Why the #GCR Will Not Work the Way Its Leaders Hope

Last night, the GCRTF (Great Commission Resurgence Task Force) of the Southern Baptist Convention released their mid-term progress report on the work that they have been doing to help bring renewal to the SBC. They are going to release the whole report full of recommendations in early May in preparation for the SBC's Annual Meeting in June where it will be voted on. The GCR came about after a groundswell of people calling for massive change in the SBC over the past several years. Here is a link to the full report.

One of the best things that GCRTF leader, Ronnie Floyd said last night was this,

While tonight you will hear our vision that does ask Southern Baptists to considering changing some things, we realize our number one need is to return to God in deep repentance and experience a fresh wave of His Spirit upon our lives, ministries, and work of our denomination. We need a fresh and compelling vision that will only come when we are right with Him.

He is absolutely correct. The SBC is in decline. We have lost our vision and we are focused on many of the wrong things. But, it is not just a loss of vision at the top in our denominational agencies. Our fundamental problem is coming up from our churches. I think that Dr. Floyd and the GCRTF realizes this, and on this point, they are on target. We desperately need widespread renewal and it must begin at the local church level.

He goes on to say,

. . . We believe that every local church needs to begin to operate as a missional strategy center. After the church gathers for worship, the church must scatter and send the people to advance the Gospel. When ministers see themselves as missional strategists and churches begin to operate as missional strategy centers, releasing and sending our people to advance the gospel regionally, nationally, and globally, we will begin to penetrate the lostness in our world.

This is also correct in that the local church must carry out the Great Commission. The local church is to be on the front lines of what God is doing in the world. I have heard SBC leaders say over and over again that the denominational structures of the SBC exist to help the local church carry out its mission. Absolutely right. But, do we really see the local church in this way? That is the rhetoric. But, what is reality?  Theologically, we do see things this way. In reality, we do not.

Much of what was said last night was excellent. It was really good rhetoric. But, when it came time to bring out concrete proposals, the rhetoric did not match up with the recommendations. Here were the 6 proposals according to the Baptist Press article:

  1. Calling Southern Baptists "to rally towards a clear and compelling missional vision and begin to conduct ourselves with core values that will create a new and healthy culture within the Southern Baptist Convention." The "missional vision" is "as a convention of churches, … to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations." The eight core values are Christ-likeness, Truth, Unity, Relationships, Trust, Future, Local Church and Kingdom.  ME:  This is really good. I like these ideas. They are in the Bible and are the character of Christ and I am glad that they are being highlighted by the GCRTF.  But, how will they be carried out? How will they be implemented? When the other plans were rolled out, they were not connected with these values. I like words. I use them all the time. But, it is easy for words to just be words.
  2. Recommending the North American Mission Board "prioritize efforts to plant churches in North America and to reach our nation’s cities and clarify its role to lead and accomplish efforts to reach North America with the Gospel." The North American Mission Board needs to be "reinvented and released" by implementing a direct strategy for planting churches in North America "with a priority to reach metropolitan areas and under-served people groups," Floyd said. The plan also calls for NAMB to assist churches in evangelism, discipleship and developing current pastoral leadership. It calls for NAMB to decentralize operations into seven regions and recommends releasing the entity from "cooperative agreements" with state conventions over the course of four years to free up money for national strategy.  ME:  So, NAMB is given the huge mission of planting churches all over North America, especially in the cities apart from state convention agreements. The result of this will be a much larger NAMB working everywhere with churches all over the U.S.  NAMB will come in and work in areas that were once reserved for state conventions, but for everything else, state conventions will be responsible. This creates yet another duplication of resources and work, unless the state conventions just go away altogether. I imagine that they will want more CP money for this, but how will this work, exactly? If you said that NAMB should work in pioneer regions where there are few churches and small state conventions, I can see it. But, everywhere? With no state agreements? It will be easier at first, but it will duplicate resources and strategy long-term.  Plus, NAMB is the only SBC entity that was really targeted for complete reorganization here while most everything else stays in tact. It is also the one that has been through repeated failure and lacks political muscle right now.
  3. Requesting Southern Baptists "entrust to the International Mission Board the ministry to reach the unreached and under-served people groups without regard to any geographic limitations." "Globalization has flattened the world," Floyd said. "While years ago a people group was located within a specific geographical location, this is no longer reality. Reality today is that these people groups are located all over the world, including the United States…. Most of the 586 people groups that do not speak English in the United States have [IMB] strategy coordinators working overseas with the same groups. With geographical limitations removed, a new synergy can be created in international missions." Floyd added: "We believe that with this bold and needed change, we are positioning our convention of churches for a major evangelistic harvest, a discipleship revolution and an unprecedented, exponential explosion in church planting."  ME:  How will this be funded? The IMB will receive about $2 million more dollars a year when the percentage of CP giving that leaves the states and makes it to the national SBC goes from 50% to 51%. But, the IMB is struggling mightily with budget problems right now. So, you give them all of the foreign people groups in North America and add $2 million to the budget to do it? Plus, how much confusion will erupt at this point when you have a city that has local Baptist churches, a local association, a state convention, NAMB trying to plant churches, and the IMB working with ethnic groups? All in one area! And, none of them are working together necessarily and money from offering plates is going to all 5 groups. We keep saying that the local church is the front line of world mission, but we keep sending other groups to the frontlines. The reason that the IMB makes sense is because local churches cannot effectively go overseas. But, it makes little sense for the IMB to work in the U.S. apart from a consulting role when it comes to reaching ethnic and foreign language groups, in my opinion.
  4. Moving the primary responsibility for Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education ministry assignments from the Executive Committee to the state conventions. ME: I don't see where this makes much difference other than taking some money from the EC and reapportioning it elsewhere. Of course, it now makes the primary fundraisers for the SBC the State Conventions, where an average of over 60% of CP money stays, instead of making it to the foreign mission field. Does this sound like a good idea?
  5. Reaffirming the Cooperative Program "as our central means of supporting Great Commission ministries" and establishing a broader category of "Great Commission Giving" to celebrate all the financial support – CP giving and designated giving — local congregations provide for Southern Baptist missions. "We are not recommending any changes to the Cooperative Program but are reaffirming it as our central means of supporting the Great Commission ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention," Floyd said, saying the task force calls upon every church "to work diligently at giving more through the Cooperative Program." ME: So, we're not changing the CP, but we are changing the way that money gets counted as CP giving. Ok. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1. So that megachurches like Dr. Floyd's can give to different things in the SBC and still have it count as CP gifts. 2. So that churches can bypass their state conventions and give directly to what they want to support and call it CP giving. The reason that all of the money that you give to SBC causes needs to be counted as CP giving is so that those churches get credit and so the pastors of said churches can gain appointments to certain committees and seats of power within the SBC. If that is not the case, then who cares if the money your church gives to whatever it wants is counted as CP or not?  
  6. Raising the percentage of Cooperative Program funds received by the International Mission Board in the 2011-2012 budget year to 51 percent and funding the increase in part with monies previously allocated to the SBC Executive Committee for Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education. The proposal would reduce the SBC Operating Budget allocation of 3.40 percent by 1 percentage point, or roughly $2 million, and add it to the IMB's budget, currently at nearly $320 million. Calling the proposal "both symbolic and substantial," Floyd said, "This means that for the first time in our history, more than one-half of all monies that come from our churches through the SBC Cooperative Program will go to the reaching of the nations…. We believe this is a great move forward and we need to do all we can to reach the nations." ME:  Ummm, really? Over one-half of all monies that come from our churches through the SBC Cooperative Program will go to the reaching of the nations? That makes it look like that over half of the money that my church gives to the CP goes to the IMB. But, what he means is that AFTER the states take their 60% of CP money, or so, THEN, 51% that goes to the national entity makes it to the IMB. Just wanted to clarify. That comes to about an extra $2 million per year making it to the IMB. Oh, and by the way, they were just given the responsibility of taking the lead on reaching the unreached people groups from other countries that live in North America . . . where we have over 40,000 local churches . . . and thousands of local associations . . . and over 30 state conventions . . . and NAMB . . . and where over 90% of all funds given by Christians stay. Wow.

Okay. So, I am not trying to be critical here. These are all good men, I am sure. But, after reading over these proposals and knowing what kind of trouble the SBC is in and knowing how much desire that exists among so many people in the SBC for change, this looks like, well, it looks like not much of anything. I mean, this is basically some adminstrative and bureaucratic manuevering to put some money and responsibility in different places. It seems far less ambitious than the SBC restructuring in the late 90's that did not solve anything. How are these recommendations going to address the massive problems that we have and be a catalyst for the change that we need? I have been supportive of the GCR, but I am confused as to what is really going to change in the life of people and local churches. Of course, they say that real change has to start on an individual level. With this, I agree. But, if that is the case, then how is that being fostered and encouraged?

All in all, I've come to the conclusion that the SBC is no longer capable on any level of leveraging movement among our churches. I don't think that either state or national leadership of the SBC is able to swing any type of top-down renewal or resurgence. People just are not paying attention. Even a day after this report has been given, there is very little reaction to it. How is this going to get out to the people who are not paying attention? And, even if it does, what difference will these recommendations make? My great fear is that people got their hopes up and thought that some big changes were on their way, and now, when this is what we are looking at, most will realize that nothing much is ever going to change in the SBC.

We'll see. But, that is how this all strikes me. Instead, the change that will come to the SBC will happen with individual churches, Baptists, and leaders begin to take ownership over the mission themselves. That is what the GCR leaders want. But, when that happens, it won't work the way that they want it to. It will look way different than anyone can possibly imagine and it will mean the end of the SBC as we know it as it loses its centralized nature and becomes more of an organic network of churches with the initiative happening at the local church level instead of in the offices of those who control CP money.

And, that might be exactly what needs to happen.  


17 Responses to Why the #GCR Will Not Work the Way Its Leaders Hope

  1. Alan,
    Paraphrasing the words, made famous by Denny Green…It was what we thought it would be 😀
    Good post…

  2. I think the NAMB strategy has merit if they stick to the focus outlined in the report….ie, focus NAMB’s attention away from the 1/3 of the country that gets most of NAMB’s attention and refocus on the 2/3s of the country that is most lost. That’s how many of the concerns regarding duplication and overlapping responsibilities can be resolved. The number of churches in the 2/3s area is low enough that this wouldn’t be an issue for a few years.
    As with any recommendation, implementation is the real issue. Refocusing NAMB can work if the implementation is done well…as far as assigning IMB people groups migrating to the US, I’m not sure how you pull that off without funding and efficient cooperation between NAMB, IMB, and state and local entities…..not something the SBC is known for…

  3. Alan,
    I think a few of the proposals are good, small steps in the right direction.
    I also think they are wise to not putting anything to massive in terms of change on the table yet. If they are going to propose anything MAJOR they need to get all their ducks in a row and only propose it when they HAVE to! I’m not saying we will see anything major, but I hope we do and if we do, I think its wise that nothing was put in this “progress report.”

  4. Alan,
    Good post. My general concern is the fanfare and expense for the changes proposed. I know a group who have sounded these and more significant, substantive changes for no more than the cost of bandwidth and the time of setting up a free blog.

  5. Matt,
    If they were just sharing things that they were thinking about, then just talking about some incremental change would be fine. But, I was excited about this because it was supposed to be a big deal and a lot was supposed to happen – I thought. Maybe the mistake was mine and all that the GCR was supposed to be was some minor shuffling. If so, then it is fine.
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  6. If designated giving is counted as CP giving will different agencies/missionaries be allowed to actively solicit churches. An example would be BSU/BCM ministers are not currently allowed to solicit money from Churches. If their funding goes down because churches decide to give somewhere else should they not be allowed to openly ask/beg these churches for support. Will this not create a culture for para church and missionaries showing up at churches having to solicit funds constantly? Not having missionaries to do this is has been one of our biggest strengths.

  7. Good point, Aaron. In one way or another, that is bound to happen, either through direct solicitation or advertising. How would the CP survive this in the long run? Im only asking because they say that they wont change the CP.
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  8. All of this seems more “convention-ese”, mumbo-jumbo, CP and agencies -talk. People desire/need bold, fresh, simple challenges. We need like an Old Testament prophet to come along with a “Thus saith the Lord” not agency and program talk.

  9. My understanding was that designated giving would not count as CP giving but that “CP plus designated” would now count toward the new GC giving. I wonder if people will begin citing both statistics when describing a church’s level of commitment to the work of Southern Baptists. Aaron’s comments resonate with me as I feel this proposal moves us away from the cooperative method and closer to a societal method.
    I agree with Alan’s basic analysis that THUS FAR the report mostly shifts responsibilities and funding to different places without substantially changing very much at all. I especially agree with Alan’s suggestion regarding component number three that confusion will erupt with so many entities overlapping each other in our efforts to reach major cities.
    Frankly, my expectations for the task force were fairly low to begin with. I feared they might propose the kind of catastrophic change that would undermine the best missions funding strategy in world history. So far, they have not done so, but then again, the final report has not been presented.
    I agree with Alan that “top-down” change is unlikely to spring from the denomination since our organizational structure’s governing documents resemble the Articles of Confederation more than the Constitution. There is simply very little centralized authority, a fact we traditionally celebrate, focusing on grassroots change coming from the churches who in theory exist at the very top. Thus, “top-down” Baptist change must always come from local churches.

  10. Since I am not part of the SBC nor have read the report nor have knowledge of how the whole thing functions–I’ll just add one rhetorical question: “Is the SBC part of a larger Kingdom enterprise–or is it a kingdom to itself?

  11. Thanks for all of the comments. I am sure that many of the questions that I have will be answered. Like I said, I like a lot of what was said by the GCRTF, but I fear that they have a chance to really being reform and are just shooting for some reorganization. In the end, I hope it doesnt fall short of what could have happened.
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  12. I hope the “core” values are Gospel centered, not hang ups over baptism, drinking, women teaching, storehouse tithing….etc.

  13. I think the GCR is kind of like having a task force on the Titanic to decide who is going to captain the vessel…after it hit the iceberg….

  14. Alan, good analysis. I wish more Southerners and people on the GCRTF would take seriously the concerns of those in the North that are already struggling to do the work all these Southerners dream about. The new entrance to Southern Seminary cost more than the entire budget of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention. How can I trust such people to come up with suggestions that will actually change anything when they’re spending ridiculous amounts on gold nose rings for pigs? Add the following to your ammo.

  15. Blake,
    Can you confirm the info about the entrance to Southern costing more than the entire budget for the Minnesota-Wisconsin convention? What are the numbers for both?
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  16. http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/4018/60/
    Alan, the news article notes in the last paragraph the new pavilion cost $5.5 million. The operating budget for everything that happens within the MWBC is about $1.8 million.