Missouri Baptist Convention financial leaders offer advice
on how to make it through the current economic turmoil
By Brian Koonce
JEFFERSON CITY – What happens on Wall Street can affect the Missouri Baptist church around the corner. But though front page headlines trumpet financial chaos, Missouri Baptist leaders say ministry, as well as GuideStone-managed investments and retirement accounts, will go on as usual.
“We’re not in disaster mode by any means, but we’d be foolish to think that offerings are not affected by the economy,” said David Tolliver, interim executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). “We’re still going to be doing ministry. When the economy is good, we’ll be better. There’s nothing theological about it, it’s just common sense. I don’t have any advice, other than keep doing what God has instructed us to do with our money.”
Tolliver said that budget and Cooperative Program (CP) giving need not rise and fall along with the whims of the stock market.
“If every Missouri Baptist would simply do what God has asked them to do – tithe their resources – we’d have all the money to do all the ministry that God gives us.”
Individual churches are certainly feeling the pinch. Jay Hughes, MBC controller, said he’s been hearing reports for several months now that many churches’ offerings are down, which in turn affects the MBC’s CP budget.
He said that CP giving in Missouri for the year is behind last year’s pace.
“August was a down month, but September is looking a little better,” he said “Through the end of the year, I still think we’ll be behind about four percent of budget by the end of the year.”
Figures are not yet available through the end of September, but as of Aug. 31 the MBC’s CP receipts were 2.8 percent behind last year’s mark and 5.2 percent behind budget, which is $16.5 million.
However, Hughes said cash reserves, smart expense management and good stewardship of resources all mean that ministry is ongoing. There is still a positive cash flow, even if the convention finishes the year slightly below its budget goal.
“On a $16.5 million budget, if we end up getting $16 million, that’s still going to be good,” he said.
Last year, the MBC’s CP receipts came in at $16,041,000. That was 2.95 percent below the budget goal of $16.5 million.
Hughes said that while CP giving has been slowly trending downward in recent years, the latest numbers are likely directly related to the economy. He said that Missouri is not alone when it comes to drooping CP levels, but things could be much worse.
“Only a few state conventions are ahead of pace,” he said. “The economy is having a huge effect on states like Florida where housing markets are much worse than ours. That’s the good thing about where we’re at: our housing market is still pretty strong.”
Collectively, churches and denominational ministries may be on reasonably safe ground, but rising foreclosure rates, the sagging housing market, and large dips on Wall Street mean many are also concerned about the balance of their retirement accounts.
Gene Foster is the human resources specialist for the MBC and the Missouri representative for GuideStone, the arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) which manages retirement account insurance polices for thousands of people in Missouri Baptist churches and ministries. He said that this can be seen as an opportunity for individuals to get a good deal, not a time to panic.
“When you’re going through a time of market turmoil like this, you’re going to see your values go down,” he said. “But I really do believe that if you keep your eyes on the long term, you’ll be OK. Remember, the objective is retirement. If you’re in your 20s, 30s or 40s, don’t panic. This is a great opportunity to buy more shares for each dollar spent.”
Foster likened this scenario to a trip to the grocery store’s cereal aisle.
“If you look and see that Cheerios are half price, you don’t say ‘Oh my goodness, my Cheerios at home in the cupboard aren’t worth as much.’ No, you are going to buy twice as much with your grocery dollar now. Now is not the time to panic. Now is the time to buy because things are cheap. Hang in there. The market is cyclical – that’s the only thing we can guarantee.”
History and market cycles do suggest GuideStone’s investments and the market as a whole will rebound in the long term, but for those nearing retirement, shrinking balances can cause anxiety. For those people, the solution isn’t as easy.
“For those closer to retirement, it is tough and I don’t have a good answer,” he said. “Hopefully, they’re not too aggressively invested. If you’re still two or three years away, you have to consider if you have the time to ride it out, or maybe delay retirement. These are the type of questions you need to be asking.”
As for the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which triggered the recent market volatility, MBC Biblical Stewardship Specialist Spencer Hutson said following Christian stewardship principles will insulate individuals from much of the turmoil.
“Christian stewardship includes not over-obligating ourselves in any way,” he said. Hutson knows of several pastors who included paying off cars and credit card debt with a mortgage, then fell into financial crisis when they moved to another church and their home had lost value.
Hutson recommended Christian financial resources such as Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and Crown Financial Ministries, which has partnered with the SBC. Both of those programs emphasize tithing, debt-free living, saving and living within one’s means.
Like Foster, Hutson said he sees this as an opportunity for churches to emphasize smart money management, biblical stewardship and Christian financial principles.
“We’ve been through tough times before, but this should be a teachable moment for us,” Hutson said. “Even if they’re not affected, it’s gotten everyone’s attention. For those who aren’t affected, they need to be thankful that they’re not, but not let themselves into that situation like that in the future.”