Clear as Mud: GCR Discussions (Part 1)

Portrait of a boy with the map of the world painted on his face.

Portrait of a boy with the map of the world painted on his face.

At the last SBC, 95% of Southern Baptists in attendance voted in favor of having a presidential appointed GCR task force. It was an exciting day by all accounts. Over the past several months many of us have followed with excitement and prayed with hope, as the GCR task force carried out its weighty task. Exactly what they’ll report and how their report will be received is yet to be seen.

In the meantime, we thought it would be helpful to talk a little about how things are going. It seems to us that one of the most critical and sensitive areas under examination has to do with the way our Cooperative Program dollars are split up and the way that people talk about the issues associated with this.

In most states, around 70 cents of every dollar given to the Cooperative Program stays in the state. The 70 cents funds all kinds of helpful and serious ministry in the respective state. The 30 cents that makes it beyond the borders of the state through the CP is divided up between the national entities, seminaries, mission boards, etc. This, of course, is coupled with special offerings for NAMB, the IMB, and other state offerings throughout the year.

Should We Change the Percentage of CP Dollars that Stay in State?

One of the key questions that many are asking is whether or not 70 cents out of every CP dollar should stay in state. On the one hand, there are people like Dr. Danny Akin who have argued that more CP money should go to support international missions and less should stay here. Though the GCR document later softened the language, Akin, one of its authors, writes, “our denominational structures have become bloated and bureaucratic at every level, from local associations to state conventions to the SBC itself. We believe our ministry effectiveness is being strangled by overlap and duplication, poor stewardship, and a disproportionate amount of Cooperative Program dollars being kept by the state conventions.” When Akin was later asked what the real motivation was behind his strong language and hope for a GCR, he answered simply, “It is about getting the gospel of Jesus Christ to the 6 plus billion people on planet earth.”

So, it would seem, Akin and those who agree with him would like to see less money staying in the states (especially those with a large number of churches in their state) and more going to effectively equip those attempting to reach unreached parts of America and, especially, those attempting to reach the unreached peoples of the world. Their perspective really makes sense when you think about a few statistics.

For instance, the Joshua Project says that there are 2.75 billion unreached/least reached people in the world. I know, I know, it’s hard to wrap your head around that number. I’ll just pick a few examples from the site. For instance, the Ansari people of India have a population of 9,726,000. How many evangelical Christians are there of the 9 million? None. That is, amongst a people that are twice the size of the people in the state of Kentucky there are no Christians. Zero. And, as you would guess, the Ansari people are not the exception.

The Uyghur people of China have a population of 10,760,000. They have zero evangelical witness at the moment. The Hui people of China have a population of 12,561,000. You’ll find no evangelical witness amongst these people as well. The Sunda people of Indonesia total 34,720,000. Of this number, 0.08% are evangelical Christians. The Somali people of Somalia have a total of 7,678,000 people. They too, have zero evangelical witness. Are you tracking with us? Needless to say, when the need for gospel witness around the globe is put into focus it is overwhelming. At the very least, it would seem that more resources should go towards reaching these completely unreached people than currently does. This seems especially true in light of the fact that the IMB has recently stopped sending certain types of missionaries because of a lack of resources to support them.

Should We Keep the Current CP Standards and Focus on Giving More?

On the other hand, there are people like those writing for the Kentucky Baptist State Convention who have argued that the states do not keep too much money in their state and that they are not bloated bureaucracies. Rather, state conventions are actually quite streamlined in their ministry efforts. In a recent article, entitled “State Conventions Stretched, not Bloated,” Robert Reeves wrote, “Here in Kentucky, even in the best of times, we only have about 75 full-time Mission Board employees to meet the needs of nearly 2,400 churches. Other part-time, contract or temporary workers are also used to help out but their roles are by budgetary necessity very limited.” In other words, this team is doing a lot with very little in order to help Kentucky churches reach the 4.5 million people that live in Kentucky. Reaching these people, Reeves argued in another article, should not be minimized or overlooked in favor of international efforts.

Reeves writes, “This lostness is not imagined. It has been documented in a variety of ways. According to research conducted by NAMB, some 251 million people in the United States and Canada — that’s three out of every four — are lost. Here in Kentucky, according to research conducted by the Barna Group on behalf of the KBC, nearly 1 million Kentuckians are unchurched with another 650,000 not committed to the church on whose roll their name appears. The Association of Religious Data Archives estimated that nearly 1.9 million of Kentucky’s 4 million population in 2000 had no affiliation with any religious group. No matter how you want to cut it or whose numbers you want to use, the point is that there is a great need for missions on our own continent and in our own country and state.”

Thus, for Reeves and others who would agree with him, Southern Baptists don’t need to rearrange the percentages of each dollar that stay in state and go beyond. Instead, Southern Baptists simply need to give more dollars. Commenting on the need for more money, Reeves states, “right now on average here in Kentucky, 93 cents of every undesignated dollar that a person puts into the offering plate, stays in the local community for local church operations, ministries and missions. That leaves 7 cents to be divided among the state conventions and Southern Baptist Convention for all of the other work that takes place across the nation and world. And where we’ve ended up in part with the GCR is a scramble for how best to divide up that 7 cents. At times it reminds me of football players trying to recover a fumble on a muddy field.”

There are a lot of folks that we could’ve chosen to represent these views. Hopefully, these examples provided a helpful description of two different ways that people are approaching a “GCR.” Although many times they use the same language, it seems that they mean something contrary to the other. This, obviously, makes discussions about the GCR clear as mud for many people. We’ll follow up with our take on these two options next.

Comments 0

  1. This is a very important discussion. We all agree that we need to find more funds to reach a lost world. I am praying for God to give us all wisdom about how to best fulfill his Great Commission to us.

    Here are links to the full posts on the Great Commission Kentucky blog that’s been referenced here:

    State Conventions Stretched, Not Bloated

    State, National Missions Also Important

  2. Jed,

    Great Post. One of the things that interests me is the perspective that the State Conventions are there to help the local churches reach their peoples. The fundamental breakdown is that many local churches (which are led by God-called pastors) are not getting the job done in reaching the communities where we exist. (I am one of those pastors…who while leading a church that is growing, doesn’t feel like we are doing enough to reach our community with the gospel.)

    In my state (Florida) 60 cents stays within the borders. I have NO EXPECTATION that my state convention come over and help me reach my people. Reaching them is my responsibility. If my State Convention (or Association for that matter) wants to impact lostness…then they need to recruit and fund a church planter around the corner from me who has a passion to reach the guys I cannot.

    In days past, the local church needed a State Denominational Structure to facilitate vision, training, and cooperation. With cooperation waning (except as it relates to a joint funding effort of the CP), pastor like me simply work with others that think like we do to carry out the task of evangelism. If I need training on small groups strategy, I can get it…from any number of sources. If I need worship training, I can get it from any number of places. I am not certain that I need someone at a state office to be in charge of answering my phone call should I decide to call him for training is small groups.

    If my State Convention and my Association wants to fix the funding mechanism…then pour resources into church planters who are passionate about reaching a community and let churches outsource small group training from a church who is doing it effectively (or pray and ask God to help them contextualize for their people in their their context.) If we (as a Convention of churches) prioritize the planting of churches who will join us from the beginning in evangelizing our community and the world, then there is more money (CP Dollars) to go around.

    Like the guy in Kentucky…I hurt for the millions of lost people in his state. I pray that the churches of that state seek to win them. They know the people better than I ever could. If they cannot, then the State (or more properly the churches of the state) ought to put a church plant in the midst of a pocket of lostness and win the people. Those souls are of no less value than the Somali who has not heard…but at the same time, the Somali is certainly no less valuable than the man from Kentucky who has yet to bow his knee to Jesus.

    Sorry for the length. Keep up the great work!

    Until all have heard,

  3. I’m glad to hear your thoughts. With all due respect to the State Conventions and people working in them, I think they are the first place to look when talking of cutting funds and sending more money to the IMB. I think the States should partner with NAMB more and take no more than 25% of the CP pie. When I pastored in NC and the state kept such a large amount, we began giving half our CP money through the State Convention and half directly to the IMB. SC has great people working in the State Office but if we are serious about reaching the nations it is the best place to look to trim funds.

    Bill Pfister
    Greenville County, SC

  4. Jed, Thank you for posting this helpful comparison. I would like to add a reaction/comment to Reeves’s assesment.

    He states that there are 75 missionaries to “aid” 2400 churches to reach 2 million lost people in KY (rounding up from the 1.9 million statistic). If we just look at the 75 missionaries in KY, then there is a ratio of 1 missionary per 26,667 lost people.

    My wife and I had the privilege of serving one State in South Asia. The population was 29,000,000 people with 27,260,000 total lostness (almost 10,000,000 unengaged unreached peoples). We were the only missionaries there. That means that my wife and I each had the responsibility to reach 13,630,000 lost people.

    While I greatly appreciate Reeves disire to see all of KY reached, seven cents to reach billions of lost people seems so small compared to 93 cents for 2 million lost in KY. Can we do more?

  5. The bigger issue for the states is are they really effective in doing evangelism in their state. After over 25 years as a Southern Baptist I have never seen them be effective in evangelism, or really in much support to the churches in that area.

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  7. Where are you getting your figures? Last figures I saw showed that the average kept in state is about 62% and only three states were 70% or above.

    Still, I get the sense that ordinary pastors and non-denominational people believe that the 62% is too much.

    The tired, overused, and unsuccessful denominational solution to this is to ask churches to just give more. Hasn’t worked for more than a generation. Won’t work now.

    Time to recalibrate the divisions and for the states to keep less.

  8. The way to break the impasse is to answer some tough theologically-grounded questions. This requires getting beyond 50/50 as some sort of sacrosanct formula. Do we really think 50 percent for one continent and 50 percent for the world makes sense?

    1. Why do conventions exist? If the answer is something like, “to help plant thriving local churches who will carry out the work of making disciples and to assist established churches who may be struggling in one area or another,” the answer should strongly influence allocations. We would invest most heavily where zero or few thriving churches existed. The SE US arguably has more thriving local churches than anywhere else in the world, but 60% of CP receipts stay in those very states. This makes absolutely no theological sense. (Baptist ecclesiology would lead us to a conclusion something like the above as a response . . . disciples are made in local churches, not conventions).

    2. Is an American more important to God than a person of any other country/nation? If not, why do we spend 37 times more to reach lost people in the US and Canada than we do in the rest of the world on a per capita basis?

    3. By definition, if a state convention is successful (establishing/aiding thriving local churches in their state), their demand for resources should decrease over time as the thriving churches they help establish/bolster take ownership of making disciples of those in their Jerusalem and Judea. If the allocation suggested in nearly 100 years ago (1925) was 50/50, surely it should be less than 50 percent today in states with thousands of SBC churches. (This would not be true for state conventions that are not operating in states full of thriving churches).

    If God loves the African as much as the American, and if we still believe disciples are made in thriving local churches, we must make some serious allocation adjustments beginning as soon as possible.

  9. Thanks to everyone for their comments. I agree with most of them.

    One thing I’m getting really tired of is people saying ‘we all want more money to go to the foreign mission field.’

    so far it seems that anyone who says that only means it if it means MORE money for their entity. Never less.

  10. Post

    These comments are very helpful. You guys raise a lot of important points to discuss! I’ll pitch in more of my thoughts with the second part of this post. In short, I think, amongst other things, the ways that we communicate the situation (current reality, problems, and potential solutions) is extremely important. I think that this will play a massive role in whether there is a real GCR amongst us.

  11. I’m a first generation SB, but I’ve been involved in state missions in MO and am attending SBTS. Still pretty new at this. Two questions:

    1) What are the best things state conventions have to offer? Those blog posts linked by the KY conv. guy mentioned disaster relief and missions. Better training in missions, evangelism, and pastoral work is offered by a lot of other parachurch organizations, IMO. The actual work of evangelism can be done by local churches and local associations. Disaster relief can be coordinated by local churches, as Lakeshore Baptist Church in MS has done since Katrina wrecked their community back in ’05. So what do State conventions do that somebody else can’t do almost as well or better?

    2) What are the downsides to splitting “cooperative giving” into two funds – “State cooperation” and “National cooperation” and churches choose to give to one or both?

  12. Warren,

    Thanks for your comments and questions. They are very good questions that will bring up a lot of complicated answers. I won’t try to be exhaustive but let me try to answer a little from my perspective.

    There are some good things that state conventions can offer b/c there are things that it will take a network of churches to do (or do better) that a single church cannot. Here are some good things I think State Conventions can offer: children’s homes, campus ministries (that point students to local churches), Baptist colleges, etc.

    Having said that I completely agree with your thoughts on training. This in my understanding is basically the main function of state conventions and I don’t think it is necessary to tie so many funds in it. Not only are there other ministries that can provide the training, there are also local churches that can provide the training. Instead of having a state sunday school guy why not have an actual Sunday School director in another local church walk thru how to start a Sunday School. Why not make the conventions leaner and let them coordinate linking local churches together to do training and ministry.We need to adopt a new paradigm.

    Your second question is complex. That could be one way to do it. As it is now you can do that by designating and each local church needs to decide where their $ will be best spent on the mission God has given to them and go with it.

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  14. Thanks for posting this Jed, it definitely gives us all something to think about, most particularly our prioritization in ministry. The GCR has great potential but it will require a grassroots, local-church initiative to prioritize all aspects of ministry towards the Kingdom, and require some difficult decisions to abandon long-held and beloved programming that is in essence unneeded.

    Personally, I would like to see a consolidation of the IMB and NAMB to one World Mission Agency, as technology has advanced and the lines of communication improved, one streamlined agency would have its advantages. The disadvantage is personnel, but this could be handled through attrition and certain hiring freezes.

    With the State conventions, I see a lot of good that happens within the state structures, but I really wonder how much of what happens in the state (and associational) level is more about doing ministry for the sake of doing ministry, that ministry is the end as opposed to being a means of growing and strengthening the local church to advance the Kingdom.

    Look forward to reading your part 2!

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