January Cooperative Program receipts in the Baptist General Convention of Texas were down 12% below last year’s levels, and well below the budgeted figures for 2009.  This will obviously prompt the continuation of the spending cuts initiated when Randel Everett first joined the staff as executive director, and perhaps additional adjustments.

This should not come as a surprise.  The economic downturn which has obviously been news for a year now has affected Texas, in spite of the local media’s attempt to portray the state as “recession proof.”  Most churches give a percentage of their total income to the Cooperative Program, so the BGCT income will drop as the church income drops.  The current budget does reflect a little optimism that giving would increase, though not by much, and that is apparently not going to transpire, but budgets are just tools, and they can be changed.  There is little doubt that this one will undergo some of that for sure.

But don’t blame it all on the economy. 

Cooperative Program giving levels have been dropping in the BGCT, even through the time of small but steady economic growth that occurred through 2007.  The giving fell below budget levels virtually every month, and usually somewhere between 3 and 4% below the previous year’s giving levels for at least five of the last six years.  Since 2004, Cooperative Program giving in the BGCT has fallen off about 12%. 

That, says many “experts,” is the result of the times.  We are in a post-denominational age, thus, established denominational organizations like the BGCT, or the SBC, are experiencing drop offs in traditional giving as the focus shifts to more hands on mission approaches by local churches, and as there are fewer and fewer people who are aware of, or interested in, denominational institutions and ministries.  I’m sure some of that is true, though during the same period of time, giving to the Cooperative Program across the SBC was still increasing.

No doubt, the conservative vs. moderate controversy from the SBC that has spilled over into the BGCT, and the resulting dividing lines that have been drawn have also had an effect on CP giving in the BGCT, which has lost a substantial number of churches to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and continues to lose them.  Adjustments have been made to compensate for that as well. 

This is not, however, a time to appeal to the churches for more giving.  We are tightening our belts too, and the BGCT needs to do the same.  Our church budget for 2009 reflects a realistic anticipated view of giving and we have made adjustments where it was necessary to do so.  Expenses for staff travel were evaluated, and amounts lowered, with the request made that our staff needs to limit the number of training and development events in which they participate.  Other expenses, such as the book allowance, were also reduced.  Salaries were re-evaluated, and re-adjustments were made in order to balance the budget.  No cuts were made to existing positions, but some vacant openings were either combined or eliminated, and for new staff, salaries were lowered in order to meet the budget requirement. 

The BGCT would do well to look at the same sort of thing.  As executive positions are vacated, consideration needs to be given to both their absolute necessity to the convention’s ministry, and to the salaries that were previously paid.  The same holds true with other positions.  Though it may not be the most convenient thing to do, consideration needs to be given to combining staff positions, or eliminating some of them rather than replacing employees who leave. 

I’ve had the opportunity, in recent months, to participate in some on-line meetings and conferences, and a couple of tele-conferences, and they work fine.  They are also far less expensive than travel.  Perhaps the use of technology of this sort should be something the BGCT considers as well. 

Rebuilding trust will also be an important consideration.  I’m sure that Valleygate, and the general impression that the leadership of the BGCT is a locked-down, exclusive club of insiders, have had an effect on church budget decisions beginning in 2009.  I know of several who were planning to reduce their giving as a result of the impression that the convention was controlled by a group with denominational-political objectives, and of the perception that the leadership, and even those given jobs at the convention, are controlled by a small, narrow group that has organized to keep control.  Those perceptions and impressions will not be changed by anything except action that proves otherwise, and that may be more difficult to achieve than it seems.  Are we going to see leaders chosen from the same narrow list of churches, and the same circles from which we have seen over the past decade, or will we see some necessary and much needed change?  While I don’t see that kind of change leading to a reversal of the current financial situation, it may, at the very least, lead to building so much of the trust that has been lost.  We can move forward from there.

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

6 responses

  1. Ken Coffee says:

    This downturn is not unprecedented. I saw BGCT budget income fall off by 15% in the mid-eighties, resulting in severe cuts in budget expenditures. It appears these things have been historically cyclical. I can assure you the BGCT understands and practices belt-tightening. Also, while it it true that C.P. giving has increased, it has only been about the same as the rate of inflation. The scary thing is that the percentage of local church income given to C.P. has continued to drop. I don’t understand this incessant talk about “rebuilding of trust”. My trust in the current leadership does not need rebuilding. They already have it. I abhor putting conditions on our denominational support. If denominational causes are worthy of support, we should support them. I have no problem asking churches to increase their giving, any more than I would have a problem asking church members to do the same toward their church. Some may already be doing all they can, but others are not and need to be challenged. Those who are doing all they can will not be offended. Those who are not, both churches and individuals, need to step up.

  2. Lee says:

    A rather sizeable chunk of change disappeared into someone’s bank account in the Valley a few years back, and the resulting fallout from that revealed a system in which individuals took advantage of relationships and friendships with convention leaders to bypass the rules and safeguards that were in place. There was apparently a history of that sort of thing in at least one previous administration in the Baptist Building in Dallas, and along with an organized group naming officer candidates and controlling elections, and thus committee appointments, trust evaporated. In my corner of the association and city in which I live and work, trust in the leadership of the BGCT is not present in vast quantities. The attitude toward recent changes in that department is “we’ll see.”

    We now have two organizational structures in Baptist life, both products of the “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC, which have streamlined the Baptist bureaucracy to the point where they are models of efficiency as far as financial matters go. In Texas, we have the SBTC, a streamlined convention that has a minimal executive leadership structure that demonstrates how few high dollar executive positions you actually need to have to oversee what is generally the distribution of funds to supported entities. Similar to that, moderate Baptists have CBF, which is also a streamlined organization with minimal executive leadership which also demonstrates how few administrators and executives with six figure salaries are needed to oversee the distribution of funds to supported entities. People look at that and wonder why it takes so much money for operational costs at the BGCT.

  3. Colby Evans says:

    The BGCT is a model of convention cooperation from a few decades back. The officers, trustees, boards and committees are all antiquated and outdated in their mode of operation, and few people under 50, or perhaps under 40, care about holding the titles and positions, or doing business in such a cumbersome way. Unless some drastic streamlining and efficiency is built in, and soon, it will not survive the changing of the guard from the 50 to 70 year olds who now make up most of the leadership, and who make up the bulk of the membership of the churches, and give most of the money. Once those resources are gone, and we are seeing them begin to dry up now, conventions like the BGCT will either have to effectively re-organize and retool, or they will go bankrupt.

    I can tell you there are not many people among the much smaller younger generation of Southern Baptists who care about someone’s pedigree of service, or the string of titles they hold from all the boards and committees they have been on.

  4. Jack Matthews says:

    Our church does all of its mission giving by percentage of the undesignated offerings given. In the three or so years we have existed, the percentages have remained consistent, with 2% going to the association and 8% going to the Cooperative Program of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Our gifts in 2008 came in well below 2007 levels, largely because we have been hit hard by the economy, and we’ve had several members either lose their job altogether, or have to take a lower salary to stay on at their company, and we’ve also had some families go through foreclosures. That has affected our giving, and though we would like to make up the difference, we do not have any place in the budget where we can do that. We also have some questions, among our church leadership, about the efficiency of a state convention which seems to cost a lot of money in terms of administration and operations, compared to the amount that goes to its entities and to actual missions causes. But the drop off here is not anywhere close to what the BGCT seems to have experienced.

  5. Forrest says:

    Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!

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  6. rick davis says:

    I wonder if anyone has hear how February went? I cannot find any information. They indicated in mid-February it looked stronger but nowhere near what was needed.