBC churches recommit to the Cooperative Program as the “most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach.” That, of course, is all well and good. The controversial part is when an aspect of this component also wishes to recognize all monies given to other SBC entities, whether it be causes of the national convention, state convention, or local association, be deemed as “Great Commission Giving.” This is the classic and common issue that all churches have dealt with in one form or another. What do we as churches do when our folks begin giving more to designated causes than they give to the overall ministry of the church, namely the tithe (if you want to use that word for New Testament giving) by which the operating budget of churches is met. Critics of this component claim that “Great Commission Giving” will in the long run have a detrimental effect on the effectiveness and enthusiasm for the Cooperative Program.
This component also calls on churches to adopt goals of $200 million annually for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and $100 million annually for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. In comparison, the 2007-2008 amounts for Lottie Moon were 133,904,643 and Annie Armstrong were 57,208,220.
Interestingly, no goal was offered for the Cooperative Program.
The fourth component addresses the “reinvention” of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). This, in part, addresses the need for NAMB to begin helping and encouraging SBC churches to become “church-planting” churches, and to increase their effectiveness of training and discipling believers. This component also calls for the elimination of “Cooperative Agreements.” These are simply a way that NAMB and state conventions have historically worked together, primarily by NAMB sending back a portion of CP dollars to the state conventions for specific ministry work. The report wants NAMB to retain those funds that will aid in the establishment of a new and more effective NAMB.
The fifth component calls upon the International Mission Board (IMB) to have the freedom to break away from any geographical limitations and have the ability to serve and assist unreached people groups in North America. The report states that the divide between North America and the rest of the world is a thing of the past.
The sixth component calls for a unified strategy amongst the state conventions and the Executive Committee of the SBC in order to more effectively promote the need of the Cooperative Program and encourage greater CP giving in our churches.
The seventh component is another controversial aspect of the report. It calls for Southern Baptists to approve a 1% increase to be received by the IMB, breaking the historical 50% mark by moving up to 51%. This 1% will be met by reducing the funds of “Facilitating Ministries” by that 1%. A quick look at the SBC budget shows that there is only one entity in the “Facilitating Ministries” line, that being the Executive Committee. So, essentially the report is calling for the Executive Committee to take a 1% reduction in funds in order to give it to the IMB. Some are concerned that this component does not match up very well with component 6 which calls for the Executive Committee to increase its work with the state conventions to increase CP awareness. How, they say, can they increase this work when funds are being removed from them.
The report then ends with a series of challenges for individuals, families, churches, associations, state conventions, Lifeway, seminaries, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Guidestone, and all SBC leaders.