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GCR after 5 years: ‘satisfied’ but still challenges

[SLIDESHOW=40852]NASHVILLE (BP) — Five years after the Southern Baptist Convention’s Great Commission Task Force called for a “Great Commission Resurgence,” Baptist leaders say the GCTF’s recommendations have contributed to a renewed focus on missions and the reversal of a 30-year decline in Cooperative Program giving as a percentage of churches’ undesignated receipts.

Still, the total dollar amount given through Southern Baptists’ unified program for supporting North American and international missions and ministries has declined, and a Baptist state paper editor has published an analysis suggesting GCR did not shift the convention’s trajectory.

Former SBC President Johnny Hunt, who appointed the GCTF in 2009 after being instructed to do so by messengers, is among those who cite the task force’s recommendations as having a positive effect.

“To be honest, our task was a little overwhelming,” Hunt, who served as an ex officio member of the GCTF, told Baptist Press. “Therefore, I am more than satisfied with the success. … The International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board are working together with little barrier to working stateside or among the nations to reach unreached people groups.”

Noting an increase in the percentage of CP funds directed to the IMB, Hunt said, “More dollars are going to the nations in percentage than ever. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has had its two largest offerings ever in SBC history.”

Hunt also noted an increase in the percentage of NAMB’s expenditures devoted to church planting — from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 48.4 percent in 2013-14, according to information supplied by NAMB. In 2015-16, 53.9 percent of the budget is designated for church planting.

“For the record,” Hunt said in written comments, “I personally give almighty God the glory and honor for the privilege of serving Him and His people.”

In 2010, messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Orlando adopted seven recommendations from the GCTF. The first two dealt with the SBC’s mission and values while the remaining five requested that the convention’s Executive Committee take specific actions including:

— Consider recommending the establishment of Great Commission Giving as a category referencing the total dollar amount channeled by a church each year through all causes of the SBC, Baptist state conventions and Baptist associations.

— Consider revising the NAMB and IMB ministry assignments to facilitate a renewed focus on church planting in North America and IMB work among unreached people groups in North America.

— Consider working with state convention leaders to develop a coordinated program of CP promotion and stewardship education.

— Consider recommending an SBC CP Allocation Budget increasing the IMB’s portion of CP funds to 51 percent by decreasing the EC’s allocation by 1 percentage point.

The EC recommended to messengers in 2011 the establishment of Great Commission Giving as well as revisions to the NAMB and IMB ministry assignments and began working with state convention leaders on CP promotion. While not yet reaching a reduction of 1 percent, the EC has incrementally reduced its portion of CP funds from 3.40 percent to 2.99 percent, forwarding the balance to the IMB.

The IMB has begun to work among unreached people groups in North America in conjunction with NAMB and, as noted by Hunt, more than 50 percent of NAMB’s budget has been directed toward church planting.

‘New level of trust’

Hunt believes the GCTF recommendations have contributed to an increase in CP giving by some local congregations as well as an increase in the percentage of CP receipts forwarded by state conventions to SBC causes. First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., where Hunt is pastor, increased its CP giving between 2009 and 2010 by more than $451,000, according to data from the Annual Church Profile, a 96 percent increase.

EC President Frank S. Page, who was a member of the GCTF, credited the task force’s recommendations with sparking an increase in the average percentage of undesignated receipts forwarded through CP by local churches. After a steady decline of almost a quarter percent per year for 30 years, the average church’s CP gift stopped decreasing in 2011 and has risen slightly over the past three budget years.

“There is a new level of trust,” Page said during a panel discussion at this year’s SBC annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. “…We’re seeing some reengagement from guys my age.”

Page mentioned Hunt and current SBC President Ronnie Floyd as two examples of pastors who led churches to increase their CP giving as a result of the GCTF recommendations.

Floyd, GCTF chairman and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, announced this month that Cross Church had forwarded $1 million through CP in 2015. Cross Church increased its CP giving from $32,000 in 2005 to $700,000 in 2013. Its 2014 CP giving topped $800,000 according to ACP data. In both 2005 and 2006, the church gave an additional $189,000 it considered CP to the EC for dispersal according to the CP Allocation Budget distribution formula.

‘Be encouraged’

“The Great Commission Resurgence has had a major impact on the direction and future of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Floyd told BP in written comments. “… GCR changed the conversation in the SBC because many churches, every state convention and SBC entity began to talk about how we could accelerate our commitment to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. It is still the conversation and should be. I saw it this summer in the SBC in Columbus and just saw it again with 13,000 people in our Send Conference in Nashville, with the conversation being how to live our lives on mission all for the purpose of reaching the world for Christ. We need to be encouraged.”

NAMB’s increased focus on church planting represents a significant fulfillment of the GCTF recommendations, Floyd said, as do the cooperative work between NAMB and the IMB in North America and the IMB’s mobilization of churches to penetrate lostness worldwide. He applauded the sacrifices of state conventions and the EC to send more money to reach the nations for Christ.

The establishment of Great Commission giving, while not “a substitute for giving through the CP,” has become a means of “celebrating all our churches are giving through our Southern Baptist Convention,” Floyd said.

State conventions

Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, told BP the work of the SBC’s GCTF was the “primary factor” that motivated Kentucky Baptists to create their own GCTF in 2009. Spurred by their task force’s leadership, the KBC went from forwarding 38 percent of CP receipts to SBC causes with no shared ministry expenses in 2010-11 to 50 percent in 2014-15 with 7 percent shared expenses.

“Kentucky Baptists are a mission-minded people with a passion for taking the Gospel to the nations,” Chitwood told BP in written comments. “They only needed to be challenged and were quick to respond.”

That sentiment apparently applied to other state conventions as well. Several endorsed proposals at their 2010 annual meetings to apply the GCTF recommendations, according to BP reports. At least three conventions — Kentucky, Florida and California — formed task forces like the SBC’s to address structure and budgetary concerns related to advancing the Great Commission.

State conventions generally have increased their average percentage of CP receipts forwarded to SBC causes from 36.55 percent in 2008 to about 38 percent each of the past three budget years. Five state conventions — Kentucky, Iowa, Nevada, the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and the Southern Baptists of Texas — currently forward at least half of their CP receipts to SBC causes, three without deducting shared ministry expenses. The SBTC has forwarded 55 percent to SBC causes since 2008.

While applauding the GCTF’s challenge to state conventions, Chitwood expressed one concern.

“The Great Commission Resurgence is leading to deeper commitments to the Great Commission all across the SBC,” Chitwood said. “I do have concerns, however, that the role of state conventions is being undervalued by some in the name of the GCR. What I believe Kentucky Baptists realize, however, is that the state conventions have an indispensable role in the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists.”

Decreased overall church giving

Despite the positive trends stemming from GCR, churches have felt the continuing pinch of economic downturn and overall decreased giving from their members. Total giving to Southern Baptist churches declined by more than $911 million between 2008 and 2013. Even with increases in the percentages given through CP by churches and state conventions, the actual dollar amount given through CP has hovered at a 14-year low the past two years, reflecting the overall decline in contributions to churches.

Will Hall, editor of Louisiana’s Baptist Message and a former vice president for convention news with the SBC Executive Committee who provided extensive analysis of the GCTF recommendations when they were presented in 2010, noted the decreases in giving to SBC causes in a June 30 analysis titled “After 5 Years, Is There a Great Commission Resurgence?”

Hall questioned the IMB’s “focus on reaching resistant people groups at the expense of a harvest among receptive populations” and suggested increased focus on mass evangelism as a potential remedy to the SBC’s decrease in baptisms over the past five years. He acknowledged that the decline in international baptisms is attributable at least in part to an IMB decision to “no longer include reports from partner conventions and unions” in baptism reports.

Overall, Hall seemed to imply the GCTF’s impact was at best neutral.

“The five-year mark,” Hall wrote, “seems a rational point to take a look at how far along the GCR national initiative has moved the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Floyd attributed the decline in total gifts to a poor economy and anticipated a turnaround.

“For our convention to do as well as we have done through the most challenging economy since the Great Depression is a real testimony to our Lord and His church,” Floyd said. “Soon, if the Lord tarries, we are going to see finances increase.”