Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Equity for the nations: A Call for 50/50 Cooperative Program giving strategy

I have spent the last two weeks on 2 continents in 2 countries and 3 major cities in the 10/40 window. Every time I travel in last frontier areas where Southern Baptists have workers trying to penetrate the spiritual darkness with the light of the gospel I experience true ambivalence. On the one hand I am humbled by the character and labors of those who have chosen to live in hard places in order to make Christ known. And I am deeply grateful for the cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists in sending and servicing such devoted workers. We have an ingenious method of supporting gospel workers on the field. On the other hand, I always come away with a sense that we can do better. We can give more, send more and reach further than we currently are if we are willing to reorder our priorities.

As I prepare to leave this region of the world and return home, those old feelings have come back. I have been incredibly impressed with the gospel work that is taking place here and being overseen from here. And I have been frustrated by the fresh awareness of how much more could be done with more resources--resources that exist but simply are not making it to the field.

I listened to a worker describe cutting funds in his budget for Bibles in the heart language of unreached people due to the financial shortfall facing the IMB. I learned of cutbacks in the number or workers that will be joining the efforts to reach Muslims in this region of the world. I heard of other opportunities that could be pursued if only money were available.

Southern Baptist churches should undoubtedly give more to the work of missions. But the truth is, we are already giving enough to overcome the kinds of cutbacks that our workers on the field are experiencing. Our problem is that not enough is making it to the places where it is needed most.

Let me explain.

In 2008 Southern Baptist churches gave $548,205,099 to finance gospel efforts through the Cooperative Program (CP). Of that amount, only $204,385,593 (37%) made it to offices in Nashville to be distributed to causes in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Budget. This means that state conventions of the SBC retained, on average, 63% (nearly $344,000,000) of all offerings that were designate from the churches for the Cooperative Program.

The SBC's Allocation Budget for the CP apportioned 50% of all money received to the International Mission Board, 22.79% to the North American Mission Board (NAMB), 22.16% to theological education, 3.40% to facilitating ministries and 1.65% to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

That means that Southern Baptists, through the CP, allocated only $102,000,000 to reach the nations in 2008 (the IMB also received $141 million through the 2008 Lottie Moon offering). If state conventions had kept only 50% of all CP funds that year, an additional $88,000,000 would have made it to the SBC budget, resulting in an additional $44,000,000 for the IMB to use in our efforts to reach the nations.

I have no interest in debating the merits of state conventions. I know they do some very valuable things. My own state convention is heavily involved in assisting in the relief work in Haiti. But it is beyond dispute that some of what state conventions do is unnecessary (listen to this talk by Mike Day, DOM of the Mid-South Baptist Association in Memphis, TN) and could be scaled back in order to free up more funds to reach unreached people groups of the world. Without getting into the specifics of all this, I would like to propose that the churches of the SBC instruct their state conventions to operate on smaller budgets. Specifically, I suggest that churches call on their state conventions to operate on no more than 50% of CP funds forwarded to them from local congregations.

Let's keep no more than 50% of CP offerings in the state, and designate no more than 50% of what goes to Nashville for convention-wide ministries within the USA with the remaining 50% or more distributed to the IMB for the nations. To my mind, this seems only equitable.

Equity for the nations. Let's call for it. Let's work for it.


Bill said...

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. My only disagreement would be the 50% benchmark. 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

Tom said...


More and more folks share your perspective. I know of many churches who have done what your NC church did. Thanks for your comment.

Jason Wright said...

Thanks for this Tom. I just had a conversation about this with someone and learned that the SBTC gives 55% to the CP.

Russell Taylor said...

We are currently independent and considering the most efficient way to do missions. The reformed baptists are our most kindred brethren and we want to make sure we are supporting reformed baptistic works. What would we have to do to send our mission dollars strait into the pockets of IMB missionaries themselves and completely eliminate the bureaucrats? Can we give directly to the IMB and designate it to specific missionaries?

Wyman Richardson said...


Right on. I think you're hitting the nail on the head.

Instead of saying, "The churches must give more," why aren't we hearing, "We can do more with what's been given"?

I do grow weary of reading these pieces highlighting these heartbreaking stories about our missionaries being taken off the field "because of insufficient funds." If "insufficient funds" means "not enough money," then I daresay that is precisely not the problem. When I hear those stories now I think, "You mean you guys brought home missionaries from the Middle East (or wherever) when you could have just reduced the staff in the ________ department, removed a few _________ from the payroll, moved to some smaller buildings, etc. etc.?"

Maybe this is naive of me, and I do appreciate the tough spot of not wanting to remove good people from positions stateside. But frankly I sometimes think that if 5pastorsand 5 laypeople could be chosen at random from each state and given a Sharpie and a copy of that state's convention budget, they could free up enough money so that no missionary would ever be brought home again.

Call is "spending triage."


David Phillips said...


I'm going to have to disagree with you. I live in Delaware and our state convention (BCMD) needs every dime it can get to plant churches and do ministry here.

Here is the issue that I think Southern Baptists have and I wrote this in my post on Missioscapes.com (http://missioscapes.com/archives/if-we-were-the-gcr-task-force-we-would-head-to-the-old-west/) long before Ronnie Floyd etc started quoting me when he speaks about this. Southern Baptists are a regional denomination with continental aspirations. 80% of the churches and 70% of the money spent are in 14 states in the South.

We are hindered because we think the rest of the country is like those 14 states. It's not, and it is soon coming where those 14 states are going to be more like Delaware and Maryland than OK, FL, or TN. We have to get our head out of the sand thinking the rest of the country is like those 14 states. I say that after being born and raised in a SBC church in Alabama.

I would never ask my state convention to go to 50/50 when Florida gets more money from NAMB than we do, when OK has more staff people who receive the majority of the salary & benefits than we have staff. This shows the dangers of a bloated bureaucracy, and just as I am against sending more money to Washington, I am against sending more money Nashville.

A denomination can't fulfill the great commission. That is the church's role. That doesn't mean I'm not for reaching the world; I am for the church reaching the world, not a bloated denomination. I more prefer going to 1 mission board, turning 4 of the 6 seminaries over to the states in which they reside, and being more integrative in our education. Turn theological education back over to the states and the SBC can simply focus on missions period: nothing else except for 2 schools that provide more interdisciplinary style of education (sciences, business, art, etc) helping people to gain an MDiv in Global Business or an MBA in International Missions.

If we are going to be a regionalized denomination, then shut it down to 14 states and then ask those states to go to a 50/50 or different % model. But if you are going to talk about the entire SBC in all 50 states, you can't make that statement. We need all the money we can get to reach the millions for Christ right here in our own 2 state convention.

Tom said...


Yes, you can give money directly to the IMB and designate it for specific projects or the work of specific people. Contact Richmond to find out exactly how to do it.

Tom said...


SBTC is leading the way. I would love to see other state conventions follow their lead.

Tom said...


I agree wholeheartedly. The kinds of changes that need to be made will be painful and disruptive to the lives of many good people and we should do whatever we can to make it less traumatic. But we are in a war--a spiritual war, and unless we begin to develop a war-time mentality and resolve to get our resources to the places where they are needed most, we will not penetrate the spiritually dark places of the world with the light of the gospel as we ought.

Tom said...


Thanks for your thoughtful response. I greatly appreciate your article to which you linked. It is that kind of thinking that we desperately need in the SBC today.

I agree with you when you say that a denomination can't fulfill the great commission. And I would add that neither can it plant churches. Christ has vested His authority to advance His kingdom in only one institution and that is the church.

Though I have some different thoughts about the way the SBC should restructure, I believe that you and I are facing the same direction on this issue. When I suggest that at least 50% of the monies given for CP purposes through state conventions be forwarded to Nashville, I am assuming the current structure. My greater desire would be to see that structure radically changed (if you haven't listened to Mike Day's talk to which I linked in the article, I encourage you to do so). The extra money routed through Nashville would not be to further bloat the bureaucracy, but to reach the fields where it is most needed.

No one likes to make tough judgment calls but if pressed to decide between spending mission dollars on NYC or Kabul, Afghanistan, I am going with Kabul. As I type this I am listening sitting in a dark room in an Asian city of millions, listening to the first call to prayer from 4 different mosques. The overwhelming majority of the people of this city--and nation--have no gospel witness available to them in the heart languages. Some have no Bibles available. Those who do cannot go to a local book shop and purchase a copy. Most have never heard the gospel and would not know where to start looking if they wanted to hear more about Jesus.

Your suggestion to the NOBTS prof that he take a sabbatical to live in your region for six months in order to learn how to do ministry is spot on. I think it would be great if every leader who draws a denominational check were required to spend just a month in the 10/40 window.

Again, thanks for your insights. I suspect that if either you or I were to get our wish list for what the SBC should become, both of us would be hopeful.

Van Vowell said...

Tom, my small church designates 50% to CP like others have commented. Maybe the state conventions would listen if there were more pressure from local churches on a grass roots level. Founders churches would be a good start.

chadwick said...


In SC, it would be easier to get Mark Sanford to leave office! We tried to implement the 50/50 in 2007 (via the infamous 'Kirby Winstead Motion').

The Powers that be pulled everything on us but a knife to railroad the 50/50 proposal. I learned a lesson about how dirty politics can get . . . dirty politics originated in SC! Here are a couple of links recapping the 2007 debacle:



Tom said...


You are right. State conventions exist for the purpose of serving local churches. The direction of authority and responsibility needs to be remembered and, when necessary, reclarified.

Tom said...


Very sad. Keep trying. I believe the ethos is gradually changing and this new way of thinking will ultimately prevail.

Brad Williams said...


I'm a pastor of a new church start in Alabama, and as such, we began from scratch on how we did our co-operative program giving. Frankly, the co-operative program is a tough sell here, even amongst folks coming out of a traditional SBC background.

The reason is because people do not want their money wasted. Nobody does. And we know the missionaries we personally support, some of who are not SBC. We can talk to them on Skype, in some cases we can ring them on the cell phone for pennies a minute, and we have developed personal relationships with them. We can even hold them accountable for what they teach and do.

Why on earth would we give to an organization that keeps even 20% for what is perceived as bureacracy and sends missionaries who have little to no accountability to a local church? What kind of accountability can we expect from churches that do not even keep their own members accountable?

The bottom line of the appeal is that if we co-operate together, we can get more money to where it needs to go. Well, who are these people? Why should I give to them? What are they teaching? Standard SBC things? For our church, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to give to things that we are uncertain about when we can give to things that we are certain about.

In all of this, I speak as one who is hearing these objections, not that I neccessarily hold to them all.

Tom said...


I understand the questions and the low level of trust and have heard similar questions. The primary reason behind most of the problems that provoke those questions is the abdication of responsibility by local churches. Over 12 years ago I was thrilled to hear Jerry Rankin say that churches send missionaries, not the IMB. He was singing my song.

Our church has had mostly positive experiences sending out 4 missionary units through the IMB. They are our members and are accountable to our church. The cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists have enabled us to send them to places we could not get them or keep them if left to our own resources alone. Further, we have healthy personal relationships with dozens of other IMB workers and supportive, more distant relationships with dozens of others. We are as close to IMB workers as we are to others serviced through other organizations.

From my limited experience I have found the IMB to be amazingly lean for an organization its size. It has its problems like any human institution, but I am grateful for it. I would encourage you to take a close look at it. Investigate. Ask hard questions and see what you find.

Granted, our church's focus is primarily on one region of the world and most (but not all) of our personal relationships and investments are focused there, but what we have experienced encourages us to continue on and to work to do even more.

Thanks for your comments. May the Lord abundantly bless your new church!

Brad Williams said...

I agree with you 100%. I am trying to work through these things with folks who, for the most part, are sort of "recovering" from a non-accountability, doctrinally lax type of church environment. (I ashamed to say that.)

So that brings larger questions to their minds, and it is going to take some time to get over the bad taste that has formed since they have learned to love accountability and earnest Bible teaching. I look at this as an opportunity for learning, and I am very excited that we have gotten to a place where our folks are concerned enough to dig in and see what's going on. I can't tell you how happy that makes me.

proudpappa said...

A truly 50/50 allocation would be a good start, but the domestic and international missions investments would still not be anywhere near equitable.

At the 62/48 split, we spend 37 times more per capita to reach someone living in the US or Canada than we do living anywhere else in the world. If you run the numbers for just the South, the desparity is much greater.

On last point, many state conventions will claim they are at or near a 50/50 allocation when they really are not. There are several ways this claim is made. Sometimes, the Annie and Lottie offerings are being counted as part of what the states are sending to the SBC. When this is true, they are able to keep much more of the undesignated CP receipts in the state and still have a 50/50 ratio. Also, some want to discount another 5 percent or so that the states spend to promote the CP.

Currently, not counting all the money we spend on our churches themselves, and the money we give to associations, we spend $1.31/person to reach every man, woman, child in the US & Canada and less than 4cents to reach everyone else.

proudpappa said...

sorry, that's a 62/38 split.

RG said...


My family serves with the IMB in the Middle East. We love the way churches support us through the CP but do struggle with dwindling finances for ministry. We have strong relationships with a couple of local churches and desire relationships with more. While we have many projects that get left behind because of a lack of finances and can always use more support, we desire new, solid relationships with local churches even more than support. You can give AND be involved in ministry with a people group through the IMB!


I'm sure there are many lost people in Delaware. Our People Group is a minority in their own country (and a small country at that) yet there are almost 1.5 million of them. I would bet that is more than the entire population of Delaware. I can't see how the need in Delaware could exceed that of our PG, at least numerically and financially.

Salaam, peace,
Abu Yaqub

The Rayburns said...

Thank you Tom for tackling such a tough issue.
First, to Brad, I would like to talk to you more about the questions you posted and the feelings of your members. Call me.

Now, I think financial issues are on everyone's mind on the field. In our region of the world, we are going through massive changes redirecting personnel from those who have the gospel to those who don't. This might be one of the great things from the financial fall out. To think because of the changes every people group in the Americas could have the gospel.

Ron said...
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Ron said...

I have been serving with the IMB in the 10/40 window for 30 years. I agree with and appreciate your comments in your opening paragraphs down to where you say let me explain. The figures you give are interesting but they miss the real problem.

Most state conventions I know have actually increased the percentage of funds going to the SBC in the last 20 years. The problem is the churches have decreased their percentage giving to the Cooperative Program on average from about 9% to around 5 or 6%. Unless the GCR task force can find a way to convince our churches to increase their giving to the CP we will continue to have less available to our mission boards. They should start with their own churches. Some of the major members of the task force are in churches that give far less to the CP than the average SBC church.

You said you have no interest in debating the merits of state conventions. I am supported by CP funds given to the SBC but I still recognize we would all be hurt without the ministries of the state conventions. I am not sure I would be on the mission field today without the education and encouragement toward missions I received as at our state RA camp or state youth camp where real live missionaries were there to share their work. I attended a state Baptist college that further helped my preparation. As a missionary, I have been helped by state BSU summer missionaries and other mission teams sent out by state conventions. In addition I strongly support the other work our state conventions do in sponsoring orphanages, disaster relief and church planting in their states. The GCR task force and specifically Danny Akin has tried to make the state conventions the villain in this but the truth is they need to look at the beam in their own eyes before criticizing the splinters in the state conventions.

Ron West

Wyman Richardson said...


I'm obviously not Tom and am in no way trying to speak for him. Just my own reaction to your comments:

1. I in know way hear Tom or anybody calling for the abolition of state conventions or the ministries you mention. So I would ditto your praise for the impact that many state convention ministries have had in your life (as, I suspect, will Tom). But you wouldn't apply equal praise to ALL state convention ministries, would you? You wouldn't say that they are all mission criticle?

2. I have no doubt that many churches have decreased CP giving. But many of us have not. My church gives 11% to the CP and will continue to do so, this on top of increasing amounts of money to direct mission causes through our own church. Furthermore, it seems to me that when we look at the overall decrease in CP giving (which is, I agree, lamentable), a good question is, "So what are these churches doing with the funds they no longer give to CP?" and, "Why do some of these churches feel compelled to give less?" The answer to both of those may be enlightening, though we'll likely never know.

3. Personally, I agree with you about the low CP giving of the members of the GCR Taskforce. I think that is regrettable.

Just my .02.


proudpappa said...

Dear Ron,

Churches will not be too excited to give more to the CP as long as states are keeping 62+ percent in their state. And, on top of that, more comes back to those state through NAMB. Churches (particularly in the South) are taking ownership for their Jerusalem and Judea, and the role of state conventions is, as a result, changing. The 50/50 split proposed in 1925 was when the SBC churches in the southern states still had much ground to cover in which no SBC church existed. This is still true in some state conventions in other regions, but much less true in the South. This does not mean, of course, that there is no longer terrible lostness in the South. It simply means there are now churches in place to take ownership of the work of investing in communities and making disciples where they are - much more so than was true in 1925.

As state conventions succeed at planting thriving churches and aiding struggling churches, they should be able to send more and more $ out of their state to do the same work in parts of the world where people have little to no access to the gospel.

Our ability to network and cooperate for the gospel within states has been radically enhanced and changed in the past 20 years because of advances in technology as well.

There is no justifiable reason for the spending offunds churches give specifically for Great Commission purposes (CP) to be spent so disproportionately in southern states. (37x more per person to reach an American than an African).


Tom said...


I largely agree with Wyman's assessment of this situation. It would be interesting to see what state conventions have done with regard to % of CP funds that make it out of the state over the last 20-30 years. If anyone wants to investigate this the figures are readily available here: http://www.cpmissions.net/2003/Yourstatescontribs.asp

I think it is safe to say that most of our state conventions have retained less of the CP funds they receive at some point in their histories than is currently the case. I know that is true in my own state (Florida). When I came in 1986 we were forwarding 50.1% of all CP funds. Now we keep over 60%.

Daniel makes an excellent point, as well. From the conversations I have had, I am convinced that many pastors are unwilling to lead their churches to increase CP funds when so much of it stays in the state and so little of it makes it to the international fields.

Finally, if you have an chance, do listen to Mike Day's talk. He doesn't castigate state conventions, but does call attention to the real issue of redundancy that we can no longer afford to ignore. The technological changes that we have lived through the last 50 years have ushered in a new day that challenges some of the rational for the ways that associations (and be implication, state conventions) were organized in generations past. We need to take a good look at this and be willing to reorganize at those points where doing so would serve kingdom purposes.

Thanks very much for your thoughts.

Ron said...

Let me say first that my thoughts are my own and reflect my own experience. I realize my opinions could be wrong and those who disagree with me may have valid points.

Tom, thank you for the website. It was very informative. The numbers for Florida were all over the place. It was hard to find any pattern. My home state of Arkansas has increased their SBC percentage slightly over the last few years and a few others I checked have also. I do not know what the overall pattern is for the entire convention.

Wyman, you are right I wouldn’t apply equal praise to all state convention ministries. I also wouldn’t apply equal praise to all IMB ministries or to my church’s ministries. I still think most are worthy.

As far as being mission critical, not all CP funds that reach the national SBC entities are necessarily mission critical. Is the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee missions critical? Is a program for homemakers at SWBTS mission critical? My state operates a children’s home. You might not think that it is missions critical but I still think it is a worthy ministry. I have worked on the mission field with missionaries who were raised in that orphanage and known many others who have made contributions to missions. Some might not think the student ministries on our college campuses are not missions critical but I have worked besides missionaries whose first exposure to missions was through BSU missions programs.

Wyman, I too would like to hear the answer to why churches are giving less to the CP and what are they doing with those funds. I know many churches are using their funds to make missions trips and do other hands on things in missions. I think that is great. I just wish they would try to do it without decreasing their giving to CP. Tom seems to think through his discussions with pastors that it is because they are concerned about the money that stays in the state. I travel around and meet pastors from many state conventions but I have heard very little of that concern except on blogs like this or the ones sponsored by SEBTS. What I have heard more from pastors in the past is why should our church continue to give a high percentage to the CP when our SBC presidents usually give a small percentage that is much less than the average church and yet they have control over who is allowed to serve as a trustees and decide how the money is spent.

Daniel, you make some excellent points. I agree the states in the south should do more to get money to other parts of the US and outside the US. Many are doing that.

I think the best way to bring about a GCR and turn our convention back in the right direction would be for our leaders to help us follow the directions in II Chronicles 7:14. If our leaders were willing to humble themselves, pray and seek God’s face and repent of those things that are holding us back, I think the rest of us would follow.
Ron West

Coetsee said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wyman Richardson said...


I think this is a good discussion. Just for the record, I'd very much agree about children's homes being mission critical! (Although, here in GA, if I'm not mistaken, they do not receive CP dollars.)

I think I hear you saying that it gets downright difficult to determine which ministries are mission critical and which are not, and who exactly is going to determine that. I would agree. I would only say that somehow that unpleasant work must be done on the state level and, as you rightly point out, in our missions boards as well. Across the board, I say!

Bob said...

Wow... very eye opening... especially the link to the historical tables of state conventions' giving to the SBC as opposed to what stays in the state.

Great discussion. Thanks for writing this Tom.

PastorBrian said...

I agree with your perspective 100%. Here's why...I was saved in an SBC church in Ohio. After a few years went off to Bible College and Seminary both SBC. However when I approached the State Convention in Ohio to help in planting a new church, my request was declined because they said, there was no funds available...which wasn't entirely accurate. Ohio has just moved its offices into a multi-million dollar complex. They say they want to begin new churches, which sounds good to the little old ladies giving their pension checks every month but in reality, I don't think they're as serious about it as they want their churches to think.
Another reason is that a friend of mine who has recently finished at Southern Seminary getting prepared for the mission field, upon graduation was told there was no funding to send him. Being the man he is and with a burning desire to see lost people come to Christ, he raised his own money and is now on the field without any SBC funding.
I too believe the CP is an amazing way to fund missions but I also believe it's currently more of a scam than we want to admit.
A church was planted in Ohio without any help by the SBC and a missionary is on the field without any help from the SBC.
Praise the Lord!

Cindy H said...

I'd like to take the conversation a little further. Of that small percentage that actually makes it to the IMB, how much actually makes it to the fields - not to adminsitration, buildings, or trustee meetings? I heard just this week that only 15cents per dollar makes it to missionaries. I am praying that figure is wrong.