DULUTH, Ga. (BP) -- Even while Georgia's unemployment rate remains one of the highest in the nation, the Georgia Baptist Convention remains committed to forwarding its Cooperative Program gifts to the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville as quickly as it has traditionally done.
A steady decline in giving since the recession began in 2008 has required the state convention to trim staff and reduce budget to levels not seen since 1999. But the financial downturn, coupled with a report that 50 of the state's leading churches decreased their CP giving in 2011, has hobbled the convention from forwarding the funds in a timely fashion.
The SBC Business and Financial Plan states that, "By agreement, all sums collected in the states for the causes fostered by this Convention will be forwarded at least monthly by each state office to the Executive Committee of this Convention, which shall act as the disbursing agent of this Convention."
Georgia's current unemployment rate of 9.9 percent is nearly 1.5 percentage points above the national average of 8.5. Atlanta's unemployment rate of 10.5, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, further undermines the state convention's cash flow since the metropolitan area is the financial engine where many churches are located.
Compared with other old-line conventions, the Peach State unemployment is much higher than states like Oklahoma's 6.1 percent and Virginia's 6.5 percent.
Michael Williams, assistant executive director/vice president for operations for the GBC, said the state convention "has been working to manage the most dramatic decline in Cooperative Program giving we have experienced within the last 20 years."
Reflecting on the report that showed a decline in giving of 50 of the leading churches, Williams said that only a couple of the churches demonstrate the level of decline that would indicate a shift in loyalty to the CP. However, the total decrease by all 50 churches accounts for almost two-thirds of the state's entire CP deficit.
During the period of financial free-fall -- since the recession began in 2008 -- the state missionary staff has been cut by 39 positions. To further reign in costs, remaining state missionaries have had only one cost-of-living increase of 2 percent in the last five years.
Georgia's Cooperative Program performance for January through September 2011 was $1.5 million below the first nine months of 2010, representing a 4.87 percent decline. The deficit then grew by an additional $1,092,379 in the next three months, which increased the decline to 5.71 percent or $2,180,300.
Cooperative Program giving has declined 14 percent from $49,509,056 in 2007 before the recession began to $42,064,717 in 2011. Since 2008 the GBC budget has decreased by $10 million, pulling 2012 funding down to levels not seen since 1999.
By the end of 2011 the GBC Cooperative Program receipts had declined by $2,618,604, or 5.86 percent less than 2010.
In anticipation of declining income during September and October, the GBC staff was asked to cut $500,000 from expenses in the last quarter of the year. In September the GBC Executive Committee approved a 2012 budget that was $1 million smaller than the previous year. But in a rare move only days before the annual convention meeting, the budget was trimmed by an additional $1.7 million.
That $42.3 million budget, approved by messengers in November, reflected a 6 percent decrease or $2.7 million less than 2011.
The current budget is down sharply - more than 19 percent since the convention began cutting costs at the outset of the recession in 2008. That year's budget, the last one before the slump, came in at $52.3 million.
Due to the budget shortfall and the additional expense of temporary employees for summer missions ventures, the forwarding of gifts to the Southern Baptist Convention was delayed. To make up the shortfall, in October $4,263,182 - with $1.7 million taken from reserve funds - was wired to Nashville to fulfill Georgia Baptists' obligations through July.
By December 15 the GBC had fulfilled its obligations through September and as of January 10, 2012, all 2011 obligations -- which is 40.32 percent of what had been received -- were forwarded to SBC offices in Nashville.
"It has been a difficult year," Williams observed, but added, "The state convention will end its fiscal year totally caught up with its obligations. It is our prayer that our 2012 budget reductions, coupled with the most recent spending cuts, will provide the necessary margins to allow us to set aside sufficient CP funds to cover our obligations before they are due.
"This is our goal, which we are striving to accomplish."
J. Robert White, Georgia Baptist executive director, refers to the downturn as "deeply troubling."
White reported to The Christian Index that December Cooperative Program receipts were the lowest since 1996. He further stated, "While this serious decline concerns me, I am praying for a better economic year in 2012. I believe in the faithfulness of God's people and of our churches.
"We will get through these challenging days by the grace of God."
J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
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