CP Transparency

Shared expenses and Southern Baptist State Conventions

In our previous post (SBC Loyalty?) we focused mainly on our generation, but this post speaks more to the generation before us. It would seem that there is a lack of transparency when it comes to allocating the CP dollars that ma and pa Southern Baptist are sacrificially giving, specifically in terms of shared expenses between the state conventions and the SBC. Since the inception of the CP, “the SBC recognized its obligation to compensate the state conventions for their partnership in promoting the entire Cooperative Program.” There are questions that need to be asked: (1) Are we being transparent about where CP money is going and (2) What are legitimate shared expenses?

The recent impulse has been to see state conventions move to a 50/50 split for CP funds. Our fear is that this category of “shared expenses” is being used to mask the fact that some state conventions are not moving towards more for the SBC and less for the state convention. This fear in many ways is being confirmed by the numbers. State conventions designated 9.2 million dollars as shared expenses in 2011, but that has risen 116% over the last two years to 19.9 million dollars being designated as shared expenses in 2013. Over the last two years we have seen an increase from only 4 state conventions that separated out shared expenses as a separate line item from the percent of funds kept in state to 17 state conventions. In many ways these budget categories of shared expenses make it look like conventions are moving closer to or have achieved a 50/50 split when it’s not actually happening.

For example, the Georgia Baptist Convention claims to share every CP dollar equally with the SBC. In a recent Baptist Press article, the chairman for the CP Allocation Study Committee of the GBC said that the committee agreed to “maintain the 50/50 percent funding split between state and national ministries.” A 50/50 split seems great, but when one examines the budget more closely it reveals that the GBC keeps 19.63% for shared ministry expenses. In reality, 40% of CP dollars given in Georgia go on to the SBC, and 60% stays in the state. Georgia keeps almost as much money for shared expenses (8.2 million) as they give to the IMB (8.4 million).

Is it transparent to continually tell ma and pa Baptist that every CP dollar is shared equally with the SBC when in actuality it is only 40 cents on the dollar? What are the shared expenses that demand that much money? Two things they include are the offices of the Executive Director and the Assistant Executive Director. SBC Plodder says that the shared expenses include “the expense of not a few staff members…I haven’t asked but I’m guessing that far more than 20% of GBC employees are charged to this ‘Shared Causes’ category.”

Another example of this is the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. The BGCO says that it allocates 46% of cp dollars to SBC causes and 54% stays in state for BGCO causes. However, when one looks at the budget, you see that 3.37 million dollars are kept out of the allocation for shared expenses. So, while the BGCO claims that its allocation is 46/54, in actuality the division is more like 60/40 (the same as 2011).

Interestingly, while the BGCO and GBC present the numbers differently, both have about the same allocation. In these two examples, the percentages make it look like a state is moving closer to or has achieved a 50/50 split when in actuality no movement is being made, and in some cases more is being kept in state than before. Not every state does it this way. For example, states like Tennessee, North Carolina, Louisiana, and others place their shared expenses under their state allocation since those funds stay in the state. By having different ways of presenting this information and differing on what shared expenses are from state-to-state, it makes it look like some states have more of an equal sharing with the SBC when they do not. We need transparency.

Again, these shared expenses have been a part of the CP process from the beginning and are still today. About one-third of state conventions put shared expenses in a different category and take the allocations “off the top for items that they identify as benefitting both the state convention and SBC before dividing what remains between in-state and SBC use.” However, why has there been so much increase over the last few years? One reason is that conventions are now moving positions formerly funded by NAMB cooperative agreements under the shared expenses category. A recent article states, “The items placed in that category vary from state to state, most often including retirement benefits paid for pastors…mission efforts previously funded or jointly funded by NAMB; and the expenses of the state Baptist paper. Among other items included in a few conventions are various personnel, property and technology expenses.” So, instead of realigning partnerships to get greater resources to the unreached and underserved, states are now putting these positions under the shared resources category. In some cases this makes it look like there is more equal sharing with the SBC when there is not.

We are seeing many states move towards the 50/50 split. From 2012 to 2013, 20 state conventions increased their percentage giving to the CP (8 decreased). However, we need transparency so that ma and pa Southern Baptist know exactly where their money is going. We need to know why some states keep 19% for shared expenses while others keep 4% or less. We need some uniformity on how budgets are presented and what exactly constitutes a shared expense. Of course, every entity is autonomous and is free to decide these things, but pastors should also be good stewards of their people’s giving and ask hard questions about where the money is going.

We are grateful for the sacrificial giving of ma and pa Southern Baptist that allow us to do so much together. But, we desire that those who benefit from their giving (seminary students and church plants) and those who decide where their giving is allocated (state conventions) will be good and grateful stewards of what has been entrusted to them without taking advantage of those who have been so faithful. The end goal is the glory of our King through the propagation of His Gospel. However, we believe we do this King a disservice along the way if we show a lack of integrity in how we get there.

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Nathan Akin

Nathan Akin is a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the Liaison to the Churches for SEBTS. In addition, he serves as the College Director at Open Door Baptist Church. Nathan has a BS in Political Science and a Social Sciences teaching degree from Murray State University, where he also played basketball (Go Racers– The 30th best basketball program since ’85 according to espn.com).

13 thoughts on “CP Transparency

  1. I’m new to the SBC, and I’m very enthusiastic about what is happening through the IMB, NAMB, and the seminaries, but I don’t really see much in my state convention that I’m excited to support. This has led our church to send our money to the IMB and the CP directly, and not to fund our state convention(s). I gather this isn’t really how things should be done, but I’m not really sure why. It seems to me that the state conventions are quickly becoming vesitgal organs.

    1. While some things about the state conventions are discouraging, it is helpful to remember their original purpose. Just as a local church can allocate resources and ministry to their communities, a state convention can focus resources more specifically than someone in an office in Nashville. The state conventions (and consequently, local associations) can most efficiently and effectively inspire unity among churches along with focusing Gospel ministry to a specific community.
      With changes like those in this post, our state conventions can be an increasingly useful resource for the sake of local churches everywhere.

  2. I’m glad you guys are checking the math on this, because it’s really not that easy to find unless you have some experience in knowing where and how to look—and then the time to actually do it.

    It’s pretty pitiful in the first place that we need to do these kinds of calculations. If a state says it’s splitting funds 50/50, then for every $100 of income, $50 ought to leave the state for national level CP funding. This really shouldn’t be difficult.

    1. Brent,

      What is also problematic is that state convention projects funded by CP money have become sacred cows that we cannot even discuss for possible downsizing or defunding.

      I read SBC history and how we came together for missions and training ministers/missionaries and then look at the millions spent on disaster relief, children’s homes, and pet projects…we need to reassess the CP at the state convention level.

  3. Here is my problem with a lot of these SBC entities…Yes I am a southern baptist. Many times IMO these position are created to be… jobs. Not positions to reach the world for Jesus Christ but positions to make a job for someone… jobs programs.

    Perhaps I am wrong and I hope I am but from the outside looking in this quacks like a duck.

    Keep up the calculations and more importantly keep on giving SBC members! We talk a big game but once again IMO we lack substance

  4. I am younger SBC’er, in general agreement with everything written here. I don’t understand the need to have so much of the money going to state conventions, especially conventions deep in the Bible Belt like mine. (Mississippi)

    But I will add this. Our state convention has been supportive financially of our church’s mission in Costa Rica, helping defer travel expenses on several occasions. I’m not sure the extent of this, and I’m not sure if other states do this. But is it possible that some of this money staying in the state conventions is not actually staying in state, but being used by churches who are trying to reach the world? I’m not even sure that’s the best use of CP funds, but I do wonder if more may be going out of state than we actually think.

    That information may be available also, but I haven’t seen it.

  5. I recently had a conversation with a Georgia Batist Convention employee about this same topic. He assured me that the split is 50/50 and that the shared expenses attempts to quantify the cost of what it would be for the SBC to put “boots on the ground” in particular states to drum up CP support. Because the SBC executive committee did not see a need for redundancy they opt for the states to keep that percentage in the state for work on behalf of the SBC.

    Certainly it could be argued that the states should send more but I do think this demonstrates an attempt by the SBC to be wise and not invest in redundant positions that can be dually filled by a state convention employee.

    1. Michael,

      Almost 20%/8 million dollars to drum up CP support is ludicrous. That’s almost as much as GA sends to the IMB.

      Some states have 4% or less for shared expenses. Some states do 0% for shared expenses. These states are made to look like they’re giving less to the sbc when in fact they’re giving more.

      I’d like to hear an explanation for why GA has to have so much for shared expenses if all it’s for is drumming up CP support?

  6. I first wrote on the Georgia Baptist Convention’s CP accounting two years ago (http://sbcplodder.blogspot.com/2011/04/cooperative-program-confusion.html) after analyzing the figures and talking to GBC staff. At the time the staff did not have a good grasp of what was being done.

    I called the accounting presentation technique confusing and ultimately unhelpful in promoting the CP. While it does deflect the complain of those who think the GBC keeps too much of a CP dollar, once it is understood how they are able to say this, one is left either confused or with the feeling that the methodology is mildly deceptive. It would be better to be straight up on the matter.

    Those who understand the system have no complaint about some of the CP revenues being kept by state conventions because they do most of the promotion. Twenty percent is far higher and cannot be justified.

  7. Jon,

    I would encourage you to email Dr. J Robert White and ask for an explanation of the percentage amount and what the funds are used to accomplish. It’s easy to assume you know there is waste when it is clear you have no idea how and where the funds are being used in the state of Georgia.

    This type of attack can easy be leveled against waste/misuse of CP dollars at the seminaries and other SBC entities. Is there waste? Sure. Is there waste at the state level? Sure. Is there waste at the seminaries? Sure. Is there waste at the IMB? Sure.

    My concern is the tone of the article which portrays that CP funds are misused solely by the states when I’m sure there is plenty of blame that could go around. We need the gospel to go forth to all nations and I am willing to say every state and SBC entity could do a better job stewarding resources so that the unreached hear the Good News!

    1. Michael,

      Let me try to respond to a couple of things here. I don’t want to get into a long drawn out discussion so this will be my last response on this.

      1. I’m not a pastor in GA. I’m a pastor in TN. If I was in GA I would not give thru the state convention as long as the Conv kept as much $ for shared expenses as they send to the IMB, and as much $ for shared expenses as the individual seminaries receive from all state conventions thru the CP (which is about 7.8 million).

      2. If I was a pastor in GA, I would sit down with Dr. White and tell him why I wasn’t giving. And, I would ask tough questions of these numbers. At the end of the day, all that we said in the piece was that this is confusing, not transparent, and that pastors need to ask questions.

      3. I do have an idea of where these funds are being spent b/c it is listed on the GBC budget, and it goes to far more than drumming up CP support. It funds: Church-minister relations, the office of the Exec Dir, Office of Assist Exec Dir, the WMU, Retirement for GA pastors, and more. I am uncertain as to why the SBC is responsible to fund the exec dir and assist exec dir office in a shared way since that is not the way it is done in most states.

      4. We are highlighting for pastors/churches in these areas who may not know what is going on what is happening. And, we are saying that Pastors should ask the questions of their state convention, why so much on shared expenses? What are shared expenses? etc… If i was in GA I would ask why we are spending 8.2 million on shared expenses, and all of the other states who do shared expenses are spending 11.7 million combined?!

      5. Honestly, this article makes no charge of waste or misuse of CP funds. It talks about transparency vs. confusion. Saying we split 50/50 when it’s not really 50 (ga)/50(sbc) is muddying things a bit.

      6. At the end of the day we want to highlight these numbers for those who may not know what is going on so that they can be good stewards as pastors of the money God’s people are giving. If pastors in good conscience see these numbers and decide to do nothing that is fine. If their people get upset and they get upset and decide to change, then that is fine too.

      7. One final concern is that this way of reporting hurts some state convs that don’t do shared expenses b/c it makes it look like they’re keeping more in state than some state conv, where in reality they may be giving more on to the sbc. We just don’t want confusion.

  8. Jon,

    Thank you for this post. I am a graduate of Boyce College and currently attending Southern. I’m serving as Associate Pastor at a church in Texas. We are currently in the process of joining the SBC and the one question our elders are asking is “How much goes to the IMB and NAMB?” We want our people to know their money is going to do missions here and abroad and that not all of it is getting tied up in the state. We do understand that the state conventions do need money for work in the state, however, we are mainly joining the convention to help support missionaries here and abroad and to help our people be trained for ministry. Clarity from the conventions is very much appreciated.

  9. The subject here is the manner by which the GBC explains their budget, particularly the GBC/SBC “split’ of CP revenues received by the GBC.

    My view is that the GBC would help themselves by dropping the unrealistic and unjustifiable “share equally” accounting that attempts to explain that the GBC may keep about 60% of each dollar but because about 20% of the expenses are “shared” the GBC is at a 50/50 split. In round figures the GBC says they divide a CP dollar like this: 40 cents SBC, 40 cents GBC, 20 cents “shared”. The twenty “shared” cents stay in the GBC’s bank account.

    Confused? You should be. It’s tough to look at this and not believe that confusion is part of the aim.

    It’s not waste, just mild obfuscation.

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