Among doctrines Southern Baptists emphasize is the doctrine of local church autonomy. Article VI of the Southern Baptist Convention’s confession of faith clearly states, “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel” (The Baptist Faith and Message, Article VI,The Church.)
The Convention is a network of autonomous churches voluntarily banded together to engage in missions enterprises and ministry activities designed to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord. Cooperation requires trust; it requires commitment; it requires confidence that God’s purposes are bigger than what we can accomplish individually. We believe it is a wonderful thing to be part of what God is doing through Southern Baptists and commend the Convention and its work to you.
The Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is not a church. It is a set of ministries supported by a network of cooperating Baptist churches.
These ministries include international and domestic missions, theological education, advocacy for religious liberty, literature production, insurance and retirement services for pastors and other church workers, and the infrastructure necessary to keep these cooperative efforts operational. Specifically, the Convention was created “to provide a general organization of Baptists in the United States and its territories for the promotion of Christian missions at home and abroad and any other objects such as Christian education, benevolent enterprises, and social services which it may deem proper and advisable for the futherance of the Kingdom of God” (SBC Constitution, Article II).
The Baptist Convention of Iowa
The Baptist Convention of Iowa (BCI) is an organization of over 100 churches with over 10,000 worshipers in Iowa who have come together for greater ministry impact. We pool our resources to extend our ministry to new areas and population segments within Iowa and around the world. We cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention and support the ministries of the SBC by forwarding 50% of our Cooperative Program receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention national Cooperative Program.
The Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting
Each June, representatives (called messengers) from churches that cooperate with and support the SBC convene for a two-day annual meeting. During the annual meeting, messengers adopt the SBC allocation budget, elect trustees that govern the various ministries, receive motions from messengers, review bylaw revisions, consider resolutions, and hear inspirational reports about the great works God is doing through our cooperative efforts as Southern Baptists.
Each Baptist church that identifies itself in “friendly cooperation” with the Convention and contributes to Convention work may elect and send messengers to the annual meeting. Messengers are encouraged to participate fully in the annual meeting, voting on all matters according to their consciences.
Any registered messenger may make a motion during the general business sessions. Motions usually address specific actions the Convention is authorized to take through one of its entities. Many motions are referred to the appropriate entity or the Executive Committee for review and report back to the Convention at the following annual meeting. The Convention assigns ministry assignments and elect trustees. Beyond that, the governance of each entity is fully under the control of its respective board of trustees. The governing documents for the Convention can be found in the sidebar links atwww.sbc.net/aboutus/legal.
Resolutions differ from motions in that resolutions are non-binding statements that express the collective opinion of the messengers at a specific SBC annual meeting on a given subject. Covering a wide range of theological, social, and practical topics, resolutions educate our own people about important moral, ethical, and public policy issues; speak to the broader culture about our beliefs; and provide helpful tools for our churches and entities to speak with authority in the public square about the biblical application of timely and timeless matters. All past resolutions can be researched and read in their entirety at www.sbc.net/resolutions.
During the 363 days of the year when the Convention is not in session, eleven Convention ministry entities and the SBC Executive Committee fulfill specific ministries assigned by the messengers to the Convention. The authority of the work performed by these entities is found in forty “ministry assignments” given to the entities by the messengers to the Convention. These ministry assignments are in the Convention Organization Manual posted at www.sbc.net/aboutus/legal/organization.asp. Governance of these entities rests in the hands of 511 godly pastors and laypersons elected by the messengers to the Convention to serve rotating terms on the respective boards of trustees. About one-fourth of these are elected each year to fill first or second terms of service. The majority of the entities have four-year terms of service.
The Convention’s entities, the Executive Committee, and the missions auxilliary called Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), are located below.
Its Executive Committee
In addition to the eleven ministry entities, messengers to the Convention elect eighty individuals from across the nation to serve on the SBC Executive Committee. The SBC president, SBC recording secretary, and WMU president also serve on the Executive Committee, for a total eighty-three members. The Executive Committee is charged to serve as the fiduciary, fiscal, and executive entity of the Convention in all its affairs not specifically assigned to some other board or entity. This year, the Executive Committee is comprised of members from thirty-four states and includes forty-four pastors and church staff from many church types and sizes, five associational directors of missions, four educators, six attorneys, and other laypersons from a wide variety of professions.
These eighty-three individuals meet three times each year to prepare and review the Convention budget; act in an advisory capacity on all questions of cooperation among the entities of the Convention and among the SBC and the state conventions; conduct the general work of promotion and publicity of the overall Southern Baptist ministry; work with the entities in regard to their respective ministry statements; and a myriad of other duties as spelled out in SBC Bylaw 18 and the Committee’s six ministry assignments.
The principal means by which Southern Baptist churches fund their respective state convention ministries and the missions and ministries of the SBC is through the Cooperative Program. In 1925, recognizing the need to consolidate financial appeals to the churches from a host of ministries within the states and at the national level, the Convention created the Cooperative Program and invited the state conventions to partner with it, which they gladly did and do. The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches maintain what many call “three levels of cooperation.” On the local level, churches participate in a local association of Baptist churches — the “Jerusalem” component of cooperative ministry (Acts 1:8). On the state level, churches participate in common ministries, missions, and fellowship in an attempt to evangelize and serve the spiritual needs of those in the “Judea and Samaria” components of their Great Commission mandate. At the national level, churches participate in the “uttermost parts of the earth” component of missions and ministries.
Church gifts to the state convention and SBC ministries flow through the Cooperative Program. The state conventions receive gifts from the churches. Messengers from the churches in each state meet annually and determine what percentage of Cooperative Program gifts from churches in that state is used for state-sponsored ministry and what percentage is forwarded to the national convention to fund the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention. The percentage forwarded varies from state to state. Historical charts showing Cooperative Program gifts received by the SBC from the states may be found at www.cpmissions.net/yourstatecontribs.asp.
Of the funds received at the national level, almost 97 cents out of every dollar received by the SBC Executive Committee goes directly to national or international missions and ministry. The allocation budget is as follows:
- 50.41% to International Missions
- 22.79% to North American Missions
- 22.16% to Theological Education
- 1.65% to Ethics and Religious Liberty; and
- 2.99% to the SBC Operating Budget
The SBC operating budget includes funding for the Convention’s Executive Committee; the SBC annual meeting; SBC committee meetings; Cooperative Program and stewardship promotion; SBC.NET web pages development and management; the SBC president’s budget; SBC legal and insurance costs; subsidy for the annual SBC pastor’s conference; fostering Global Evangelical Relations; and production and distribution of SBC Life and Baptist Press, which can be accessed online at www.SBCLife.net and www.BaptistPress.com.
In addition to gifts made through the Cooperative Program, the Convention, in partnership with WMU, promotes two annual offerings for missions, both named after pioneer missionaries — the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® for International Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® for North American Missions. The Convention also receives designated funds for World Hunger. This is a joint ministry effort of several SBC entities. All funds received for world hunger are distributed 80 percent to international hunger ministry and 20 percent to domestic hunger ministry.
Southern Baptists as a “Denomination”
Southern Baptists are a “Denomination” only in the word’s most general meaning — a general name for a category of similar things. Churches that practice believer’s baptism by immersion have been “denominated” by others and by themselves as Baptists for many centuries. When the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, it used the term in this general way (see the preamble to the SBC Constitution). By doctrine and polity, the SBC cannot and does not unite local congregations into a single legal denominational body. Each cooperating Baptist body — local church, association, state convention, and auxiliary — retains its sovereignity and is fully autonomous.
These autonomous Baptist bodies work together in friendly cooperation to achieve common Kingdom ministries and purposes. Each autonomous Baptist church, association, and state convention (see SBC Constitution, Article IV) participates in Convention causes voluntarily.
State Conventions and Local Associations
The SBC maintains a fraternal, cooperative relationship with forty-two state and regional Baptist conventions in the United States and its territories. These state conventions provide multiple services for, with, and among the cooperating churches in their respective states or regions. Some of these services include ministries to at-risk children through residential and foster care, ministries to disabled adults, pregnancy care services, funding for Baptist colleges and academies within the respective states, and age-graded resources to assist churches in their Bible study and discipleship ministries. However, the dominant focus of the state conventions is to assist their cooperating churches in evangelism, church planting, volunteer partnership missions, leadership training and development, disaster relief mobilization, and spiritual growth and prayer support.
The SBC also cooperates closely with 1,169 associations of Baptist churches on the local level. Local associations provide the most grass-roots organizational structure in Baptist life, promoting regular opportunities for fellowship, cooperative ministries, and partnership missions. The SBC has traditionally relied upon local associations to determine the “baptistic” character of churches desiring to align with the Convention in its cooperative endeavors.
Though a church may be part of the “denomination” without participating with a cooperating state convention or local Baptist association, most cooperating churches have historically participated at all three levels — local, state, and national.
Synergy and Cooperation
Why be part of a fellowship of churches, associations, state conventions, and national convention that cooperates together? Denominational identity gives churches a way collectively to express their convictions and realize their vision. It is natural and biblical that churches would take the opportunity to identify with like-minded churches. This allows churches to be a part of a larger enterprise, pooling their resources to establish and advance Great Commission work. A loose-knit “denomination” can create a synergy in which the impact of the whole can often be greater than the sum of the individual parts.
Flexibility and Freedom
Baptists have long held the principles of congregational self-governance, self-support, and selfpropagation. Local churches select their own staff, ordain their own ministers, adopt their own budgets, organize their own ministries, hold legal title to their own properties, and establish their own membership requirements.
The Southern Baptist Convention does none of these, for it is not a “church” and it has no authority over the churches. In fact, the SBC “does not claim and will never attempt to exercise authority over any other Baptist body” (SBC Constitution, Article IV, emphasis supplied). The Convention does not ordain ministers, assign staff to churches, levy contributions, choose literature, adopt the church calendar, monitor or maintain church membership lists, or assign persons to churches according to place of residence. These are all local church prerogatives.
Within the Body of Christ, there is a great diversity of gifts, temperament, taste and experience. Churches benefit from this range of qualities within their own fellowship and across the Convention. Churches learn from and complement each other. This is not a matter of moral or doctrinal compromise. You cannot believe and do just anything and remain a part of the Southern Baptist fellowship. All Baptist bodies have limits. But within those limits, there is room for significant cooperative diversity.
Though many Baptists work closely with other churches on matters of social justice, benevolence, and evangelism in their local communities, the Southern Baptist Convention does not enter into formal relationships with interdenominational councils or ministry initiatives.
The beauty of how Southern Baptists work together for Kingdom purposes is that each church, association, state convention, and SBC entity has covenanted to work with the others in a spirit of mutual respect and trust. While no Baptist body is perfect, when we cooperate together for Kingdom purposes, each leverages the strengths of the other in a way that amplifies the collective abilities of the whole. This is the Southern Baptist family.
A church typically aligns with the Southern Baptist Convention by formally declaring that it is a “missionary Baptist church” in “friendly cooperation” with the Convention and contributing to the mission causes of the Convention through one of our cooperating state conventions. The number of messengers a church may seat at the annual meeting depends on a combination of church size and the amount a church contributed to the Convention work in the previous fiscal year. While most messengers pre-register online at www.sbc.net, messenger cards can be requested from cooperating Baptist state conventions. We encourage churches that wish to identify with the SBC to notify their state convention office. Even if they have not yet qualified to send messengers to the annual meeting, their report of current giving to Convention work will signal their cooperative intention and prompt their addition to Convention mailing lists.
Individuals do not join the Southern Baptist Convention; rather, they become Southern Baptist by joining one of the 50,000 churches and church-type missions that cooperate with the Convention. Each church can tell you its membership requirements and expectations.
Within the Southern Baptist Convention, the licensing and ordination of ministers is a local church matter. There is no denominational ordination service. The list of Southern Baptist ministers on www.sbc.net/ministersearch is simply a compilation from the reports of the churches and is the responsibility of the churches to update. Since the SBC is not a church, it cannot ordain or defrock ministers; nor does it maintain a list of “certified” ministers. Ministerial certification is the role and responsibility of each local church.
Resources, Training and Service Opportunities
The Southern Baptist Convention and its denominational partners offer churches a wide array of literature, workshops, retreats, conferences, consultants, volunteer mission opportunities, video and audio materials, fellowships, and lists of prayer needs. As one pastor who moved to a non-Southern Baptist church observed, “There’s one thing worse than being a Southern Baptist pastor and getting all that material in the mail. It’s not being a Southern Baptist pastor and not getting it.” It’s great to have such a support system, such a network of resources to assist churches and members in their development.
For more information go to www.sbc.net