Marv Knox is one of the better writers among the editors of Baptist state papers, and he is generally more honest and realistic about the way things are than most others. He seems to be an independent thinker, and he doesn’t always tout the party line when it comes to editorials. I don’t always agree with his assessment of things, but unlike a lot of people at the Baptist Building in Dallas, he doesn’t sugar coat the situation. I’m no longer a member of a church affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, but the editorial linked above has some points in it which every Baptist state convention, and the SBC, would do well to heed.
With regard to the Christian church as it exists in American culture today, we are most definitely in a post-denominational period, and that isn’t likely to change. Among Christians, the lines between denominations are blurring, there is less and less “brand loyalty” and as a result, the bureaucracies and layers of structure that have been built around once reliable streams of resources are going to have to re-examine the reasons for their existence, and restructure themselves to do effective ministry in a much more efficient manner. Practicality and relevance will dictate the shape of denominational structures in the future. The bottom line will be questions like “Why do we need this?” and “Does it take this many people to run this ministry?”
In order to survive, some institutions have erased some of the boundary lines behind which they once operated, and have “marketed” themselves beyond the denominational setting in which they once functioned. I recently attended a conference at a seminary that is still “affiliated” with another denomination. About two decades ago, they went through an enrollment and financial crisis that generated a re-examination of what they were doing and why. The end result was that they completely re-tooled their course offerings and degree programs to meet needs for seminary training in areas well beyond traditional pastorates and missionary appointments, and beyond the needs of their own denomination, added distance learning programs, realized that tradition-bound, ceremonial job responsibilities of the president and several administrative vice-presidents could be eliminated, and that only one competent administrator was necessary to run a school of 400 students, increased the definition of a full time teaching load to 12 hours per semester, eliminated paid sabbatical leaves, and saved the school more than $10 million in expenses. They also increased the enrollment to record numbers, including more students in residence than at any time in the school’s history. The increase in their alumni base, and in their constituency has led to increased income. An institution that was drifting into irrelevance streamlined its operations and made itself relevant again, and it worked.
Knox doesn’t acknowledge that the financial crisis in the BGCT is largely the result of an exodus of affiliated churches due to the formation of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention a decade ago over theological and political disagreement. The SBCT has more than 2,200 affiliated congregations, some of them new church plants, but most of them existing churches that either switched affiliations or split their Cooperative Program giving in a dual affiliation. And while part of the more than 8 percent annual decline in the BGCT budget is due to “real or perceived irrelevance,” and the paradigm shift in post-denominationalism, most of it is caused by departing churches, or of increased awareness of the convention’s inefficiency as a result. But even though the BGCT’s crisis is larger than most, the fact of the matter is that other Baptist state conventions, and the SBC, are experiencing drops in contributions coming from the churches and they can’t afford to ignore that, nor can they afford to continue “business as usual” without doing some serious thinking about dealing with it.
The solution that Knox proposes is to prioritize the ministries, and eliminate the ones we can no longer afford while increasing the efficiency and excellence of the ones that remain. I don’t know exactly what he means by that, and he’s speaking specifically of the BGCT. Across the board, in Baptist conventions and entities, personnel would be a good place to start. I would guess that millions of dollars could be saved in eliminating positions that aren’t necessary, and consolidating others by hiring competent people because of what they can do, not because of who they know. Baptists may have a little trouble erasing some of the denominational lines around their institutions and entities because of theological positions and control issues, and that may mean downsizing which leads to the closing of some schools and institutions.
A lot of Baptist leaders would do well to take a look at what Marv Knox has written. These are not issues that are unique to the BGCT. Most Christian organizations and denominations are already well into dealing with this. Some have shut their doors, others have downsized, but some have emerged changed but vibrant and relevant. This is the work of God, and all of this is in his hands. Change is coming, whether we like it or not.