New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley announced significant budget cuts on Jan 19 in response to the deepening worldwide economic downturn.

“It appears our total income from the Cooperative Program, tuition, gifts and investments will be more than $1 million less than we anticipated.”

According to a Baptist Press article, The budget cuts include adjustments in medical benefits, temporary salary reductions; temporary adjustments in faculty teaching loads, intentional reductions in campus energy consumption; a freeze on non-essential operating expenses; and a hiring freeze.

Southern and Southwestern Baptist seminaries have also announced cutbacks and a 10% tuition increase. And Geoff Hammond, the president of the Baptists’ North American Mission Board has cut the 2009 operating budget by 10%. Also, LifeWay, the Southern Baptist publishing house, has announced cutbacks due to declining revenue.
The Southern Baptist Convention has for the past couple of decades moved from “go and tell” to “donate here.” This has resulted in more megachurches with megabudgets and more professional staff doing what volunteers used to do.

Now that the economy is faltering, the denomination that has trained members to sit and be quiet is becoming a victim of its own success. High maintenance / low involvement members pose significant risks as the economy weakens.

The seminaries, which heavily subsidize training the denomination’s future pastors, are the proverbial “mine canaries.” Expect more drastic statements in the coming months. We’ll have to wait to see if this downturn means a more targeted fundraising or a reformation of how the convention uses its membership.