A number of North Carolina Baptist churches will need to increase their Cooperative Program giving in 2010 to qualify their staff members for matching retirement contributions and protection benefits provided by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
The Executive Committee Aug. 13 approved an annual increase of $220 — to $640 — per qualifying staff member. Actual costs are increasing for the BSC to provide a basic annuity, life and disability benefit and too many churches give just enough to qualify their staff members for the coverage without actually supporting the work of the BSC, according to John Butler, BSC executive leader for business services.
Churches that give $420 to CP per staff member in effect contribute nothing to the work of North Carolina Baptists because their entire contribution is utilized for benefits to their own staffs.
“A lot of churches know how this works,” Butler told Executive Committee members before their vote. “They give the exact minimum in order to qualify their staff for this benefit.”
In other words, “the annuity is good enough for them, but nothing else is,” said board member Greg Barefoot.
More than 800 churches affiliated with the BSC give nothing to the Cooperative Program. According to Butler, in “a significant number of those the pastor still receives this benefit.”
An undetermined number of other churches make CP contributions that simply equal that required for staff coverage.
Recognizing the difficulty of small churches to adequately fund retirement and protection benefits for their pastor, the BSC historically has provided an automatic exemption from the contribution minimum for churches with a $50,000 budget or smaller.
That automatic exemption is being eliminated, but such a church can still apply for exemption as a “hardship case” and be considered individually, Butler said.
Because church gifts in one year qualify the staff for coverage in the succeeding year, the increased minimum will be tallied in 2010 to qualify staff for coverage in 2011.
The biggest concern expressed by Executive Committee members during discussion was that small budget churches would lose their automatic exemption. The BSC staff will notify every church by letter of the new requirements, according to Butler.
GuideStone Financial Resources Consultant Johnny Ross will make calls and notify churches as he does every year if their gifts do not meet the minimums for coverage.
Butler said the move is not to eliminate church participation. “We want churches to participate,” he said. But if the current pricing structure were to remain, other churches would be subsidizing with their mission gifts the retirement and protection benefit of those churches that would not fund their own.
“It’s not about getting money from them, it’s about getting them to take responsibility for their staff,” Butler said. “And it’s an opportunity to talk about the value of cooperative giving.”
Executive Director-treasurer Milton A. Hollifield Jr., knows “this will be a major issue because of the practice we’ve had in our history.”
“But it doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do now, simply because we’ve been doing it another way,” he said.
“I also share the concern where I don’t want pastors to be left out just because they are in churches with small budgets.”
Butler said there are “very few churches of any size that cannot budget $54 a month to go to the Cooperative Program. That’s not asking a whole lot for a church to be able to say, ‘I’m a part of the BSC and all its ministries and services.’ If you’re not willing to do that, then are you really a part of the BSC?”
After hearing a budget report that shows receipts through July 3.2 percent below the same period last year, Hollifield said, “The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is financially healthy.” Cash flow remains “in the black” through the first eight months, Butler said.
After that meeting, the Executive Committee went into executive session, where members finalized with staff the final steps leading to the announcement the next day of the elimination of six positions on the BSC staff, resulting in the layoff of three persons.
Although the 2010 budget is not finalized, documents distributed at the meeting show a fifth consecutive one-half percentage point increase to ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.
That would make the North Carolina-SBC split of Cooperative Program gifts from churches 65.5/34.5, compared to the 68/32 division of five years ago. Based on a $36 million budget, the half-point difference is $180,000.