PHOENIX (ABP) – A Southern Baptist leader urged pastors June 14 to lead their congregations to increase the percentages of their budgets for the denomination by a percent. Frank Page, president of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, issued his “1 percent challenge” in a report at the convention’s annual gathering in Phoenix.
The challenge asks that churches currently giving 4 percent through the unified giving plan that supports the work of both Baptist state conventions and national and international ministries of the SBC consider moving that up to 5 percent; those from 10 percent to 11 percent; those from 1 percent to 2 percent, and so on.
“Our Cooperative Program ministries have decreased every year for many years,” Page said in his first report to the convention since his election last year. “Some of your budget committees are already at work preparing next year’s budget. This is the time to go home and say, ‘Let’s do 1 percent more.’”
Page, a former pastor, said if the national average of Cooperative Program giving by churches increased from the current 5.8 percent to 6.8 percent, the combined amount would grow from the current $500 million range to nearly $600 million. That $100 million, he said, would enable state conventions to do more work with church planting in their states, allow the appointment of 380 international missionaries and help pay for the educations of 16,000 students at six SBC seminaries.
Executive Committee reports showed that economic downturn in 2008-2009 took a toll on offering plates in Southern Baptist churches. The 2011 Book of Reports compiled for convention messengers showed parishioners in more than 45,000 churches affiliated with the nation’s second-largest faith group gave more than $10.8 billion in tithes and offerings in 2008-2009. That represented a 2.5 percent decrease from $11.1 billion collected in 2007-2008.
Receipts of the Cooperative Program fell from $548 million to $525 million — a 4 percent decline. State conventions suffered the most, declining from $343 million to $326 million – 5 percent -– while the SBC share fell 2.2 percent, from $204.3 million to $199.8 million.
Page said in his travels across the country, he has found that Southern Baptists “need a new commitment to the principle of trust.”
“I have discovered that there is little trust in our convention now — little trust in our entities, little trust in our Executive Committee, little trust in our state conventions, little trust anywhere,” he said. “It is time for God’s people to learn to trust each other again and to rebuild a covenant of trust.”
Page said the Executive Committee is trying to set an example for engendering trust by reducing bureaucracy. Already one of the smallest SBC entities, Page cut seven jobs from the Executive Committee staff, a 19 percent reduction, and reduced spending by $1.1 million, more than 13 percent.
He also led agency heads, state convention executive directors and leaders of the various ethnic fellowships within Southern Baptist life to affirm principles of trust and cooperation, including an affirmation “giving through the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach as Southern Baptists.”
Southern Baptists have seen a long-term trend toward declining support of denominational programs. Gifts to the Cooperative Program decreased 9 percent over the last two years, from $548 million in 2007-2008 to $525 million in 2008-2009 and $500 million in 2009-2010.
The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions fell 4.5 percent from 2008-2009 to $52.4 million in 2009-2010. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions showed a modest gain of 1.26 percent, to $128.1 million in 2009-2010, but new figures just out reported the most recent Lottie Moon offering slipped by $3 million from the previous year.
Southern Baptists gave $4.5 million to the Executive Committee for hunger relief through the two mission boards in 2009-2010. That is 10 percent less than the $5 million collected in 2008-2009.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.