Southern Baptists have been studying potential merger of their two mission boards off and on for nearly 130 years.
But in the first such study in 1880 and in separate committees and commissions in 1915, 1917, 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1933, 1956-59 and 1995 the recommendation has been the same: keep the national and international mission boards separate.
Now, thanks to an informal proposal by the current chairman of the North American Mission Board; the president of NAMB’s Aug. 11 forced resignation; and work of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, such a merger is again bound to be considered: for at least the ninth time.
Archivist Bill Sumners of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives uncovered an unattributed document in a 1956 folder while looking for information at the request of the Biblical Recorder. The document appears to be a summation compiled for the Committee to Study the Total Southern Baptist Program initiated in 1956. It brought its report in 1959 and became known as the Branch Committee, after its chairman Doug Branch who was executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
The document lists various study committees and their reports. Each was considering the efficiencies of SBC operations, which were considerably different in the formative years than today. Various committees considered the combining or eliminating of certain operations, boards and agencies.
The SBC was founded in 1845 and just 35 years later members wondered if their mission boards should be combined since, “The work among the Indians in the Territory, and the Chinese of California bears as much resemblance to the work of the Foreign as the Home Board.”
That committee was instructed to consider the idea and report later during that same annual meeting.
The report urged state conventions to adopt “some system of co-operation with our Home Mission Board” to decrease the expense of collecting funds, and ultimately said, “We cannot, at present, recommend the consolidation.”
Efficiency has been a byword for all the studies. In 1915 the study committee even took the name The Commission on Efficiency.
It considered combining the mission boards. “But after canvassing the matter thoroughly, a vast majority of your Commission do not think it would be wise or expedient to consolidate the two Boards, either now or in the future,” its report said.
In 1917 a Committee on Consolidation took up the banner again. It decided that “in view of the diversity of opinions” and “the distressing conditions in our country, resulting from the world war,” that all boards of the Convention should “remain separate at present.”
A 1924 Committee on Correlation recommended the Home and Foreign mission boards “continue as now.” It also recommended that the Home Mission Board continue “in charge of the missionary work of the Southern Baptist Convention in Cuba and the Panama Canal Zone.”
1925 Convention action affirmed the 1924 committee report “that the Foreign Mission Board, Home Mission Board, Inter-Board Commission work in student activities, Sunday School Board, Relief and Annuity Board and the Laymen’s Work be continued as at present.”
In 1927 messengers assigned the SBC Executive Committee to “make a complete survey of the work of the Convention and its agencies.” It was to consider each department of work and its financial condition and whether new work should be started or current work discontinued.
Its larger task was to find “a mutually satisfactory basis…for the division of funds between Southwide and state objects in the annual Cooperative Program.”
This also took the name Committee on Efficiency when it brought its report in 1928, and recommended that “the Home Mission Board continue as it is at present organized.”
Virginia Baptists brought to the Convention in 1933 a “memorial” asking the Executive Committee to “look carefully into the question of consolidating our three theological seminaries and the mission work of our two mission boards.”
The introduction to this memorial said “the financial condition of the missionary and education agencies and institutions is, in our judgment, destined to grow steadily worse, unless a new and better co-operation between the several State Conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention can be arranged, or, failing in this, the elimination of some of the Convention activities.”
In response, the Committee on the Virginia Memorial said it would be “unwise to disturb the minds of Southern Baptists by upsetting in any way the machinery of our denominational agencies.” In addition, a growing population and the “legal complications” sure to arise from “combining or moving trust funds,” prompted no changes to be recommended.
The committee did say, however: “We feel that the states that participate in the Cooperative Program, since they make their appeal for all benevolent contributions mainly on the strength of our missionary work, that a more equitable division of funds for Statewide and Southwide causes should be adhered to. We recommend that a fifty-fifty basis be adopted hereafter if possible and that contributions to preferred causes be discontinued wherever possible.”
The committee lamented that “churches of the South are not averaging 10 percent of their funds to state and Southwide causes. This is the major weakness in our financial system and will, if not corrected effect the complete ruin of all state and Southwide causes, and that very soon.”
The Branch Committee, reporting 26 years later, would make recommendations for increased cooperation between the Home Mission Board and state conventions, but again, recommended that the HMB continue as a separate board.
“Though some have suggested the consolidation of the Foreign Mission Board and the Home Mission Board we are convinced that such a union would compromise two different missiological strategies and confuse our missions vision,” said the final report of the 1995 Program and Structure Study committee chaired by Mark Brister.