Updated Feb. 24
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In an effort to maximize the work of the Southern Baptist Convention’s mission boards and other ministry groups by boosting giving through the Cooperative Program, Ken Hemphill has developed a new resource called “Making Change: A Transformational Guide to Christian Money Management.”
“There are some words that we remember forever. I suppose most of you can still remember when you heard the words, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ Well, the problem is multiple,” Hemphill, national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth, said of money management during an Executive Committee meeting Feb. 21 in Nashville, Tenn.
Hemphill identified the financial problem by noting that Americans spend $1.20 for every dollar they earn. In 2001, banks sent out 5 billion credit card offers, and Americans now have $600 billion in credit card debt. Many families have as many as three or four credit cards, using one credit card simply to pay the interest on the other credit cards so that, he said. The average debt is nearly $8,300 per family.
About 14 percent of a family’s expendable income is used to pay the interest on their credit card debt, he added, and Americans are now saving at a level of about 2.2 percent.
“Would it surprise you then that I would tell you that giving through the local church now stands at an all-time historic low of 2.5 percent?” Hemphill said. “That has slipped about 2 percent in the last three years, so that’s pretty dramatic. If you go back to 1933 it’s been at 3.2 percent. This is the lowest level we’ve tracked.”
Furthermore, just 25 percent of church members are systematic givers, meaning they give on a regular basis and only at a rate of 2.5 percent of their income.
“Now, the incredible good news of this is that if we increase 2.5 to 5 and increase 25 percent to 50, every church sitting in here would quadruple their budget,” he said. “Now you imagine what that would be at the end of the spigot in terms of what would happen for our mission agencies, our states. It’s phenomenal if you think about what God could do and wants to do.”
Of the total inflation-adjusted dollars given through the local church between 1968 and 2001, 93 percent was directed toward congregational finances, Hemphill said. The reason for that was not so much the selfishness of the local church but the requirement of more funds just to keep the doors open.
“So it won’t surprise you that [churches’] Cooperative Program giving has declined from 10.5 percent in the 1980s to 6.8 percent today,” he said.
To address the growing problem, Hemphill has written Making Change as a comprehensive plan designed to address both personal and corporate financial matters from a Kingdom perspective. The hardcover edition of the book will be available at the SBC annual meeting in June, and a 40-day study is due out no later than March of next year.
“There is going to be a seven-week study that’s appropriate for small groups, whether discipleship training or Sunday School or wherever you find it would work best in your church,” he said.
The book begins by examining the historic text on giving found in Genesis 1.
“God owns it all, He’s the King, He created it for Himself, and we’re stewards and managers,” Hemphill said. “That seems to be something that most of us grew up on, but it is an absolute revelational concept for this generation.”
Making Change is a scriptural study on personal finance, he said, and it addresses such issues as how to make money, how to spend money, how to manage debt, how to save and invest and how to give money away.
“We go back and look at all the concepts of tithing in the Old Testament, the offerings in the Old Testament, how that proceeds in the New Testament concept of blessing — does God really desire to bless a people? If so, why? Is it so we can be healthy, wealthy and successful or is it so we can reach the nations?” Hemphill asked. “God’s desire is that we would have a flow-through of His blessing for the blessing of the nations.”
Hemphill identifies four purposes for material possessions found in the Old Testament. First, material possessions are meant for man’s needs and his pleasures.
“It’s not wrong for a man to enjoy it; in fact, God said He created it not only good but very good,” he said.
Secondly, they are intended to meet the needs of the less fortunate.
“This flows all the way from the Old to the New Testament, not just in the Book of James but in the Old Testament many of the tithe offerings were related specifically to widows and orphans and meeting the needs of the less fortunate,” he said.
Thirdly, material possessions are for the provision for ministry needs.
“Almost all special offerings in the Old Testament are related to building buildings. So it’s not wrong to raise money to build buildings. In fact, that’s part of the concept in the Old Testament of the provision for and expansion of ministries,” he said.
The fourth purpose is for reaching the nations.
“I believe the Bible teaches very clearly God has created sufficient resources to do all four of these,” Hemphill said. “It’s not a matter of having to cheat one for the other. God has sufficient resources in the universe for us to complete the Great Commission task that I believe can be done in this generation.”
Hemphill also noted a New Testament progression concerning finances, beginning with the fact that Jesus assumed the tithe as normative. It wasn’t optional; it was part of living for God. Then in 1 Corinthians 16 Paul teaches about systematic giving, where a person regularly lays aside an amount to give to the church, Hemphill said.
“Most of our people no longer have that concept,” he said. “They give if they’re there. If they miss two or three weeks they don’t even consider what they’re going to do in preparation or when they come back.”
In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul teaches about generous giving and then supernatural giving, which means relying on God’s help in order to give sacrificially, Hemphill said.
Towards the end of the book, Hemphill identifies a biblical model of cooperative giving, which is based on the offering for the saints in Jerusalem. He said it was a task too large for a single church, it required equal sacrifice but gave equal joy, it required and built unity, it was administered with integrity and efficiency, it met the needs of the saints and glorified the Father, and it manifested a Kingdom focus. The same model can be used among churches today, he said.
The Cooperative Program is a living model of strategic, Kingdom giving which is both effective and efficient, Hemphill said, and a chapter in the book traces the history of Southern Baptists’ unified giving plan.
“Our conviction is the Cooperative Program is not a budget to fund a denomination,” he said. “It’s a local church’s budget to assist in a partnership for the accomplishment of the Acts 1:8 commitment to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.”