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Churches' drop in missions giving hits BSM
By John Hall
Texas Baptist Communications
Unless congregations increase their support, Baptist collegiate ministries could become the ministries of interested individuals rather than of churches, campus ministers warn.
Financial support for Baptist collegiate ministries has declined during recent years as national convention, state convention, association and church budgets have shrunk due to decreased giving and declining returns on investments.
Typically, state Baptist conventions pay for some campus ministers' salaries and for maintenance on Baptist Student Ministry buildings. Associations pay for some salaries and programming funds.
The California Southern Baptist Convention offers the most significant exception to this pattern. About 10 years ago, the convention eliminated funding for full-time campus ministers due to a budget crunch. In California and in newer-work states where resources are slim, campus ministries often are run by Mission Service Corps volunteers.
But in the larger state Baptist conventions, major funding for campus ministry has continued to come through the state office.
Ministries at Baptist universities enjoy a financial advantage because the school usually pays for all programming and sometimes covers multiple salaries and building costs.
Denominational struggles are hurting support for campus ministries, particularly in states with two conventions.
When churches pull out of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, they pull funding from the college ministries affiliated with the convention unless church funds are designated specially for the outreaches.
“Statewide, it's a tough time,” reported Darrell Cook, director of the Virginia Tech Baptist Student Union. “Watching different resources, we see we won't be able to do as much here.”
In Texas, Baptist student ministries are affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and some churches do not fund them because of that, said Joel Bratcher, director of the Texas A&M Baptist Student Ministry.
“Sometimes churches defund the BGCT, and that affects us,” he explained. “Sometimes they give directly to the BSM; sometimes they don't.”
The Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, both formed by conservatives in recent years, do college ministry through local churches rather than the traditional Baptist Student Ministry. Both new conventions start churches that cater to college students and encourage existing churches near schools to start college programs.
To counter the decreasing funds, campus ministers have had to examine their programming and think in terms of long-range effects, said Bruce McGowan, director of the BGCT Center for Collegiate Ministries.
“We have had to ask ourselves why we are on campus and what would Texas Baptists support,” he added. “It has helped us ask what do we need, what do we do, and get creative.”
Despite this refocusing, many ministries have cut staff positions and hours.
According to national statistics compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources, 886 Baptist collegiate ministries currently are led by 512 full-time directors, 170 part-time directors and 160 volunteer directors. In some cases, an outreach has one staff member.
Of the 107 Baptist student ministries in Texas, 24 have part-time directors, 17 volunteer leaders, and three are intern directors. There currently are two interim directors, and eight are looking for leaders.
College ministries in newer-work areas for Southern Baptists–including California, the Northwest and New England–are overwhelmingly dependent on volunteers who raise their support from churches, associations and individuals.
In many cases, these volunteers provide necessary administrative and program assistance for the one paid staff person, said Eric Black, who serves as a Mission Service Corps volunteer with his wife at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque.
“There's a mentality the Cooperative Program (unified budget) is bottomless and covers everything,” Black said. “The BGCT knows that is not the case. Money only goes so far. People are floored we are not supported by the Cooperative Program.”
As Mission Service Corps volunteers, the Blacks receive training and endorsement from the BGCT but not financial support.
The lack of funding makes it harder to recruit people to work on California campuses, which educate one in seven college students nationwide, according to Neil Walker, director of Christian Challenge at the University of Southern California.
“What I find is most of the workers prefer to be in the Midwest where they can draw a steady paycheck, whether that's the most fertile ground or not,” he said.
With the decrease in budget and staff has come the added responsibility of fund-raising for BSM leaders, explained Arliss Dickerson, director of the Arkansas State University Baptist Collegiate Ministry. Campus ministers now must look for funding sources outside the traditional means.
“We have always called ourselves a ministry of the churches,” Dickerson commented. “More and more we are becoming a ministry of interested individuals.”
Some campus ministries have launched alumni groups that contribute significantly. Virginia Tech alumni provide ministry assistance as well as financial support to the Baptist Student Union.
“Our alums have done a great job filling those gaps and serving those needs,” Cook said.
The Virginia Mission Board, affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia, created a website to network and track college ministry alumni. The site includes a link to the Collegiate Ministries Endowment Fund, where individuals can donate money to support the state's Baptist collegiate ministries.
While Cook is encouraged by the convention's efforts to supplement the funding to the college ministries, he noted a statewide endowment is a “hard sell” because alumni are attached to a local work, not the statewide effort.
The lack of church funding for Baptist student ministries may end the Baptist presence on some campuses, Dickerson warned. While larger ministries that have enough alumni may be able to survive financially and possibly grow larger, work at smaller schools could die out, he explained.
In Texas, the BGCT has been able to stave off budget cuts from reducing ministries on the state's largest campuses, but funding cuts have impacted some smaller campuses.
In the last eight years, at least five part-time positions were eliminated, and part-time salary commitments were cut in half. One campus has gone from a full-time to a three-quarter-time director.
Several campus ministries were combined into one regional effort. For example, Chris Stanley works with Brazosport College in Angleton and Alvin Community College in Alvin.
Associations now pay part of the BSM director's salary on six campuses.
The state student ministry staff has been reduced by two. Two regional coordinator positions in the state office also were eliminated.
In the 2004 BGCT budget, which overall represents a 10 percent reduction from the current year's budget, the Center for Collegiate Ministry maintained a flat budget of $3.9 million.
The vast majority of the Center for Collegiate Ministry's budget goes to personnel expenses. According to the budget book presented to the BGCT Executive Board Sept. 30, the BGCT pays salaries for 32 full-time campus ministers and 29 part-time campus ministers.
These Texas Baptist campus ministers served 43,000 students last year, including 12,000 who were consistently involved throughout the year.