The SBC’s Ticking Time Bomb

The SBC’s Ticking Time Bomb

Southern Baptist churches are heading into a crisis that will determine which local churches will survive and which will slowly die. The chart on the left identifies the ticking time bomb about to explode throughout the Convention. Can you see the problem? Can you do the math?

84% vs. 16%! 84% of the church’s dollars come from those 50 in age and above. They gave $1.3 million of the $1.5 million budget. The under-50 crowd only gave 16% of the budget, yet they comprised 60% plus of the church’s attendance!

If you do the math, this church is headed for financial trouble. Now do the math Convention wide. How many SBC churches reflect a similar split? The SBC’s ticking time bomb is that our key donor base is aging, and their financial influence is waning. Our base is slowly crumbling and not being replaced.

The chart above was sent to me in 2018 by the Associate Pastor of an SBC church in an SEC college town, and it is used with permission. He did the math. But let me ask you…

Have you done the math? Do you know what percentage is given by those above 50 years of age versus what under 50-year-olds give? I call this The Over/Under Split. We must be aware of this split and work to create a healthier balance.

The Over/Under Split – When you are trying to raise $15 million for a new sanctuary, it’s biblical to count the cost before you build the proverbial tower. The chart at the left is from FBC Newcastle OK, one of the Convention’s fastest-growing churches. They hired me to help them raise $15 million. I helped pioneer data-driven capital campaigns, and I have learned it’s wise to do the math on giving. The Ex. Pastor put this chart together after I had shown him the first chart and asked him if he knew what his over/under-split was. This is what a healthy Over/Under Split should look like.

Be careful of the comparison trap. While the two churches used as an illustration here are close in size, budget, and attendance, their context is quite different. The communities around one is changing while the other is exploding. Do the math. Context matters. This is why I look at the percentage rather than the dollar amount. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that an 84/16 split is a coming disaster if left unchecked. And a 44/56 split might be the average for fast-growing churches, while others might see a sustainable financial future with a 30/70 split. Again, each church’s community and context matter.

But a church below 20/80 will face challenges keeping the doors open, let alone continuing with current missions and ministry and paying the staff. I reached back to the Ex. Pastor of the 84/16 split church while writing this to get an update. Here is a telling comment, “The church has gotten younger, and we’ve had a few significant retirements of high-capacity givers, so we’re navigating those winds. The church has exceptional reserves, so things aren’t a crisis but will be unsustainable in 2-3 years.” Don’t miss that last statement. “Unsustainable.” In “2-3 years,” only because of exceptional reserves. How many SBC churches have exceptional reserves? How long would that last?

This is the ticking bomb for SBC churches. Ultimately, the financial burden can’t be met by the existing congregation. Ministries get cut. Outreach ceases, and death will soon follow. This is how we are losing hundreds of SBC churches. Once Gospel lighthouses to a community now shuttered, the light extinguished. While some closures might make sense, the majority could have taken steps to correct the course of their future. But they missed their window of opportunity.

This April, I’ve been invited to speak at a retreat the Executive Committee of the SBC is putting on for all the state convention CP/Stewardship leaders. Here is what I am going to tell them.

You have a seven-year window to build the platforms needed to assure the financial stability of our local SBC churches. And what you do today, or do not do, will impact your tomorrow because the church that survives into the future is the church that prepares for the future today.

The Great Reveal for the church. I will always remember March 17, 2020. My wife and I celebrated her birthday by walking at Folly Beach SC. My friend and long-time banking guru I turn to for advice, SBC layman Dennis Moses, called me. When he heard we were walking on the beach, he asked, “Is anyone in the ocean?” Amazingly there were a few, so I said yes. I’ll never forget what he said next. “Mark, imagine that the ocean suddenly receded, revealing that all those people were without bathing suits! Covid is The Great Reveal of how fragile the church’s finances are.” March 2020 showed us what 2030 will look like twelve months out of the year unless you do something to counter the current trends.

Hasn’t giving stabilized? To some degree, though, we are not yet back to 2019 levels. But how did that church giving stabilized? Want to guess what the data of our clients revealed? Top-tiered, typically Boomer and older donors, dug deep to keep their church solvent. Five years from now, when another crisis comes, will they still be able to do that?

What’s your split? Tell me your split, and I’ll reveal to you your future. The most pivotal question is, what will you do about it?Because, ready or not, this problem is already impacting you, and it will not get any better, and if you do nothing, it will worsen sooner rather than later!

What can you do? Keep reading the Stewardship Journal. I’ve been to every state convention website, and the Missouri Baptist Convention is doing more to prepare its member churches financially than all the rest!

Don’t let this seven-year window close on you and force your church to the brink of closure! The longer you put off doing something, the greater your giving crisis will be. Every church is facing what I call The Great American Giving Shift. The sooner we realize this and act, the better our chances of fully funding our churches so they can be financially stable for whatever the future holds. Let’s not lose any more Gospel outposts!

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