In the summer of 2010, I eagerly attended the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Orlando, Florida. My primary purpose in going was to vote for the adoption of the recommendations of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) taskforce. A decade ago, this vision was cast by SBC leaders and many of us young pastors were eager to see it come to fruition. I had spent several weeks in my church covering Daniel Akin’s Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence. I had taught my church the importance of this movement in our convention’s history. I enthusiastically voted and celebrated its passage. Honestly, I remembered being bewildered by anyone who would vote “no.”
At the time, I believed one of the most vital proposals was the recommendation encouraging state conventions to move to a 50/50 split with their Cooperative Program (CP) Giving. It made sense to me, a 26-year-old pastor, and fairly disconnected from convention life. It seemed reasonable that we would keep half in North Carolina and send half onward to the SBC to fund our ministries and missions around the world. Ten years later, I still believe that this is a noble goal
However, not many months after the SBC in Orlando, I was elected to serve on the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSCNC) Board of Directors. I quickly got to know the ministries of the convention in a much deeper way. I was not aware of all that God was doing in the BSCNC. The Lord was at work not only here in North Carolina but to the ends of the earth. I did not know about our partnerships with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and various Send Cities across North America. These are cities that we had taken a large responsibility in helping to send mission teams and developing church plants. I had not been aware of the mission partnerships that we had in other countries. Many of these partnerships are in places that are extremely poor and rely on our mission work for their ministries to take place. There are places where wells are dug to help church planters and others where we would provide food for people who were hungry in order that they might hear the Gospel.
In my mind, having only been in the ministry for six years at that point, I believed that we were so compartmentalized as a convention, that literally half would stay here in North Carolina and half would go around the world. I was wrong.
I also found out that North Carolina had been moving toward a 50/50 split for some time. This move had been the vision of our Executive Director/Treasurer before the GCR Taskforce Report had even been formed. Our CP distribution to the SBC had been as low as 28% in recent history. Today it stands at 42%, an amazing accomplishment in a short amount of time. It is worth noting that we have made this advance without splitting and becoming two conventions as has happened in other states. This advance in missions has been accomplished without losing all our historic partnerships with the Baptist Children’s Home, with Baptist Hospital, and with the Baptist Foundation. We continue to fund theological education through Fruitland Baptist Bible College which has educated around 1 in 5 North Carolina pastors. While many around the country have closed, we still have a Baptist newspaper which many North Carolinians cherish. We have maintained these partnerships while still consistently increasing our percentage that is passed through the BSCNC to the SBC.
I believe it is vital that we maintain this pace of increase. Just last month, our Board of Directors approved a budget that for the first time in many years does not include a half-percent increase. I agree with this decision and voted to support it. Because of Covid-19 and all that has happened in this year with our giving totals from North Carolina Baptist Churches, it is appropriate that we stay where we are. It is important to note that we are unable to give our employees a cost of living increase for 2021. I think it would be poor stewardship to send more money on while not taking care of the people that we have entrusted to guide our ministry.
I know there are many who disagree with this and would like to see us move to a 50/50 split immediately. They believe that it is urgent that we do so, and I would agree. The need is urgent. There are millions, hundreds of millions, billions even who have never heard the name of Jesus and they need to hear His name now. If the apostles were not granted even a moment in Acts 1 to linger, looking up at the sky, how much more so must we be urgent in the mission some 2,000 years later. With that urgency in mind, there are at least three considerations the BSCNC must consider as we move forward with the resources entrusted to us by Christ and His churches in NC.
It is important to think about our current reality as we are planning for our future expenditures as a convention.
Our convention budget is split into three pieces, not two. We do not have a budget that is divided into NC Ministries and SBC Ministries. The largest percentage of money that comes to the BSCNC goes to the SBC. This year’s budget—the 2020 budget—is the first time that has happened. 42% is the plural majority of the budget. Less money is staying in the state convention at just over 41% and only about 14% goes to our institutions and agencies (Fruitland, Baptist Children’s Home, NCBAM, Baptist Foundation, the Biblical Recorder, and the Baptist Hospital). It really is a three-way budget and we must understand it as such.
The money that stays in the BSCNC does not necessarily stay in North Carolina. Some of the money that does stay in North Carolina is used for reaching the nations that have come to North Carolina. We have an exceptional number of church plants among those from the nations and between 2015 and 2019, 246 churches were started to reach non-English speaking NC residents. That means nearly 6% of the churches in the BSCNC were started in the last five years targeting non-English residents!
Our Great Commission Partnerships budget is over $250,000 this year! That is money use for partnerships around the world. We budgeted over $100,000 in church strengthening funds for non-Anglo churches in our state and this (as with Great Commission Partnerships) does not include the salaries of the ministry staff the cover those areas of our conventions work.
We also shouldn’t forget that part of the BSCNC ministry allotment is used for disaster relief in other states when there are horrific events such as hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes. That money does not necessarily just stay in North Carolina, although when it does, it helps us love our neighbors in their time of need.
Revitalizing for Future CP Giving
A second consideration is that when we cut money from the BSCNC budget, we are going to be potentially cutting money in ministries that are helping to develop future CP giving. Our church revitalization ministries and our church planting ministries both emphasize giving to missions through the CP as a part of their work. We cannot deny the impact of these ministries on churches that are struggling and dying, but also churches that are starting. It is vital we are emphasizing the CP. When we make cuts to the budget to move to a 50/50 split quickly and if it is revitalization or church planting ministries that get cut, it certainly will have a detrimental effect on long-term CP giving.
Where Does the Money Come From?
And so, while in the short term we many send more money to missions (this year it would be around $2.1 million go on to the SBC), that money would reduce the percentages for the state convention’s ministries and our institutions and agencies. The question that has to be asked is “where are cuts going to be made?” Are we going to cut funds to Baptist Children’s Home? Are we going to cut funds to Fruitland? Are we going to cut funds to the Biblical Recorder? Are we going to cut ministries of the convention such as church planting or our ministries to those who are disabled? What partnerships will need to be reduced? What ministries will be have to stop and what is the long-term cost of doing cutting them?
It was easy in Orlando, in 2010, for the 26-year-old kid to say let’s move to a 50/50 split immediately. It is significantly more difficult for the 36-year-old man, who has been entrusted with a church that gives 10% to the CP, to make the same decision. It takes more introspection for someone who has participated in the work of the convention now for six out of the last ten years as an elected leader to then say “move to a 50/50 split without knowing and clearly communicating the consequences.”
I believe our incremental move, year after year, putting significantly more money in the SBC while not weakening our convention has been successful. I do not believe our move toward 50/50 has weakened our associations or our local churches so far. But we have no idea what would happen if we move to a 50/50 split immediately. Yes, the International Mission Board would be able to celebrate having increased funds to send missionaries in the year that we made the change, but we do not know if that is sustainable. We do not know that our churches in North Carolina will continue to give to the CP at current levels if we cut some of the ministries with which they most frequently partner. If we make significant cuts to the BCH, will people turn around and simply give that money directly to BCH? I know that it would be difficult if my church had a close partnership with one of those homes not to simply direct that money there to ensure that their ministries were not lost.
One of the values of the BSCNC is that the people in our churches can both see and participate in ministries in a way that they cannot do on a national level. If you have ever taken someone on a mission trip, you know that they return with excitement about the ministry that they have partnered with and that helps in our CP giving. It helps continue, not only for a year or two, but for generations into the future, the work of the SBC.
We can continue to move incrementally towards a 50/50 split. I believe it is possible that we could move further than even 50/50. However, if we do so immediately, it is my fear that we will be cutting off our nose to spite our face. The numbers may look good on a national level, but it does not mean overall numbers will increase.
I often hear that there are churches that will give more if we simply raise the percentage going to the SBC. I would encourage the pastors of those churches to give more now. If you give more now there is still more going to the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention than there would be if you do not give. I am willing to lead my church in that direction. Giving more now would encourage leaders across our convention, both young and old, urban and rural, churches large and small, that this movement is real. For some other state conventions, the expected bump never materialized. If those pastors will give more now, not only will more money go to the SBC, but more will go to children without families, more will go to affordable education in the beautiful mountains of NC, more will go to church planting and revitalization, more will go to helping the nations hear the Gospel.
We can give more to missions; we can do more in our cooperative work together as Southern Baptists, but we need to do it in a wise manner. I will promote, in any way that I can, that North Carolina Baptists continue to move towards a 50/50 split of our CP funds.
We can increase while not doing so at the expense of our staff who have been assembled to help assist our churches as a resource for ministry; especially for churches that cannot afford to hire those resources out professionally. Our state convention staff are elite among people in their field. And we need to be mindful and respectful of that fact.
Let’s move towards 50/50 but do so wisely. Let’s move towards 50/50 knowing that the Lord has placed us here for this time and this moment and He has given us the wisdom to reach the nations both here in North Carolina and to the ends of the earth. He has placed us in a state where over 340 languages are spoken in the homes of public-school children. He has positioned us in a time where we have the ability to go to the ends of the earth. And He has called us, as He has all disciples, to share the Gospel to all people, everywhere.
As we make changes in our budgeting and we make pray together about where our priorities must be, let’s plan wisely and never be arbitrary. It may be that God has us sending a lot more than a 50/50 split would produce. Let’s move forward without failing to start where we are. Let’s give more away while making sure we are helping each church around us become a stronger force for reaching the world with the Gospel. Let’s make sure we have strong SBC churches in North Carolina so that we have the resources from now until the Lord returns to reach the world with the Gospel of Christ.