Most church members know the importance of tithing their incomes, but few have considered the idea of tithing their estates as part of their wills.
To help facilitate this potential for positive Kingdom results, the stewardship office of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee is launching It's a New Day for Christian Estate Planning to provide church members with resources for making arrangements to fund ministries beyond their lifetimes.
"As Southern Baptists tithe their estates, it catapults us into a position where we can fund the Great Commission in a greater way than we ever have before," said Ashley Clayton, associate vice president for Stewardship at the Executive Committee.
"The International Mission Board desires to double the number of missionaries that they have," Clayton added. "If Southern Baptists would tithe their estates, we could do this in a short amount of time. That's really what's at the heart of this."
Clayton emphasized that the goal of the stewardship office is to lead Southern Baptists to freedom from personal debt, but he understands that stewardship in a broader sense has other components, such as Christian estate planning.
The largest generational transfer of wealth in history is occurring in the United States now, Clayton said. A Boston College study predicts the amount exceeds $41 trillion as the World War II generation passes on and Baby Boomers get older. At the same time, the study estimates that less than 30 percent of Americans have a will that directs where the money will go.
Don Mann, a stewardship pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has specialized in the study and practice of estate planning for churches, and he supports the Convention's decision to give attention to the subject.
"There seems to be a convergence of two historic things," Mann said in a statement. "One is the wealth transfer and the other is the unprecedented opportunities that churches and believers have to reach out and change local and global communities with the Gospel.
"Now is the time to rediscover that God owns it all. He wants us to enjoy it, but He also wants us to employ it," Mann said.
Most church members probably would tithe their estates if they were asked, Clayton said, but the problem has been that churches have not been asking the question because they lack the resources to facilitate the planning.
"It's a New Day for Christian Estate Planning is about applying biblical principles of stewardship to our estates," Clayton said. "Since 9 percent of a person's assets are typically in cash and cash equivalents and 91 percent are in fixed assets [home value, retirement plan assets, and other investments], it stands to reason that we should steward our estates just as we steward our income by including a gift to the church or to mission causes in the gift portion of our estate plan."
The Executive Committee already has begun working with state Baptist foundations and the Southern Baptist Foundation to create awareness and provide education and quality resources to assist churches in enabling their members to tithe their estates, Clayton said.
To kick off the estate planning initiative, the stewardship office has identified key churches to pilot a stewardship program that has Legacy Link, a Web-based estate organizer, as its main component.
"We'll have articles that the churches can utilize in printed pieces or on their church Web site. There will be Web conferencing available for these key churches," Clayton said. "And there will be individual attention given when needed for estate planning."
Clayton underscored that fundraising is not the point of promoting estate planning.
"This is about serving our members and addressing family issues and tax issues," he said. "It's also about serving the Kingdom. It serves the members and it serves the Kingdom by potentially funding mission causes all over the world."
Meanwhile, Clayton said the It's A New Day For Financial Freedom initiative is gaining traction across the Convention and he's receiving positive feedback as nearly seven hundred pastors signed up at the SBC annual meeting in San Antonio to conduct the four-week Road to Financial Freedom study in their churches.
Also, instead of regional conferences in destination cities, the stewardship office is moving toward providing training venues for pastors within each state convention so that pastors won't have to travel as far to learn how to teach stewardship in their churches.
"We're encouraging spouses to come as well," Clayton said. "Most of the time is spent in a workshop environment where there is a notebook. We use a highly qualified speaker to present the material. The participants use the worksheets.
"And apart from the practical sessions, we do some plenary-type sessions where testimonies are shared," he said. "Usually there is some great preaching and teaching what the Bible has to say about money."
For more information on It's a New Day conferences, go to www.sbc.net/newday.