NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Sometimes we will fill in our knowledge gaps with anecdotal information and hold it to be true. Resulting opinions are thrown around like they were fact. Anecdotal evidence, when used as fact, may cause some people to draw incorrect conclusions and/or make bad decisions.
A lot of statistical data generally applies to Southern Baptists. For example, a Barna study released in the spring of 2008 revealed that only 5 percent of adults in America donated 10 percent or more to their churches and charitable groups. Evangelicals ranked higher, with 24 percent tithing. Empty Tomb Inc., in their study called the State of Giving through 2007 (the study analyzes giving for 44 denominations in America), revealed that the average giving in support of congregational finances and supported ministries by church members across America was 2.56 percent of personal disposable income (PDI — after tax income). While these studies generally apply to Southern Baptists, it is a reach to say that these studies specifically apply to Southern Baptists. Having said that, I have seen nothing in SBC life that would lead me to believe the above studies aren’t about right for Southern Baptists as well. My own experience as chairman of church finance committees leads me to believe that it is rare for an SBC church to have more than 20 percent of its members tithe. But then again, that is anecdotal, and my small sample generalization should not be applied factually to all Southern Baptists.
If you traveled around and spent time in Southern Baptist churches, you would receive a lot of feedback about what is wrong with the SBC. One of the most frequent comments that I receive as a rationale for not giving more through CP is that too much Cooperative Program (CP) money stays in the state conventions. I heard this so much that it started to create a truth in my own worldview about SBC life. If you read the early iterations of what the leaders of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) have stated, you will find that they too believed that most Southern Baptists thought too much CP money stayed inside state conventions.
Some Southern Baptist leaders have recently stated in essence that, “Most Southern Baptists feel that at least 50 percent of our Cooperative Program dollars should be going overseas, should be going to international missions.” They must be drawing their conclusions that most Southern Baptists believe that 50 percent of CP dollars should go to international missions based on anecdotal evidence, because I have seen no facts to support the claim. If the facts are there, they have never surfaced for public scrutiny.
By late 2007, I was very frustrated by not knowing what Southern Baptists actually thought and believed about the Cooperative Program. Dr. Morris H. Chapman, president, SBC Executive Committee, came to my rescue by commissioning a survey that reached out to every church in the SBC. LifeWay’s Research Division, led by Dr. Ed Stetzer, conducted the survey, analyzed the input, and produced the survey results. There were over 9,020 respondents to the survey, well beyond the number required for statistical reliability. And since every church was invited to participate, there was no survey bias that might be found if only a sampling of the SBC were conducted.
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence out there, but we have empirical data resulting from this survey. Some of the findings are counterintuitive. Some of the findings dispel my own preconceived notions about the level of discontent over the state/SBC split as well as other notions. For example:
Misconception 1. That state conventions keep too much of the CP gifts for state missions and ministries.
Misconception 2. That most Southern Baptists believe 50 percent of CP dollars should go to support international missions.
What the survey said:
— Over 87 percent of responding pastors were generally satisfied with CP.
— Approximately 76 percent of responding pastors strongly believed that CP allows their church to support more mission endeavors than they could do on their own.
— 91 percent of responding pastors agree that the CP supports SBC entities, missions, and ministries that their church values.
— 85 percent of responding pastors agree that CP supports state entities, missions, and ministries that their church values.
— 70 percent of responding pastors agree that CP allocates contributions among state, national, and global ministries, missions, and entities appropriately.
— 61 percent of responding pastors agree that the division of contributions between state conventions and the SBC is appropriate, and 80 percent of responding laity believe the division is appropriate. Only 18 percent of responding pastors disagreed with the division.
— Only 29 percent of responding pastors believed the percentage forwarded to the SBC should increase, and only 11 percent believed that the percentage retained by the state should increase.
The most counterintuitive survey results are found on the chart I provide (see above). Some SBC leaders and I currently hold the view that most Southern Baptists believe that CP and international missions are virtually synonymous with each other. The survey reveals an entirely different SBC view. Respondents were given the opportunity to change the current CP Allocation Budget any way they chose. The results show an average of all respondents in each category of Pastors, Other Ministers, and Laity. When given the choice, Pastors reduced IMB’s allocation by .49 percent, reduced theological education .88 percent, and reallocated most of it to NAMB, with ERLC receiving a .55 percent increase and the SBC Operating Budget receiving a .03 percent increase. As revealed below, the categories of Other Ministers and Laity made even more reductions to IMB’s CP allocation with NAMB receiving the bulk of the reallocation, followed by ERLC and the SBC Operating Budget.
Most Southern Baptists do not believe that 50 percent of CP gifts from their churches should go to international missions (this is the amount received by the states prior to the division between the state and the SBC).
The survey also revealed that of the responding Pastors, 18 percent would reduce the CP allocation to IMB, 65 percent would leave it at its current allocation, and 16 percent would increase the allocation; 18 percent would reduce the CP allocation to NAMB, 19 percent would leave the NAMB allocation at the current level, and 63 percent would increase the allocation to NAMB; 60 percent would reduce the CP allocation for the seminaries, 20 percent would leave the seminary allocation at its current level, and 20 percent would increase the allocation to the seminaries; 31 percent would reduce the CP allocation to ERLC, 22 percent would leave the allocation to ERLC at its current level, and 46 percent would increase the allocation to ERLC; 51 percent would reduce the CP allocation for the SBC operating budget, 24 percent would leave the allocation for the SBC operating budget at its current level, and 25 percent would increase the allocation to the SBC operating budget.
The sample of pastors used in the CP survey is a census; there is no sampling error in selecting the invitation list. Southern Baptists don’t have to speculate, suggest, or imply fact; we have them as a result of this survey.