The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee put out a news release June 5 celebrating that giving to the SBC’s Cooperative Program unified budget is running 1.4% ahead of budget through the end of May.
What the Baptist Press account does not mention is that the $129.9 million given so far this year is $8 million less than had been given in the same period last year. A previous Baptist Press article from 2022 reported CP giving through May last year of $137.9 million.
Total annual CP giving had been on a slow decline for a decade, until a slight rebound last year, as recorded in this year’s Book of Reports prepared for the upcoming annual meeting. The SBC Executive Committee notes total CP giving of $195.9 million in 2021-2022, up from $191.3 million in 2017-2018.
This year’s SBC Cooperative Program budget goal is $192.3 million, up from last year’s goal of $190 million.
“The path of CP giving begins in the offering plates of 47,000 local congregations.”
The path of CP giving begins in the offering plates of 47,000 local congregations, which give a portion of their offerings to state Baptist conventions, which in turn send a portion of those gifts to the SBC Executive Committee. The millions of dollars that make their way from local churches to the Executive Committee are then divided among a dozen denominational entities, including six seminaries and two mission boards.
The state conventions typically keep somewhere around 50% or more of CP money for use in state missions and ministries and send 50% or less to the national body.
Overall giving from SBC churches through the state conventions has been on a slow decline, dropping from $463 million in 2017-2018 to $457.4 million in 2021-2022. However, last year’s increase on the national level was made possible because the percentage of funds forwarded to the national body from the states suddenly ticked up from 41.1% the prior year to 42.83%. That 1.7-point differential gave the SBC about $7 million more than it would have gotten otherwise.
The erosion of giving in the SBC has been a slow drain, especially compared to membership, attendance and baptism numbers that have been plummeting.
Southern Baptists have a long history of counting — and documenting — “nickels and noses,” meaning dollars and people. Pages of statistical reports on these data are produced for each year’s annual meeting. Often, these are perceived as bellwethers of the denomination’s overall health.
With “noses” on the decline, there’s significant pressure to show the “nickels” are still holding up.
Thus, while the latest Baptist Press article about this year’s giving shows year-to-year comparisons for designated giving, which is down 4.1%, it does not show year-to-year data for undesignated giving, which is the major benchmark of the denomination’s financial health.
The article quotes Executive Committee Interim President Willie McLaurin lauding the success of the Cooperative Program: “The sustained giving through the Cooperative Program after the first eight months is another reminder that SBC churches and state conventions continue focusing on reaching the lost at home and around the globe.”
“The SBC’s nearly $200 million in annual CP revenue pales in comparison to the nation’s largest parachurch ministries.”
Despite its financial dips, the SBC remains by far the wealthiest non-Catholic denomination in America in terms of annual income. Yet its nearly $200 million in annual CP revenue — and even the total $458 million that originates with the churches — pales in comparison to the nation’s largest parachurch ministries.
By comparison, according to Ministry Watch, World Vision takes in about $1.2 billion annually, and Catholic Relief Services takes in $924 million. Samaritan’s Purse, run by Franklin Graham, takes in more than double the amount of money sent upline from Southern Baptist churches annually, with about $900 million in income.
However, the SBC’s two mission boards get an extra boost from their own designated missions offerings each year. The Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions and the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions form the bulk of the designated giving passing through the Executive Committee.
Those designated missions offerings more than double the total annual income available to the two missions boards.
This year, year-to-date designated giving in the SBC is $151 million, down from $157.4 million in the same period last year.
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