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‘Alarming’ or ‘meaningless’, missions funding analysis has attention of SBC president

GCR Task Force to consider data


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JACKSONVILLE (FBW)—Southern Baptists spend per capita 33 times more for missions in relatively gospel-saturated North America than they do for the comparatively unreached rest of the world, a recent analysis asserts.

The primary reason for this “alarming” distortion in missions funding priorities is Baptist state conventions that “skim” approximately two-thirds of all SBC Cooperative Program dollars for their own causes, according to the author of the analysis.

The missions funding analysis caught the attention of Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt and was to be among the data considered by the SBC Great Commission Resurgence Task Force when it met for the first time Aug. 11-12 in Atlanta.

For at least one state convention executive director, however, the analysis is “fatuous” and “meaningless” because “it’s not connected to reality.”

The analysis was done by Daniel Palmer, a May master of divinity graduate and director of financial development at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

“I am about as Southern Baptist as one can be,” Palmer told Florida Baptist Witness, noting his life-long association with Southern Baptists, his father’s SBC connections and his commitment to hold membership in churches that give a minimum of 10 percent to CP.

Palmer also holds a master’s degree in public administration and policy in which he studied finance and budgeting, statistics and survey design.

He undertook the study on his own time, he said, prompted by concern that Southern Baptists do not adequately understand the actual amount of their Cooperative Program funds that get to the international mission field and his desire to see greater support for international missions.

As Palmer evaluated denominational missions funding, “I discovered the SBC is built more like a government bureaucracy than a conduit for the gospel.”

Created in 1925 in the midst of a financial crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ unified funding effort for state, national and international missionary enterprises.

Photo by Joni B. Hannigan

TASK FORCE Johnny Hunt, SBC president, met with the GCR Task Force in Atlanta Aug. 11-12. He was re-elected to a second term as SBC president in June.

State conventions collect CP funds from churches and retain a portion of the funds for state missions work, as approved by the churches of that state. Although both SBC and state leaders who created CP set a goal of 50-50 split between states and SBC, with few exceptions this ideal has not been met by the state conventions.

In an interview last month with the Witness, Hunt briefly cited Palmer’s analysis without naming the author.

Hunt expressed alarm at the data, asking, “What does this say about—and let me use the word quickly—our, what does it say about our commitment? … It’s really making me look to say, does Johnny and Janet Hunt, are we really devoted to the Great Commission?”

The pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., said state conventions need to ask the same question, and had a warning for states that ignore the desire for greater international missions funding.

“If states are not willing to release greater percentages and greater dollars to the nations, they are going to find people like Johnny Hunt designating their dollars where they want it them­selves instead of sending it to them when they’re not listening to us,” Hunt said.

After the story was posted to the Witness Web site July 27, Palmer contacted the Witness, identifying himself as the author of the analysis cited by Hunt and offering to make the data available. Having reviewed the data, the Witness asked Palmer to write an essay explaining the methodology used for the study, the meaning of the data from his viewpoint, and what Southern Baptists should do about the matter.

Hunt told the Witness Aug. 5 the Palmer analysis would be distributed to the other 22 members of the GCR Task Force at its first meeting in
Atlanta. The task force was appointed by Hunt after the SBC authorized its creation in June to study how Southern Baptists can work “more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”

Hunt declined to comment further on Palmer’s analysis or essay (both of which can be viewed on the Witness Web site).

The Witness made Palmer’s analysis and essay available to David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and former vice president for Cooperative Program of the SBC Executive Committee, to evaluate the data and offer his appraisal of its meaning.

John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, was traveling and unable to assess the data in order to comment.


Palmer’s finding that Southern Baptists spend 33 times more on North American missions than international missions is a “matter of simple arithmetic,” he wrote.

Using 2008 and 2009 data from various sources, per capita missions spending in the United States and Canada was calculated by adding CP receipts retained by state conventions, SBC CP funds for the North American Mission Board and NAMB Annie Armstrong Offering funds ($447,240,489) divided by the total population of the U.S. and Can­a­da (340 million).

The result: Southern Baptists spend $1.31 per person for missions in North America.

Internationally, Palmer added the IMB portion of the SBC CP budget with receipts from the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (total: $243,858,417) divided by the world’s population (6.4 billion, excepting the U.S. and Canada).

The result: Southern Baptists spend $0.04 per person for missions to reach the world.

Palmer, in his essay, argued per capita spending is a way to “standardize the assessment” of Southern Baptists’ “missions investment,” which provides a truer picture than simply noting the 50 percent allocation to international missions in the SBC CP budget.

“Baptists affirm that every soul is equal before God,” Palmer wrote. “Does the allocation of our missions giving reflect this truth, or do we spend more of our missions dollars to reach Bob than we do to get the gospel to Zimbabwe?”

Asserting some Southern Baptist churches are not supporting CP “because they are either greedy or they have not found ways to be effective stewards in order to get more funds to the mission field,” Palmer speculated other congregations are bypassing CP in favor of supporting specific SBC agencies “or pursue other missions avenues because they wish to avoid the scenario where states skim nearly two-thirds of every Cooperative Program dollar.”

While some larger, more established state conventions, including Florida, retain 60 percent of CP funds, states and fellowships in areas of the United States where Southern Baptists are less well established retain as much as 80 percent of CP monies. Reports from state convention annual meetings in recent years indicate some states have set a goal of 50-50 division.

Among other recommendations, Palmer asserted state conventions, especially those in the south, should send 65-75 percent of CP funds to the SBC, arguing a 50-50 split “is a great start, but is not enough.”

States can make this transition over a period of time, rather than in a “draconian” fashion, by establishing a timetable of moving more funds to SBC causes. Doing so will “inspire confidence in our churches to give generously,” he argued.

Although Palmer conceded churches should also give more funds to CP, he wrote they should only do so “as the states demonstrate a willingness (evidenced by a real plan) to send more funding along to the national Cooperative Program.

“The action on the part of the state is critical however. Until states send more to the national level, giving more to the CP does not really make much sense because the system would be unchanged and the vast discrepancy in our spending domestically by comparison with the world would remain.”

Summarizing the international missions funding, Palmer asserted, “As it stands currently, the nations receive approximately one-half of one-third of 3/50th of the tithes and offerings given by Southern Baptists. As my toddler might put it, that is half of a piece of a sliver of the pie. Southern Baptists must give more than 3/50th of their tithes and offerings to CP, but they first need to know that the money they send is actually getting to the ends of the earth.”

Palmer said the current concentration of missions funding in North America is a result of misunderstanding Jesus’ challenge to His disciples in Acts 1:8: “[A]nd you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (HCSB).

“The sequencing of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth has become a sequencing of spending priority rather than logical ordering. The text is not a directive to spend more at home than abroad. It is a directive to begin where you are and move outward. If the Bible prioritizes any region, it prioritizes the ends of the earth,” he wrote.


Although convinced Southern Baptists need to get more money to the international mission field, David Hankins told the Witness Palmer’s study is a “meaningless comparison on a number of levels. It’s fatuous and it’s not connected to reality.”

BP photo

COOPERATIVE PROGRAM Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director David Hankins, speaking at a missionary commissioning service in New Orleans in 2008.

Hankins, who has served since 2005 as LBC executive director, is author, with Chad Owen Brand, of One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists, and is a member of a special task force studying the effectiveness of the North American Mission Board.

Florida Baptist Witness re-calculated the analysis using Palmer’s recommendation that states optimally forward 75 percent of CP funds. Such an increase would double per capita missions spending to reach the world—from four to eight cents ($0.077), reducing per capita spending in North America to $0.56, or about seven times as much funding for international missions.

“It would be just a few cents more per person, hardly adequate to reach everyone in the world,” Hankins said of the new calculation.

“I think a better approach is to talk about what’s within the realm of possibility for us to do, to have a strategy for what we want to do overseas, tell our people what the real dollar costs are likely to be and challenge them to reach it,” Hankins said.

“We don’t have an efficiency problem. We don’t have an allocation problem. We have a giving problem. I really believe that,” he said.

According to Hankins, Southern Baptists in the last 30 years are “giving a smaller percentage of their incomes than the Great Depression generation” and “by conservative estimates” Southern Baptists are failing to contribute $10 billion a year in tithes.

If churches would move from their present average of six percent CP giving to 10 percent, “I can guarantee” the states would move to a 50-50 allocation between the states and the SBC, Hankins said.

Historically, the 50-50 division was understood to not include the 2-5 percent necessary for CP promotion and agreed upon priority items, he added. (Hankins’ ideas about how states and SBC leaders should share CP gifts are summarized in an excerpt of his book available on the Witness Web site.)

However, Hankins expressed concern state conventions may have “their feet cut out from under them by a continuing disrespect for the cooperative methodology, which tends to continue the lowering of the income.”

While Hankins “strongly believes” more money needs to get to the international field, it should not be accomplished by the suggestion “we ought to undo valuable, stateside ministries. It ought to be a real, workable plan.”

Hankins said Palmer’s analysis also fails to take into account the role of other Great Commission Christians who share the obligation to reach the world.

Additionally, Hankins argues state convention ministries—many with fixed costs not easily reduced—exist because churches value them, disputing Palmer’s claim that state conventions merely “exist because thriving churches do not.”

Such a state convention “is an imaginary organization,” Hankins countered. “No such convention exists or has existed in Southern Baptist life. To suggest so is a gross misrepresentation of the history and nature of state conventions. The state convention—and other general Baptist bodies—purposefully have a broader intent.”

Citing the creation of children’s homes, colleges, hospitals, benevolence, disaster relief, as well as church planting and other ministries, Hankins said state conventions have created ministries at the request of the churches.

“State conventions are vehicles churches utilize to do work that cannot be accomplished as well by the individual churches,” he said.

According to Hankins, several professional surveys of Southern Baptist pastors and laypersons indicate that most are “pretty well satisfied” with the present division of state and SBC CP funds.

Hankins said he personally supervised two such surveys around 2000-2001 in his capacity as vice president of Cooperative Program of the SBC Executive Committee. Additionally, in 2007-2008, the SBC EC engaged LifeWay Research to conduct a survey of Southern Baptist views about CP. According to an executive summary of the survey, more than 9,000 pastors, other ministers and laypersons participated.

“Approximately 70 percent of respondents agree that the CP allocates contributions among state, national, and global ministries, missions, and entities appropriately. This result is also a good news story in that the results dispel much anecdotal evidence suggesting the opposite were true,” EC President Morris Chapman wrote in the summary.

In contrast, 29 percent of pastors and 9 percent of lay-persons believe states should forward more to the SBC, while 10 percent of all respondents believe the states should retain more CP.

The survey also found while 85 percent of respondents agree it’s important for CP funds to be spent efficiently by the states and SBC, only 67.5 percent agree that such is the case.


Palmer said he hopes his analysis will “generate an honest conversation about the role of conventions and the way we currently spend missions monies within the SBC.” At the same time, he wished to make clear he does not “wish to malign the men and women currently serving in state conventions or to impugn their motives. That is my one fear in publishing this study.”

Rather, “This study is a call for us to assess the status quo and make changes in response to what the study reveals,” he added.

Palmer noted that as an employee of a seminary tasked with raising funds for the school it could appear that his study is “self serving.” Although the seminary would indeed benefit under his desired scenario, Palmer said he believes it would eliminate the need for his job.

“May God do it all for His glory and in His timing,” he concluded.

Hankins responded that Palmer does not “give evidence that he understands” the “history and ecclesiology of Southern Baptists,” which makes an honest conversation difficult.

“I think, also, he could have a more fraternal spirit and positive response to enter into the conversation if he didn’t use what is at best, unprofessional and intemperate language, and at worst, unchristian language about his fellow Southern Baptists,” Hankins said, pointing as an example to Palmer’s use of “skim” regarding the state conventions’ retention of CP funds.

Hankins noted, “It’s not true in fact and the word ‘skimming’ means embezzlement, which is an illegal action.”

Editor’s note: Florida Baptist Witness is an agency of the Florida Baptist State Convention, receiving 1.075 percent of Florida Baptists’ Cooperative Program budget. This funding, which will total about $377,000 in 2009, accounts for approximately 44 percent of the total budget of the Witness. As a FBSC agency, the Witness is governed by a 15-member Board of Directors elected by the state