Baptist groups feel recession's pinch - Word&Way

Baptist groups feel recession’s pinch

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Many things divide the Baptist denomination, but one thing all groups share is the challenge of raising money during a recession.

Six months into the fiscal year, receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program were running 3.7 percent lower than the previous year and 2.2 percent behind budget, according to Baptist Press.

The Alliance of Baptists, a small organization of progressive Baptists formed in 1986, recently reduced its budget by about $100,000. A new budget cuts spending to below $400,000, the amount annual receipts have averaged during the last three years.

The reduced budget involved scrapping a three-member staff structure proposed two years ago anticipating former Executive Director Stan Hastey’s impending retirement, moving instead to a staff structure with one full-time and four part-time staff.

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

In February, the Coordinating Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship approved a contingency spending plan that saves $5.5 million over the next 19 months. The plan avoided layoffs, but cut staff salaries by 1 percent. It also trickled down to “partner” organizations that receive part of their funding through CBF, affecting up to 7.5 percent of their budgets.

Several SBC entities are tightening the belt in response to budget shortfalls in a flagging economy.

In February, GuideStone Financial Resources implemented a hiring freeze and gave no raises to employees, with a goal of reducing its workforce by about 10 percent through attrition.

On Jan. 28, the SBC International Mission Board drew $7 million from reserve funds to account for a declining dollar and higher costs overseas.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., is taking steps to deal with a $3 million budget shortfall, reducing its administrative staff by 35 workers effective Jan. 30.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth announced plans to cut its budget by up to $4 million to avert a “financial crisis.” Cuts included closing a childcare center and isolated layoffs. However, the seminary did not increase tuition costs, citing “the sacrifices many students are having to make during this time of economic uncertainty," Southwestern President Paige Patterson said.

Facing a $1 million revenue shortfall, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary announced an “austerity budget” Jan. 19, including temporary salary reductions but avoiding employee layoffs.

In December, Woman’s Missionary Union, an auxiliary to the SBC, announced cutbacks including unpaid furloughs for all workers in budget cuts totaling $1.4 million.

On Jan. 8, the SBC’s North American Mission Board asked team leaders to operate at 90 percent of their approved budgets in 2009.

In March the executive committee of the Baptist World Alliance slashed its 2009 budget nearly 30 percent.

While giving remained fairly strong, heavy investment losses owing to tanking global markets forced the BWA to move more than $2.3 million in unrestricted reserves into the operating fund to cover those losses.

 Bob Allen is senior writer for the Associated Baptist Press.