The existence of two state conventions in Texas provides options to Southern Baptist churches attempting to fund worldwide missions. Members must examine how the priorities of each convention match their own, often resorting to creative financing of their church’s mission preferences.
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) was formed in 1998 when members of 120 churches sought to strengthen ties with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and relate to one another through a confessional organization. The SBTC’s first budget allocated half of all undesignated receipts from affiliate churches to Southern Baptist ministries worldwide. Such allocations are distributed through the SBC’s Executive Committee in Nashville.
Having grown to more than 1,500 churches, the SBTC now sends 52 percent of CP receipts to the SBC, using well over a third of what is retained for in-state evangelism and missions. The 2005 proposed budget increases the SBC’s portion to 53 percent.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) originally retained only 54.24 percent of the undesignated receipts from Texas churches, according to information at .cpmissions.net/2003/Yourstatecontribs.asp listing state convention contributions. While the proportion of in-state and out-of-state allocations were divided 67/33 for most of its history, the BGCT Adopted Giving Plan, which its churches are encouraged but not required to use, now calls for 79 percent of CP funds to support BGCT missions, ministry and institutions. BGCT evangelism and missions receive about 15 percent of the adopted budget allocations.
BGCT churches may send the “worldwide” portion of CP receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) or a BGCT-Texas Missions Initiative,” according to the convention’s website (www.bgct.org). When the BGCT began recommending a budget with 79 percent staying in Texas, the majority of its churches opted for a more traditional split, typically sending 33 percent on to the SBC and 63 percent to the BGCT’s work. With fewer churches using the recommended formula, the BGCT reported that 34 percent of receipts from its churches were forwarded to the SBC–higher than recommended.
Glen Meadows Baptist Church in San Angelo sent their CP funds through BGCT, dividing it between the SBC and BGCT until this year. When a team of five deacons examined the theological statements, expenditures, policies and affiliations of SBTC and BGCT, they concluded that the priorities and convictions of SBTC were more compatible with their congregation.
“It is clear from comparing budgets, SBC and SBTC are mission oriented whereas BGCT is institutionally oriented,” the report stated. In July of this year the church voted to uniquely affiliate with SBTC based on their findings.
Local churches exercise their autonomy by deciding whether to affiliate with the BGCT, SBTC or other bodies. Some congregations dually affiliate and a few have no state convention relationship. Seventy-five percent of the 1,544 churches of the SBTC are uniquely affiliated, while the remaining 25 percent retain affiliation with the BGCT or other Baptist groups.
As the BGCT reduced the portion they sent to SBC that for a few years included a cap on support of SBC seminaries and defunded the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, hundreds of BGCT churches began sending the CP portion of their budget directly to Nashville for distribution. That move provided a means of maintaining their support of SBC ministries without making a decision on affiliating with SBTC.
According to the 2004 SBC Annual Report, 222 Texas churches sent CP funds directly to the SBC during the time frame of October 2002 and September 2003. In that group 206 churches were then affiliated with BGCT. Only 16 of those churches were uniquely affiliated with SBTC during the 2002-2003 year of the report while another 18 were affiliated with both conventions. Either during the 2002-2003 reporting year or since then, 10 of those BGCT churches had also affiliated with SBTC and nine left BGCT altogether and relate to SBTC uniquely.
First Baptist Church of Redwater, Texas, was among that group that redirected their giving around the state convention. Over a four-year period the church did not contribute to BGCT, although they continued to be listed as a member. Pastor Steve Rice said he was impressed that the SBC Executive Committee would not accept their money until they produced a document verifying the church action. “That is good for accountability,” Rice told the TEXAN.
While wanting to encourage the church to move in the direction of the newly established Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, the young minister serving in his first pastorate thought it best to proceed slowly. “I didn’t want to lead the church into a convention that I didn’t know a lot about.”
He turned to his deacons to study the matter for several years, gleaning information from other churches, representatives of the two conventions and materials published by the SBC. “We knew this was something that could be volatile,” Rice said. “We didn’t want to make a quick or rash decision.”
The Redwater church affiliated with SBTC las month, recognizing the value of contributing to missions and evangelism in Texas as well as around the world. The church enjoys actively participating in the local Baptist association, but Rice never considered advising the church to no longer relate to a state convention at all. “We may sense that things are going well here, but we recognize other counties are suffering” where the gospel has not been adequately shared, he said. “We just wanted time to see that SBTC was going to be stable.”
Texas churches directly giving more than $100,000 to the SBC during 2002-2003 were: Champion Forest Baptist, Houston, $456,499; First Baptist, Euless, $207,958; Fielder Road Baptist, Arlington, $207,009; Bannockburn Baptist, Austin, $186,261; Lake Arlington Baptist, Arlington, $176,890; First Baptist, Carrollton, $167,047; Southcrest Baptist, Lubbock, $154,366; Hyde Park Baptist, Austin, $134,413; Memorial Baptist, Grapevine $133,921; First Baptist, Sugar Land, $128,604; and Walnut Ridge Baptist, Mansfield, $118,618.
As churches autonomously decide how to best represent their priorities, they budgeted for the Cooperative Program in a variety of ways. Of those listed above, both First Baptist of Euless and Walnut Ridge Baptist of Mansfield uniquely affiliated with SBTC soon after the new state convention was formed. Both churches send a portion of CP funds through SBTC and the rest directly to the SBC.
Both Fielder Road Baptist of Arlington and Memorial Baptist of Grapevine are dually affiliated with SBTC. The Arlington church continues to contribute to each state convention as well as sending funds directly to the SBC. Like all three of the other churches, the Grapevine church has historically been committed to the Cooperative Program. Pastor Gregg Simmons explained how they handled the process of maintaining that support while evaluating state convention affiliations.
“Several years ago, in response to the BGCT decision to cut support to the SBC seminaries, Executive Committee and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the church voted to channel the bulk of its Cooperative Program gifts directly to the SBC.” According to the most recent report of 2002-2003 gifts, Memorial Baptist sent $133,921 to the SBC directly.
Simmons explained the process by which the church returned to sending the CP portion of their budget undesignated through SBTC. “Last year our missions committee did an extensive study of the SBTC and BGCT. They were impressed by several of the SBTC core commitments, such as maintaining a minimal bureaucracy, placing a priority on starting new churches and the commitment to give 51% of receipts to the SBC,” citing a 2002 SBTC budget.
“Our church voted last year to begin giving our CP gifts through the SBTC. We believe this is the true genius of the Cooperative Program concept—churches, state conventions and national convention working cooperatively to support global missions.”
Some Southern Baptist churches in Texas even allow each member to allocate how the Cooperative Program portion of the tithe is distributed. A west central Southern Baptist church maintains its affiliation with BGCT though the vast majority of members prefer to send contributions to the SBC or SBTC. A church member has the opportunity to specify whether the CP portion of the tithe is sent to the SBC, SBTC or to the BGCT where the traditional 67/33 split is specified.
One north Texas BGCT church designates missions dollars to the International Mission Board, the SBC budget and BGCT. The pastor of another BGCT church in west Texas said they send a minimal amount to the BGCT to retain voting privileges while forwarding the vast majority of its CP gifts directly to the SBC. A few dozen churches that early on affiliated with the SBTC continue to send a large portion of CP funds directly to Nashville while also contributing to the SBTC’s budget where more than half of that amount will also make its way to the SBC. The variety of approaches that Texas churches have used to maintain traditional support of Southern Baptist ministries generated sufficient funding to more than make up for the BGCT’s reduced support of the SBC in budgets adopted since 2001. Three approaches made the difference:
- Formation of a new convention committed to sending the SBC more money than it kept from affiliate churches;
- Direct contributions to the SBC from churches;
- Customized giving by BGCT churches that specified sending the SBC a portion larger than what the adopted budget allocated.
SBC Executive Committee Executive Vice President David Hankins recalled that direct gifts from Texas churches jumped dramatically when BGCT went so far as to defund several entities for a few years and is now leveling off. While a full report for 2003-2004 is not available until next year’s annual meeting, the number of Texas churches giving directly declined to 192, nine of which had not been giving directly in the prior year.
“In the early ‘90s the state convention in Texas opened Pandora’s box to promote ‘designated’ Cooperative Program giving,” observed SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards. “So-called designated giving is the loose thread that could unravel the fabric of the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program was created as an ‘undesignated’ giving channel. To say, “undesignated’ Cooperative Program money is like saying, “a round circle.’ It is one in the same. Nevertheless, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will honor the wishes of the churches by forwarding funds to the SBC or certain designated entities.”
Hankins said, “The Executive Committee prefers that churches give one undesignated gift for the cooperative Program through the state convention to be divided between the state convention and the SBC according to the state convention and the SBC according to the state convention’s approved percentage division,” Hankins told the TEXAN. He added that there is also a preference “that state conventions approve only one CP giving option and that the option sets an equitable and generous percentage for the SBC.”
Through the years, Hankins said, the SBC has encouraged state conventions to forward at least 50 percent of CP receipts to the SBC. While that is the practice of only two state conventions (Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Southern Baptist conservatives of Virginia), a messenger to the annual meeting of the SBC requested “a good faith estimate from the state conventions who are in cooperation with the SBC” as to when they will reach the original goal of a 50/50 split of CP funds between the SBC and state conventions. An eight-person Task Force on Cooperation (representing the executive directors of the Baptist state conventions and the [SBC] Great Commission Council) is in the process of studying the issue.
Richards described his hope that SBTC can show the value of investing in Texas in what he described as an “entrepreneurial atmosphere.” He emphasized three selling points as having the greatest importance:
- “Texas needs to be reached and the SBTC has a positive, effective missions strategy to get the job done.
- “The proposed Operating Budget for 2005 will send 53% of the funds to the Southern Baptist Convention to fund our national and international missions and ministry.
- “While maintaining a small in-house staff the SBTC can provide assistance to small and medium size churches in carrying out their ministry.”
Richards added, “Cooperative Program giving is a wise investment in the kingdom giving every church the opportunity to get the most bang for their mission buck.” For more information on SBTC values, visit www.sbtexas.com and select the Q&A SBTC Beliefs and Values link.