Giving is an essential ingredient in the ministry of the New Testament church. Without basic resources we have no place to worship, no materials like Bibles, no missionaries, no resources for “care ministries” like disaster relief and pregnancy centers, no Christian educational institutions, and the list keeps going.
Giving and material resources are not the “main thing” in the believer’s life or in church life. I don’t want to imply that it is. But we cannot ignore a subject that the Bible addresses so heavily. It can be an uncomfortable discussion in a highly materialistic culture, and we don’t want to offend the super-sensitive, but Bible truth is not for the faint of heart. We need to courageously and convictionally talk about money without apology.
We are fully aware of many false prophets of the popular, self-focused prosperity gospel, which is no gospel at all. Of course opponents of the faith like to say these religious shysters are typical of all Christians. The terminal critics and mockers of the faith are like the poor who Jesus described in Matthew 26:11, they will always be with us. So, let’s put them aside for now and stop worrying about what they think.
We need to talk about giving. More specifically, I want to continue a conversation that is streaming steadily through Southern Baptist life at the moment – giving to missions.
Will Hall, editor of Louisiana’s Baptist Message, recently shared the results of some research he did on Southern Baptist giving patterns since 2004. He highlights some very interesting trends.
Both Cooperative Program (CP) gifts and designated giving, which includes the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO) and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions (AAEO), trended upward toward their peak in 2007 and have trended downward since.
Through the year 2012 CP was always higher than the designated gifts that were reported through the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee.
In 2011 the amount of CP and designated gifts were virtually equal.
Since 2011 designated giving has increased by almost $4 million annually while CP gifts declined by $2.6 million annually.
In the last five years (2010-2014), CP giving dropped by a total of $8.9 million (adding the five years together). Over the same period LMCO received a total of $20.5 million more dollars, and AAEO received a total increase of $8 million.
It is important to state the obvious – when CP declines ALL mission agencies lose resources, including IMB, NAMB, the seminaries and ministries of the state conventions. The damage to Kingdom work could be compared to falling dominoes.
Hall’s research also examines the giving patterns of SBC churches. One of his conclusions is that “… metrics reveal Southern Baptists are not even approaching anything close to a tithe of their total income.
Southern Baptists teach tithing, but whatever we are doing is not connecting with our people, and we must urgently find an effective way to communicate the importance of tithing – not for funding SBC missions and ministries, but for obedience to God.”
He said if Southern Baptists tithed, the undesignated receipts that come to local churches would be from three to five times higher than what the dollars actually were in 2014. Could your church use three times more dollars for ministry? If IMB saw their gifts from SBC churches increase three times the current amount, they would not be asking missionaries to consider an early retirement.
Every Southern Baptist seminary is experiencing record growth, yet their resources are not matching enrollment. Ministries in the state conventions are seeing unprecedented potential, but much of it goes untapped due to limited resources. Local churches struggle to find dollars for the missions and ministry opportunities they envision. Associations are on life support due to lack of funding.
Giving must be addressed in order to complete our Great Commission mandate.
Hall is quick to say that the point of his analysis is not to position CP against the special offerings for IMB and NAMB. He simply wants to illustrate the duress of the cooperative system that Southern Baptists have used for 90 years to successfully fund local and worldwide missions and ministries.
“Fortunately, IMB and NAMB each have a special offering to offset lost support from the Cooperative Program,” he said. “But data shows even those funding streams are under extreme pressure, and it is no stretch to suggest that as the Cooperative Program declines, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering will follow.”
Part of the giving problem in local churches may be attributed to the steep increase in solicitations from non-church organizations. Solicitors are using mail, email, web and the telephone to directly contact the same people who sit in your church services. By the time church members and attenders walk in the church door, they have little left to give – especially if they have not set aside the tithe.
Do you know the facts on how those organizations use the dollars gained? Please read the editorial I wrote titled “Where did your donation go?” You will find it in the Jan. 31, 2015, print edition of the Biblical Recorder or posted online Jan. 27, 2015. In that article I shared some shocking information about where those monies end up. You’ll find it hard to believe.
My plea to fellow Baptists is that we tithe and give generously through our local church. No system is more efficient or more important. Accountability and integrity are built into the mission funding paths of local churches, associations, state conventions and the national convention.
Most immediately, don’t overlook the privilege we have to give through this month’s special offering for the stellar work of the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina. Read their stories in the Biblical Recorder, and stand strong with them with a generous gift through your local church.