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.