Southern Baptist Convention

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a MISSIONAL ORGANIZATION that enables a network of over 47,000 Baptist churches and another 4,500 mission churches (churches that have not yet established their autonomy as self-governing congregations) scattered across the United States and its territories to push back lostness in a cooperative venture. The Convention is organized missionally around a set of specific ministries defined by the SBC messengers and published in the SBC Organization Manual. These forty-eight ministry assignments are administered through eleven missions and ministry entities, the SBC Executive Committee, and Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), an auxiliary to the SBC.

The SBC is also an ANNUAL MEETING (a two-day “convening”) at which each qualified cooperating church can select up to twelve messengers to transact the business of the Convention and engage in times of worship.

The annual business matters of the Convention include:

  • • Electing five of the SBC’s six officers—president, two vice presidents, recording secretary, and registration secretary (the president of the SBC Executive Committee is the SBC treasurer and is not elected annually);
  • • Electing trustees to serve each of the eleven SBC ministry entities;
  • • Electing the Convention’s two standing committees—the Executive Committee and the Committee on Order of Business —and its Committee on Nominations;
  • • Adopting the SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget, the funding mechanism through which churches channel their support for the SBC operating budget and the nine SBC ministry entities that are not self-supporting;
  • • Considering recommendations from the SBC Executive Committee;
  • • Listening to reports and presentations from each SBC ministry entity and the Woman’s Missionary Union, a missions auxiliary to the SBC, each including a question-and-answer period;
  • • Considering proposed resolutions from the SBC Resolutions Committee, appointed by the SBC president;
  • • Providing open-microphone business sessions during which any messenger may introduce business items.

Other activities include hearing inspirational sermons from the SBC president and a preacher selected by the previous year’s messengers, as well as occasional addresses from visiting dignitaries; enjoying periods of singing, worship, praise, and prayer; and experiencing other elements of inspiration, encouragement, and challenge.

The Southern Baptist Convention meets once each year for a two-day meeting in June to celebrate what God is doing through our combined ministry efforts and to deliberate on our direction for the future. The annual meeting combines the elements of an old-fashioned revival meeting with an open-microphone business meeting.

Future meeting sites must be contracted years in advance and are selected by the SBC following a recommendation from the SBC Executive Committee. Sites through 2024 have been selected and will meet in Dallas, Texas, in 2018; Birmingham, Alabama, in 2019; Orlando, Florida, in 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, in 2021; Anaheim, California, in 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2023; and Indianapolis, Indiana, in 2024.

The proceedings of the current and previous SBC annual meetings may be accessed at SBCEC.org/bor.

The SBC Bylaws state that a church must have indicated it is in “friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work” and have made financial contributions to Convention work in the fiscal year preceding the annual meeting in June in order to seat messengers. The fiscal year ends on September 30 each year.

Each qualifying church automatically receives two messengers and can qualify for up to ten additional messengers based on the level of financial support the church has given to Convention causes (see SBC Constitution, Article III, for greater detail.)

Churches can pre-register their messengers at SBCAnnualMeeting.net beginning in April each year by using the seven-digit SBC ID number assigned when the church became identified as a cooperating church with the Convention.

If a church is recognized by a cooperating state or regional Baptist convention as a cooperating church and makes CP contributions through the state convention, the church’s name is forwarded to the SBC through the state’s Annual Church Profile report as a church in friendly cooperation with the Convention.

The Convention’s purpose, missional vision, and core values can be found at SBC.net/aboutus/missionvision.asp.

Our missional vision states,
As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.

Southern Baptists firmly believe in the complete and absolute trustworthiness of the Bible as God’s Word. We are fully committed to carry out the mission Jesus gave His followers to make, baptize, and teach reproducing disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19–20).

While Southern Baptists are not a creedal people, we have a broadly-accepted statement of faith called The Baptist Faith and Message. Revised most recently in 2000, its preamble identifies the eighteen articles of faith contained within it as “certain definite doctrines that Baptists believe, cherish, and with which they have been and are now closely identified.”

Simply stated, the Southern Baptist Convention has no members. Individuals become part of the Southern Baptist family by becoming a member of a Baptist church that participates in and supports the ministries of the SBC.

Since the SBC is not a “church” (it is a network of autonomous churches), there is no “master list” of Southern Baptists. Each church maintains its own membership records. Each local church also adopts its own governing policies and procedures and selects its own leaders.

Most Baptist churches require members to have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, to have been baptized by immersion as a visible confession of their faith in Jesus Christ, and to have formally requested membership in the local church where they attend. If you are interested in becoming Southern Baptist, we encourage you to seek out a Southern Baptist church near where you live and inquire about the church’s specific membership process.

SBC Constitution Articles III and IV describe a cooperating Southern Baptist church as an autonomous Baptist congregation that . . .

MISSIONALLY and formally identifies itself as part of the Southern Baptist fellowship of churches;

COOPERATIVELY affirms its willing cooperation with the Convention’s purpose, processes, missions, and ministries;

DOCTRINALLY embraces the biblical faith and practice by which Southern Baptists have historically identified themselves; and

FINANCIALLY provides regular financial support for the Convention’s work as part of the church’s adopted budget.

We refer to these churches as “cooperating Southern Baptist churches.”

Absolutely not! Each local Baptist church governs itself under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Each church is responsible to select its own leaders, adopt its own bylaws, set its own budget, determine its own policies, and launch its own ministries as its members discern the will of God expressed in Scripture. This autonomy includes deciding how it funds its missions-giving strategy. At every point, local church participation with the SBC is voluntary and cooperative.

The Convention is also an autonomous body and determines for itself the guidelines and criteria upon which it recognizes churches as cooperating Southern Baptist churches. The SBC Constitution is very clear on these two matters: “While independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention.” (SBC Constitution, Article IV)

The SBC ID number is a seven-digit number assigned by LifeWay Christian Resources to churches that choose to cooperate with the SBC. LifeWay maintains the most comprehensive list of churches which are or have been identified as “cooperating churches.” The list also contains the names of mission churches that have not yet established their autonomy. Such mission churches do not qualify to send messengers to the annual meeting independently of their sponsoring church, but are still recognized as part of the Southern Baptist network of churches. The ID number is used to pre-register online for each year’s SBC annual meeting and to complete the Convention-requested Annual Church Profile, a statistical snapshot of cooperating churches solicited each year.

The most common way a church receives its seven-digit ID number is for a cooperating state Baptist convention and/or the association to work with the church and LifeWay Christian Resources to facilitate the assignment of an SBC ID number.

Churches that choose to bypass both the local association and the state convention must first go through a credentialing process with the SBC Executive Committee (for help with this, see #5 at Becoming Southern Baptist/Action Steps). Once the credentialing process has been completed and the church has met the SBC constitutional requirements to be identified as a cooperating Southern Baptist church, LifeWay will assign it an SBC ID number. The church can contact LifeWay directly at 615-251-3876 (toll free 877-828-3876) to request its seven-digit SBC ID number. If LifeWay does not already have your church name in its database, you will need to inform LifeWay that you have been in communication with the Executive Committee Office of Convention Communications and Relations. LifeWay will then contact the Executive Committee to ascertain that your church has met the necessary requirements to be considered a cooperating church with the SBC.

The mere fact that a church or church-type mission has an SBC identification number does not mean that the congregation meets the current requirements to be in “friendly cooperation” with the SBC or that the congregation will be allowed to seat messengers at the following SBC annual meeting.

While duly constituted churches are automatically tax exempt under IRS guidelines, some organizations (such as banks) may require 501(c)(3) tax exemption paperwork in order to recognize a church as a charitable organization.

Churches that are recognized by their state Baptist convention and have contributed to the Cooperative Program are covered by the SBC group exemption and may request a copy of the Convention’s group exemption letter.

Churches that choose to cooperate directly with the SBC are covered by the SBC group exemption and may request a copy of the Convention’s group exemption letter once they have completed a credentialing process through the SBC Executive Committee and are identified as a cooperating church with the Convention.

New church plants, during their pre-launch and launch phase, are covered by the SBC group exemption as a ministry of the church plant’s qualifying sponsor church. The sponsor church may request a copy of the Convention’s group exemption letter and inform any organization requiring the paperwork that the church plant is the sponsoring church “doing business as” (DBA) the church plant’s name.

In order to qualify as a church that can seat messengers at an SBC annual meeting, the church must have met two criteria — (1) the church must be openly identified as a cooperating Southern Baptist church through a credentialing process with its state Baptist convention or directly with the SBC Executive Committee and (2) the church must have made “bona fide” contributions to Convention work in the fiscal year which precedes the annual meeting.

Churches must have made Cooperative Program or other Southern Baptist Convention contributions (such as Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions or Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions) through a state convention, or made contributions directly to SBC work through the SBC Executive Committee or one of its ministry entities on or before September 30 of the year preceding the June SBC annual meeting.

The Convention encourages cooperating churches to demonstrate their cooperative commitment by making the Cooperative Program a principal component of the church’s total missions giving. The Convention does not set a minimum amount; but neither does the Convention encourage “minimalist” giving in reference to the contributions a cooperating church makes to the Convention’s ministries. If a church is truly committed to the purpose and work of the Convention, it is reasonable to expect the church will give as generously as it is able to support the missions and ministry causes of the Convention.

The Southern Baptist Convention came into existence in 1845; the Cooperative Program was introduced as the preferred method of giving eighty years later in 1925. Since then, most churches have followed the suggested wishes of the Convention by contributing through the Cooperative Program as their principal way of supporting SBC work, although, of course, the Convention also heavily emphasizes seasonal missions offerings for international missions (during December) and North American missions (during March).

Some churches also make other designated contributions to specific Convention ministries. All contributions forwarded to SBC entities through a state Convention or through the SBC Executive Committee are forwarded to the designated SBC entity and the contributions appear in Convention reports. Contributions made directly to SBC entities are receipted to the churches by the entities and do not generally appear in any Convention reports.

ChurchSearch, on the sbc.net family of pages, is not an “official list” of Southern Baptist churches. Churches deemed in friendly cooperation with the Convention are added at the discretion of the Executive Committee; churches deemed not in friendly cooperation with the Convention may be removed from the directory by the Executive Committee at its discretion. Listed churches may post church information on a Web page provided for each church. In order to access the Web page service, a church official must enter the seven-digit SBC ID number to add or edit the church’s information. The Executive Committee does not edit church information on the EC-provided Web page; it is the church’s responsibility to do so.

From the Convention’s perspective, a church is either a cooperating church (as defined by the Convention) or it is not. The Convention does not have “tiers” of relationship (such as dually aligned, affiliated with, auxiliary to) into which churches may fit. Rather, the Convention is composed of messengers from churches it recognizes as in “friendly cooperation” with the Convention which make contributions to Convention work. Each Southern Baptist church, being an autonomous body, determines for itself other ministry partnerships it deems in its best interest.

More than 99 percent of churches that cooperate with the SBC also maintain a cooperative relationship with a state or regional Baptist convention. Due to the long-established practice of cooperation with state Baptist conventions and local associations, the SBC encourages such multi-level cooperation (local, state, and national) and does not encourage churches to practice national-only cooperation.

However, since each church is autonomous and determines for itself how it chooses to participate with ministries outside its own church, the Convention provides for a church to cooperate at the national level. Churches that choose this option can contact the Executive Committee to inquire about a credentialing process to that end.

The Convention does not assess “dues.” Nor does it set minimum contributions to participate with the Convention. However, a church must contribute to Convention work each year in order to seat messengers at the annual meeting and be considered a Southern Baptist church.

The primary means by which cooperating churches fund SBC missions and ministry entities is through a plan of giving called Cooperative Program (CP). Recognizing that the churches that support SBC ministries are, largely, the same sets of churches that support ministries in their respective states, messengers to the SBC created in 1925 a program of giving through which cooperating churches can contribute to the ministries of both the SBC and their state Baptist convention through submission of a single contribution each week or each month. The “cooperative” of Cooperative Program refers to the interdependent relationships between the local church, the state Baptist convention, and the SBC.

Messengers to the state conventions determine the ministries their state convention provides and the portion of Cooperative Program funds that remain in the states to underwrite those ministries. At the national level, CP gifts are distributed through the SBC CP Allocation Budget to five sets of ministry initiatives—overseas missions, North American evangelism and church planting, ministerial education and training, moral advocacy, and managing the day-to-day operations of the Convention.

The Cooperative Program is primarily administered through the state Baptist conventions. Most churches give budgeted monthly contributions, representing a percentage of their undesignated receipts, to their state Baptist convention. Cooperative Program gifts from fully supportive churches typically run in the 7 percent to 12 percent range of their church’s undesignated receipts, although some churches give as much as 15, 18, even 20 percent through the Cooperative Program. The state convention then forwards a portion of those CP receipts on to the national SBC.

What your church chooses to do in this regard is, of course, in its own hands, for each church is fully autonomous in all matters, including its giving. Churches typically make monthly regular contributions through the CP from the church’s undesignated tithes and offerings (as opposed to designated gifts from individual members).

The SBC Executive Committee disburses all contributions for Convention work to the appropriate SBC entity within five business days of receiving the contributions.

The six seminaries are entities of the Southern Baptist Convention governed by their respective boards of trustees, elected by the SBC. Each seminary determines its own admission policies and financial aid policies. You will need to contact the seminary directly for its financial aid policies.

On occasion the Executive Committee receives a call from a church interested in making a minimum contribution to the Convention in order to be considered a “cooperating church” and thereby potentially (a) receive a reduction in tuition costs for its pastor or a student from the church who wants to attend one of the CP-supported seminaries or (b) qualify for participation in GuideStone’s retirement and minister protection plans.

The Executive Committee is always happy to assist churches that truly want to partner with the Convention, openly identifying with the Convention, its purposes, and its work and contributing as “bona fide” contributors to Convention work through its ministry entities.

The Executive Committee does not encourage churches or pastors to make a token identification with the Convention if the pastor and church leadership have no long-term intention of leading the church to participate fully in Convention work and contribute systematically and regularly to support the Convention’s missions and ministries.