Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An inward focus or an outward focus

Yesterday Baptist Press reported a modest increase in the Southern Baptist Convention Annie Armstring offering in 2011 (the Annie Armstrong offering goes entirely to support overseas missionaries)

Southern Baptist churches gave three percent more to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions in 2011 than they did in 2010.

For the year ending Dec. 31, 2011, the offering totaled $56,040,868.
That sounds like a big number at first blush. Fifty-six million dollars, all of it going to support missionaries! Hang on a second...

It comes to about $1200/ SBC church. For some churches that would be a lot of money but even for a small church that is a fraction of their operating costs. When you look at some of the really big SBC churches and examine their budgets that number sounds less impressive. When you compare that figure to the real estate holdings in the SBC of over $40,000,000,000 or an average of over $1,000,000 per church, it really should be sobering. A denomination ostensibly founded in part for the purpose of supporting missionary that gives such a paltry amount to missions is cause for some serious soul searching, not celebration.

The bigger issue is that in spite of the "Great Commission Resurgence", the Southern Baptist Convention and most other traditional churches are still not very focused on reaching the lost. That may sound like a harsh indictment but given the reality that outside of baptizing children of believers and adding new "members" from other churches, many (most) evangelical churches are primarily inwardly focused on the operations of their own organization far more than they are on reaching the lost.

The gathering of the church is vitally important but it is not important for its own sake. It is important because of the equipping and encouraging that is supposed to go on. If all we do week after week is listen to sermons and sing a few songs but never mature beyond knowing a few new tidbits about a passage of Scripture gleaned from the sermon and Sunday school, frankly we are wasting our time and might as well stay home. A church that doesn't see those who gather there on a regular basis being equipped, released and engaged in mission is failing. I don't care how many people are on the membership roll. I don't care how big their budget is or how famous their pastor. If rank and file Christians are not reaching the lost and caring for the poor because they are not being equipped to do so on Sundays, the church that they gather at should be closed down, the property sold and the proceeds given to those who will take the Gospel to the world. We simply cannot afford more palatial manmade temples that put on a religious show but do little other than spoon feed the sheep. We need gatherings that are Gospel cannons firing equipped believers into the world. The field is far too white and the laborers are far too few for us to do anything else.


Anonymous said...

Arthur, I agree with the spirit of your post. However, there are a few things I'd like to pushback on a bit.

First, the Annie Armstrong offering is for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and is used for missions in North America only. The Lottie Moon Christmas offering is used for international missions and is taken in adddition to the afore mentioned offering.

In 2010 the Lottie Moon offering totalled 145.6 million dollars. Every dime of this goes to international missions. So add these two offereings together and you get more than 200 millon dollars toward missions.

Second, these offerings do NOT include money that each SBC church gives toward the Cooperative Program which supports the admin of the SBC, seminaries AND missions. So to understand the whole picture you also have to take the Cooperative Program giving into account. In your state of Indiana ALONE about 2.1 million dollars was given to the CP. In 2010 about 500 million total was given to the CP.

Third, each church also sponsors its own mission trips and local outreach ministries. This takes money too. Some churches even support missionaries not associated with the SBC. And each church itself is (or at least should be) a witness to its own community.

So I'm not sure you have painted a totally accurate or fair picture in your post.

Arthur Sido said...

Hi Anonymous

Not sure who you are or if you know much about me but as a quick note my wife and I spent a lot of time in SBC churches and I used to pastor an SBC church, so I am pretty familiar with the different missions programs. If anything I think I was a little too soft on this issue,

Let’s lump the two offerings together (Annie Armstring and Lottie Moon). At $200,000,000 for 45,000 churches, that works out to about $4400/church annually. Add in the $500,000,000 that goes to the CP (keeping in mind that a lot of that money goes to anything but missions work, a source of great controversy in the SBC. In 2008, $329,000,000 was kept in state conventions). Let’s pretend that of that $700,000,000 figure, all of it goes to actual missions work and not the reality that nearly half of it does not. Even at $700,000,000 for the 45,000 SBC churches, that works out to an average of $15,000 per year. Obviously some churches contribute much more than that and others far less. I would imagine that a relatively small number of very large churches contribute the lions share. Regardless, even at $15,000 that is far less than the salary of even a single full time clergyman. When I was employed as a bi-vocational pastor I made almost that much. Compare that rather dubious figure of $700,000,000 that goes to “missions” to the value of SBC real estate of over $40,000,000,000 and the enormous sums spent each year on salaries and buildings and I will unapologetically reaffirm that the SBC is far more inward looking that outward, focused in spending on the machinery of the local church. In fairness the SBC is far more missions minded than any other major denomination but that is not exactly a ringing endorsement when you look at the sad state of missions work and commitment exhibited by the church.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough.