The Southern Baptist Convention: An Introduction

“The Southern Baptist Convention is made up of many individuals, churches, and entities. Although most people understand the term Southern Baptist Convention to refer to the ongoing cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists, it can also be understood as referring to the annual two-day meeting. At this convention, messengers from Southern Baptist churches approve, adjust, or disapprove budgets, committee appointments, resolutions, and more. Though there is no literal convention for the balance of the year, denominational entities carry out their respective responsibilities until the next annual meeting.

The SBC is made up of more than 16 million members who hold membership in 44,848 autonomous, local churches.(1) By calling the churches autonomous, we mean that they make their own decisions on staffing, budget, and program. No one outside the churches holds this authority

. These churches join in 1,200 local associations. Associations place churches in close-knit networks for reaching an area. Some of these associations are supported by the state conventions, while some are not.

On a larger scale, the churches assemble in 41 state or regional conventions.(2) The state conventions (such as those of Alabama and Indiana) or regional conventions (such as those in New England and the Pacific Northwest) join with the associations in such efforts as evangelism training, church planting, Cooperative Program promotion, campus ministry, camp programs, and in many cases, they establish their own children’s homes and colleges.

Finally, Southern Baptist churches partner together at the national level, with several entities: six Southern Baptist seminaries, provide theological education— Southeastern in Wake Forest, North Carolina; Southern in Louisville, Kentucky; Southwestern in Ft. Worth, Texas; Golden Gate, in the San Francisco, California, area; Midwestern in Kansas City, Missouri; and New Orleans in, of course, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Besides the six seminaries, the SBC also has an International Mission Board, which sends and supports missionaries all over the world; an Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, providing resources and leadership on ethical issues; Guidestone Financial Resources providing financial planning, insurance, and annuities for church and denomination staff members; a North American Mission Board, supporting the state conventions in evangelism, missions, and ministry, such as disaster relief; an Historical Library and Archive, preserving the denomination’s heritage and assisting scholars in their studies; LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC publishing house, with “biblical solutions for life”; and an Executive Committee coordinating the day-to-day functions of the SBC. In addition, the Women’s Missionary Union serves as an auxiliary in promoting missions.

The doctrinal center of this massive effort is the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, expressing what Southern Baptists believe the Bible teaches about itself, and about God, man, Jesus, salvation, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, to name seven of its eighteen topics. While there are many things that are not covered in this document, Southern Baptists do believe that it addresses the key issues needed for cooperation.

The funding mechanism Southern Baptists use to support their various entities and ministries is called the Cooperative Program (CP). Established in 1925, the CP depends upon the undesignated gifts given to it by Southern Baptist churches. By unifying the funding, the CP provides a workable way through which tens of thousands of like-minded churches can cooperate for the advancement and application of the gospel.

Just as every family determines how much money to give to the local church, each Southern Baptist church determines how much to give to the Cooperative Program. Each state convention, then, determines how much money to keep in state and how much to send on to the national level. The SBC then divides the dollars it receives among its entities…. On average, state or regional conventions keep 63 percent of every CP dollar, while sending 37 percent on to the national level.

Of the money that reaches the SBC, 50 percent goes to the International Mission Board (IMB), 22.79 per- cent to the North American Mission Board (NAMB), 22.16 percent collectively to the six seminaries and the Historical Library and Archives, 1.65 percent to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and 3.40 percent to the Executive Committee.(3)

Assuming the average state allocation, each CP dollar sent from the local church is divided along these lines: 63 cents for the state, 18.5 cents for the IMB, 8.43 cents for NAMB, 8.2 cents for the six seminaries, .61 cents for ERLC, and 1.26 cents for the Executive Committee. Guidestone, LifeWay, and the WMU do not receive CP funding.

It is also worth mentioning that there are a number of special missions offerings that take place throughout the year. The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering goes directly to the North American Mission Board and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering sends all its money directly to the International Mission Board….

… A basic understanding of the Southern Baptist Convention should provide Southern Baptists with a great sense of appreciation and ownership. The massive denominational effort did not come about easily and it will not stay faithful easily. We have all been given a gift. But this gift comes with responsibility. Southern Baptists must take ownership of their roles, asking the hard questions that our predecessors were willing to ask. With a laser beam focus on the advancement of the Great Commission, we must ask what the SBC should look like from top to bottom in order to be effective and faithful in the twenty-first century.”

Be sure to sign up for the Baptist21 panel where keynote speakers will talk about pressing and hot topics in the convention. Join B21, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Al Mohler, Thom Rainer, and Danny Akin during the lunch slot Thursday at this year’s convention. Register here.

Excerpt from my chapter in Retreat or Risk: A Call for a Great Commission Resurgence.

Notes 1. See (accessed Feb. 10, 2010).

2. See (accessed Feb. 10, 2010).

3. See (accessed Feb. 10, 2010).

Post by Jed Coppenger