Baptist state conventions feeling effects of economy - Word&Way

Baptist state conventions feeling effects of economy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) — Feeling the effects of a bad economy, several Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated state and regional conventions reduced budgets in annual meetings, held in recent weeks across the nation.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas, which includes 4,500 churches with 2.3 million members, approved a reduced budget for the second straight year. A 2010 budget of $44 million represents a nearly 10 percent decrease from 2009. Last year the Texas convention cut spending by 8 percent. Jill Larsen, treasurer and chief financial officer for the BGCT, described the spending plan as "a realistic, pretty conservative budget."

The Georgia Baptist Convention also approved its second-consecutive reduced budget. Next year's $45.5 million spending plan is $4.1 million, or 8.2 percent, below the previous year. Last year Georgia Baptists cut spending by 5 percent. The state convention has reduced staff twice in the last year, eliminating a total of 27 jobs.

"This has been the most challenging economy in my memory and has significantly impacted all of us," Robert White, executive director of the convention, told the Georgia Baptist Christian Index.

The 4,000-church Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, meanwhile, approved its smallest budget since 2000. At $34.8 million, next year's budget is $4.8 million leaner than the one in 2009. Next year's budget is also the first since 1991 that does not include an option for funding national entities outside the Southern Baptist Convention, like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Baptist World Alliance and Associated Baptist Press. Last year's convention voted to collapse North Carolina's four giving plans into one.

A few state conventions managed to buck the trend. The 2,200-church Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, formed in 1998 as an alternative to the BGCT, adopted a budget of $24.8 million, up 1 percent from a current budget of $24.5 million.

The State Convention of Baptists in Indiana approved a record Cooperative Program budget of $4.8 million, up 2.8 percent from the current year. Convention leaders followed standard policy of projecting income for 2010 equal to actual receipts in 2008, the last complete year on the books at the beginning of the budget-planning process, even though gifts from 370 affiliated churches are running 4 percent behind last year.

"We will closely monitor our 2010 receipts and make adjustments as necessary," Executive Director Stephen Davis wrote in the Indiana Baptist Magazine. "One thing I know: God will provide for our needs."

The 1,600-church Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma approved a record 2010 Cooperative Program budget of $26 million, up 3.2 percent from the current $25.2 million budget. Most of the increase is driven by increased operating costs. "For example, we have budgeted for a 12 percent increase in medical insurance next year, but hope it comes in under that," Kerry Russell, leader of the BGCO finance team, told the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger.

With 1,400 churches, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention adopted a budget just under $21.5 million for 2010. That represents a 2.5 increase over this year's budget goal.

Baptist groups in Alaska,  the Dakotas, Iowa, Louisiana and Pennsylvania-South Jersey also managed to increase budgets by small amounts despite the economy.

But those conventions were few and far between among the 42 state and regional bodies made up of the 44,848 churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

The 3,200-church Alabama Baptist Convention passed a budget of $46 million for 2010, the same bottom line as in 2009, providing no salary increases for staff but avoiding any job cuts.

The Tennessee Baptist Convention adopted a reduced budget of $36 million for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. That is 7.7 percent less than the 2008-2009 budget of $39 million. Tennessee Baptists in 3,000 churches gave just under $35.5 million in the fiscal year ending Oct. 31.

Kentucky Baptists reduced their 2010-2011 Cooperative Program budget by 4 percent, to $23.5 million. The Kentucky Baptist Convention numbers 2,400 churches with 765,000 members.

The 2,300-church Florida Baptist Convention approved a 2010 Cooperative Program budget of $35.4 million, a less than 1 percent increase from a 2009 spending plan twice reduced from an original $39.2 million approved at the annual meeting last year.

The 2,000-church South Carolina Baptist Convention approved a budget of $32.1 million, a 6 percent reduction from a budget approved last year. Dennis Wilkins, chairman of the budget committee, said giving to the convention's unified budget was down about 6 percent through August. "We do not foresee any turnaround in the economy," Wilkins said, quoted in the South Carolina Baptist Courier.

The 2,000-church Mississippi Baptist Convention approved a budget of $34.9 million, 2.4 percent less than the 2009 spending plan.

The Missouri Baptist Convention approved a $15 million budget, down 9 percent from the current year but in line with receipts from churches so far this year. The 1,900-church convention also implemented two options for giving, one that includes funds for ongoing legal action and another that does not. The state convention has reportedly spent $5 million in legal costs since 2001 attempting to regain control of five former convention agencies that moved to self-perpetuating boards of trustees.

The 1,700-church California Southern Baptist Convention reduced its budget by 4.8 percent approving a 2010 bottom line of $11.6 million.

The Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, a convention of 500 churches formed in 1996, trimmed their 2010 budget by $300,000, to $9.2 million.

The 300-church Baptist Convention of New Mexico approved a budget of $4.7 million, $82,000 less than the current budget. The new budget includes no raises for convention employees.

The Colorado Baptist Convention, with 263 churches, approved a 2010 budget of $3.8 million, cutting spending 5 percent from the current year.

The Nevada Baptist Convention adopted a 2010 budget of $2.3 million, down 15.5 percent from the current budget. Receipts from 144 Nevada Southern Baptist churches were reported down by nearly 29 percent from last year.

Baptist organizations in Illinois, Kansas-Nebraska and Montana also passed budgets below the current year.

Despite expecting a shortfall of perhaps $800,000 or more in its current $13.8 million budget, the 1,300-church Baptist General Association of Virginia nevertheless adopted a 2010 budget of $14 million, an increase of 1.4 percent over the 2009 spending plan.

"Either we could do what we did last year and make the budget meet our projected income, and our budget this year would be substantially lower," Billy Burford, a member of the group's budget committee, told Virginia Baptist messengers meeting Nov. 17-18 in Fredericksburg. "Or we could meet the challenge. And that's what we did."

State conventions aren't alone in feeling the pain. They are the primary funding channel for the Southern Baptist Convention, which raises money through a unified budget that divides funds between state and national conventions. The state convention determines the formula for dividing funds contributed by local churches. While the standard is to divide funds evenly between the state convention and the SBC, the average percentage of funds that are forwarded to the national body is closer to 38 percent.

Last year Cooperative Program allocations through the SBC Executive Committee declined by more than 2 percent.  The SBC International Mission Board said recently that reduced revenues could force the agency to shrink its current 5,600-member missionary force by as many as 600.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.