Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation grows, expands offerings under new leadership
May 7th, 2019 / By: Rob Collingsworth / comments
ARLINGTON—When Bart McDonald was approached about a job with the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation, he wasn’t interested. McDonald viewed his career in the financial world as a thing of the past. By then he was serving as a full-time pastor and was hesitant to leave the pulpit. He did, however, commit to pray about it.
It was 2014, and the job was the executive director of the nine-year-old entity of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention that at the time mostly dealt with individual estate gifts.
“But I prayed about it, and that’s what I felt the Lord leading me to do,” McDonald said.
“My reputation to some degree in the work of the church was with plateaued and declining congregations facing financial challenges in need of stabilization. Getting churches revitalized and back into a growth mode is one of the imperatives we face in our current environment,” McDonald said. It was that background that he brought with him when he took the job.
When McDonald arrived, the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation had its offices in Grapevine and the only salaried position was the one he had just taken. Up until then, the SBTC had been funding the fledgling Foundation with operational surpluses.
“We set a multi-year plan to build a ministry service organization that could grow to a point of financial and operational independence—one that could completely absorb its cost and produce a surplus,” he said. Through expanding staff and increasing services, that goal was reached in the third quarter of 2018.
As of 2019, the Foundation is completely self-sustaining, no longer receiving any kind of financial subsidy from the SBTC. Funds under management have more than doubled and total revenue generated through the Foundation’s services has increased more than 1,700 percent.
Perhaps more impressive than the numbers are the ways in which the Foundation has expanded its assistance to SBTC churches.
As he began to diversify the Foundation’s offerings beyond estate planning, McDonald says he knew the first addition needed was to provide financing options for churches seeking loans.
“Our churches need money, and many commercial banks have a diminishing appetite for church credit,” he said. “To meet that need, we began a direct lending program in 2015 which to date has generated over $35 million in loans, the earnings on which are re-invested back into kingdom causes.
“We also began to aggressively market church expansion term (CET) investments, which are CD-like instruments offering above-market rates to churches, allowing them to maximize their earnings on excess cash liquidity and designated fund balances,” McDonald explained.
The Foundation’s current rates on CET investments range from 2.05 to 3.35 percent and have attracted more than $45 million of deposits from across the state. Last year alone, the Foundation paid out some $670,000 of interest earnings to Texas churches and institutions.
“It’s a win-win proposition,” McDonald said. “Churches making more interest on their excess cash and the Foundation using those deposits to fund a portfolio of loans to Texas churches at competitive rates—all of this benefits the kingdom.”
In addition to CET investments, the Foundation continues to offer a full range of fund management options, including fully diversified and actively managed funds designed to meet the diverse needs of churches with differing risk profiles and investment objectives. All fund options are socially screened to ensure investments are with companies operating in keeping with traditional, biblical values.
The Foundation’s efforts in lending have not diminished a commitment to planned giving and legacy promotion. Those efforts, led by Jeff Steed, are critically important, given the largest transfer of wealth in America’s history occurring right now between generations.
“Recent estimates are that 70 percent of Americans do not have a valid or current will,” McDonald said. “Since the majority of asset value in the average American estate is in capital appreciated assets that congregants have never had the opportunity to tithe on, there is significant potential in tapping into this reality by encouraging Christians to include their church in the estate planning process.
“If the church doesn’t capitalize on planned gifts and legacy programs, we’re facing an epidemic funding crisis in our churches, because a significant percentage of the receipts in many of our churches are coming from our oldest two generations. If we do a good job with planned giving, we could help fund the work of the church into perpetuity, regardless of what people put in the plate.”
For this side of their work, the Foundation charges nothing—not even in an attempt to recover costs. For those congregants willing to include their church or kingdom causes in their estate planning, the Foundation will not only lead them through the process, but they also offer to reimburse a portion of the legal fees to finalize the documents.
Another ministry service added under McDonald’s leadership is financial and stewardship consulting.
“Many of our churches are facing financial and stewardship challenges that they are ill-equipped to address,” McDonald said. “In many cases, they don’t have someone on their staff with the expertise needed to meet those challenges.” The Foundation added Terry Jeffries to its staff to help in this arena.
According to McDonald, he often asks pastors if they are able to articulate the stewardship metrics of their church or of the people they’re shepherding. Unsurprisingly, he rarely hears a yes.
“It’s always been the case that a minority of the people are underwriting a majority of the receipts,” McDonald said. “And that’s what you’ve got to fix. There’s a positive way to do that, but you just have to do it.”
McDonald and Jeffries approach this task with a program they developed to help churches come to a more biblical understanding of stewardship development. By anonymously extracting raw data from the church’s giving records and analyzing it, McDonald can go to a church on a Sunday morning and preach specifically to the financial situation of those people.
At a recent church where McDonald preached on stewardship—armed with the objective and anonymous data regarding the church’s giving habits—they saw a 37 percent increase in giving in a single month.
Ultimately, all of what he has accomplished at the Foundation over the last five years, as well as what he hopes to see happen in the future, is aimed at seeing the churches of the convention empowered to do more and better kingdom work.
And as the Foundation and its assets continue to grow, McDonald hopes to return to the convention not only the money that sustained it in subsidies for the first 12 years of its existence, but to become a funding stream to exponentially increase the SBTC’s ability to plant churches, host conferences and provide resources that will cause more people to know and follow Jesus.
As McDonald summed it up, “We just try to raise kingdom resources for kingdom work.”