Commonly called “CBF partners,” groups that receive part of their support through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will feel effects of a CBF budget crunch in the form of reduced funding and a new method for disbursing money.

Instead of sending partners one-twelfth of their annual allocation each month or one-fourth each quarter, as they have done in the past, CBF staff members will begin writing checks to partners based on how much money the national office receives from contributing churches month-by-month.

For example, if CBF receipts for a given month are 5 percent under budget, partners will be funded at 95 percent of their allocation for that month.

The new policy, adopted last week by the CBF Coordinating Council, will benefit partners by getting them more money sooner in the year, council leaders said.

Cautious about budget shortfalls, the CBF has of late been funding partners at an 85-percent level throughout the year. Then, if funds are available, a 13thcheck is issued at year’s end to make up the difference.

Under the new policy, partners will get fatter checks in months when CBF receipts are strong. That means they will get their share of CBF funding as it comes in instead of having to wait for a yearend catch-up check.

But it also means that partners will have to tighten their belts when the CBF’s cash flow is under budget. Churches usually fund CBF by donating a percentage of their offerings to the organization. In a month when offerings are down, churches send less money to CBF. When giving is strong, they send more money.

“We want to be good partners, but we must be fiscally responsible for CBF national,” said Phill Martin, the CBF’s outgoing moderator.

Another CBF leader said the policy change would more “fairly reflect a true partnership.”

“Partnering is a big part of what we’re all about, but partnership means we share the pain,” said Philip Wise, chairman of the Coordinating Council’s finance committee. “When we don’t have enough money to cover budget, we have to dip into reserves. They (partners) should do the same thing.”

Coordinating Council member Tim Brendle said partners need to help CBF raise funds in local churches by highlighting that they receive part of their funding from the CBF budget. Partners ought to be “promoting together our budget, rather than this being a cash cow,” Brendle said.

Partners are budgeted to get the same amounts from CBF in 2003-04 that they will have received in 2002-03. Those allocations are 15 percent lower than figures adopted in last year’s budget, however.

Due to overoptimistic income projections, CBF was unable to fund partners at full-budget levels last year. A partner budgeted to receive $100,000, for example, actually got more like $85,000. Leaders hope that moving to a conservative performance-based budget will be more realistic than the former practice of basing spending on projected growth in income.

Partner entities, none of which are owned or managed by the CBF, include 13 schools that are budgeted to share $1.13 million in CBF funds in 2003-04. Other partners are the Baptist Joint Committee, $212,500; Associated Baptist Press, $137,700; Baptist Center for Ethics, $85,000; Baptists Today, $42,500; and Baptist World Alliance, $20,000.

The BWA contribution could draw particular scrutiny in the year ahead, as the CBF seeks final approval for its membership application. That application could be approved by the BWA this summer.

That likelihood already has cost the BWA $125,000 in funding from the Southern Baptist Convention. SBC leaders have protested strongly against the CBF application and have hinted they might reduce funding even further. This year’s drop from $425,000 to $300,000 from the SBC is a 34 percent reduction from the SBC.

Ironically, the CBF several years ago reduced its own funding for the BWA from $100,000 to the current $20,000 level–an 80 percent reduction. That change was done in a budget realignment, officials said at the time.

Speaking to the Coordinating Council June 25, CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal acknowledged the CBF’s level of funding for the BWA needs to be revisited. “If our application is accepted, we’ve got to be good partners,” he said. “That means we have to increase our financial support.”

How the CBF’s budget allocations shape up in the future–particularly if further cuts are required–could be influenced by the report of a budget priorities task force given to the Coordinating Council June 25.

The report was not officially adopted but was received as information.

The report identified six areas for highest-priority funding–most-neglected and unevangelized people, church starting, developing partnership missions with local churches, supporting theological education, nurturing congregational health, and fostering congregational leadership. Except for theological education, all the top priority areas relate to the CBF’s own Atlanta-based programs.

It also identified four areas least important and, presumably, the first suggested for budget cuts–collegiate ministries, marriage and family, chaplaincy, and Baptist identity.

In the 2003-04 budget, Baptist identity includes funding for ethnic and regional networks, interim pastor support and allocations to the Baptist Joint Committee, ABP, BCE, Baptists Today and the BWA.

Further, the budget priorities task force recommended that in the future, total allocations to partner entities be limited to 20 percent of the CBF budget. Partner-funding currently accounts for 28 percent of the budget.

“I operate on the philosophy that if you don’t have money you can’t spend money,” Chuck Moates, chairman of the task force, told the Coordinating Council. All the of CBF priority areas are “significant and very important,” Moates said, “but when you are faced with a scenario of having limited dollars to spend, where do you want to spend the money?”

While the task force’s recommendations aren’t binding as policy, they will inform the work of a new “partner relationship” committee being enlisted to study issues including funding and defining what it means to be a CBF partner. Charles Cantrell, a layman from Liberty, Mo., will chair the group, Martin announced Thursday.

Bob Allen is managing editor of Mark Wingfield is managing editor of the Baptist Standard.

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