EDITOR’S NOTE — Stories like the one you are about to read are always difficult to develop, not because the information is hard to explain but because the tone and presentation will be interpreted based on the reader and his or her involvement, prior understanding and sympathies (or frustrations) toward the topic and/or group. The details are technically straightforward, but some will read it as a promotion or endorsement. Others will read it as an indictment. However, it’s important for your Baptist media outlets to keep you aware of happenings within the denomination and help provide the necessary context for you to fully understand the implications. Please approach this story as one of information sharing, not as an advocacy or attack piece. You are an important part of our Southern Baptist family, and you deserve to have the facts presented in full as well as with compassion and grace so you can work through and pray through how best to respond.
Updated 7-31-23, 6 p.m., with a response from the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee board of trustees chair Philip Robertson
When the July 24 email message under Paul Chitwood’s name appeared in inboxes with the subject line “I wanted to extend an invitation,” many people likely didn’t blink.
Those receiving the email invitation to join the new Seven Nine Community by becoming a recurring monthly donor had given in some form in the past to the International Mission Board, where Chitwood serves as president.
However, some of those receiving the email who also work to keep their church giving tied to the Cooperative Program did blink.
And while designated giving around the CP isn’t new, intentional efforts to solicit donors is tricky for Southern Baptist Convention entities receiving CP funds.
Those serving Southern Baptists throughout their careers say the secret behind why CP has worked for nearly 100 years comes down to the agreement that it is the official funding mechanism. Debate over how many dollars should focus on state ministry efforts and how much should go to the national entities continues.
At the same time, concerns surface annually about whether the gifts flowing through churches to state conventions and then on to the national entities will be enough to cover the latest missions and ministry efforts. Individual donor initiatives help alleviate some of the financial needs but bring with them the discussion of whether the move is a step out of bounds.
SBC policy on entities and fundraising
The key seems to be whether the entity is approaching individuals versus asking churches for money. The official Business and Financial Plan related to SBC entities states the following related to fundraising efforts:
“1. Approval of Financial Activities — No entity of the Southern Baptist Convention shall conduct any type of fund raising activity without the advance approval of the Convention, or its Executive Committee. No advance approval shall be required for the two Convention approved special offerings: Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.
“2. Reporting Fund Raising Activities — Each Convention entity shall report annually to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention on any type of fund raising activity conducted by the entity. The report shall include a summary of the activity, its title, financial goals, structure, cost, and the results of such fund raising during the past year (not required for LMCO and AAEO) …
“3. Cooperative Program Promotion — Each Convention entity shall report on its efforts during the year in promoting Cooperative Program missions giving.
“4. No Financial Appeals to Churches — In no case shall any Convention entity approach a church for inclusion in its church budget or appeal for financial contributions.”
Seven Nine Community
“It’s still LMCO dollars (but is presented in a form) that acknowledges the behaviors of our givers,” he explained, noting the opportunity to give to IMB work through a recurring method has been in place since 2021 and more and more people are beginning to prefer that style of regular giving.
The launch of online giving through a recurring donor mechanism was shared during Chitwood’s reports to the EC and the messengers at the SBC Annual Meeting that year, he noted.
“As of January 1, 2021, we had 1,166 givers who had given a recurring gift in the previous three months,” he said, noting it has naturally increased since 2021. The number at press time was 1,870.
Kennedy did not break down how many of the monthly donors are individuals versus churches but noted IMB is promoting cooperative giving with the churches by assigning a list of specific churches to missionaries to contact.
When it comes to the LMCO, which once was seasonal and now is a year-round effort, Kennedy noted gifts come through a variety of channels, even donations of vehicles, houses and land.
“We are here to serve all givers no matter what God has entrusted them. We want to help them turn all God has entrusted into mission impact,” he said, noting leaving the LMCO name and logo out of the new initiative “is not a glossing over or redirecting them to think about something else.”
Some donors aren’t Southern Baptist but contribute because they are connected to a specific missionary or missionary family. The LMCO brand isn’t as familiar to this segment of donors, so the more generic approach seems to work best in this case, Kennedy said.
“We want to optimize every opportunity and may not introduce complexity to those not familiar with denominational life.
“The Seven Nine Community is no different than if we began to publicly acknowledge gifts by check or credit card as a new option,” Kennedy added.
Common to all entities
Other entities also offer individual donor options, and Kennedy said he had not heard of any concerns coming from the other SBC entities.
Along with individuals who contribute to SBC entities on a personal level, church leaders have options for how they promote, present and collect special offerings such as LMCO and AAEO as well as how they handle CP giving. State conventions also vary in how they count designated giving that doesn’t go through the CP, and donations submitted directly to the entity around the church qualifies the individual and/or church to receive personalized donation requests from that entity.
SBC EC response
Louisiana pastor Philip Robertson, chair of the SBC EC, told The Baptist Paper that while he, “like many in our Southern Baptist family,” was surprised to learn of the Seven Nine Community fundraising effort, “I do not believe anyone at the IMB wants to harm the broader cooperative work of Southern Baptists intentionally.”
Still, “we have to be careful and thoughtful that we don’t do so unintentionally,” he noted. “Unquestionably, the Cooperative Program of the SBC has been a highly successful method of shared funding to accomplish the Great Commission. Southern Baptists have faithfully given over $20 billion through the Cooperative Program since its inception.
“The agreed-upon parameters which guide Cooperative Program funding are an important part of that success,” Robertson said. “Therefore, I look forward to having conversations in the near future with IMB leadership and others within our SBC family to evaluate these types of appeals and funding guidelines to be sure that we do not unintentionally diminish or jeopardize the proven success of our cooperative missions effort that has clearly worked for nearly 100 years.”
IMB receives 50.41% of CP dollars submitted to the EC for distribution.
According to the 2023 SBC Book of Reports, IMB received $100.4 million CP dollars during the EC’s 2021–2022 fiscal year, which runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. LMCO gifts distributed by the EC in that same timeframe totaled $137.35 million.
For the year 2022, IMB reports $203.7 million contributions for LMCO and $25.2 million from other sources. LMCO gifts make their way to IMB through many channels as noted in this article, which would explain the different numbers reported for LMCO giving. To learn more about IMB’s financials, visit imb.org/impact.
To learn more about IMB giving options, click here.
To learn more about the Cooperative Program, click here.