Overview:

Alas, Ronnie Floyd's big flagship legacy project, Vision 2025, seems to be dead in the water. Here's why it died, and why it deserved to die.

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Recently, I ran across a list of recommendations made by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF). This task force is a product of one faction of the SBC, one which I call the Pretend Progressives. And one of its recommendations stomped firmly on the hoped-for legacy of Ronnie Floyd, a leader in their enemy faction, the Old Guard. Oh, the task force’s recommendations don’t mention him by name. But the stomping happened nonetheless.

Quick SBC faction review:

  • Old Guard: They want to clamp down hard on any hint of social progress in the SBC, especially with regards to female pastors, the SBC’s bone-deep racism and sexism, and the SBC’s huge sex-abuse scandal. Their approach to all of these problems could be defined as we’ve tried nothing, and we’re all out of options. They’re in love with the SBC’s so-called Conservative Resurgence and think it didn’t go nearly far enough to stamp out encroaching progress and liberalism. There’s a particularly extremist and growing part of this faction that is slowly taking it over.
  • Pretend Progressives: NOT the “new guard.” They act like they want to bring about solutions to the SBC’s problems, but so far they’ve demonstrated that they’re completely unwilling to do anything major or touch the SBC’s existing culture or leadership structures. Their small sub-faction really does want real progress, and somehow I suspect they will be very deeply disappointed there. Make no mistake, they’re identical to their brethren in the Old Guard in terms of beliefs and culture-war mentality.

These are not terms the SBC’s leaders use for themselves, obviously. As far as I know, their factions don’t really use names for themselves, though the Old Guard has some impressive snarl words for their enemies (“cultural elites” being my favorite).

The legacy of Ronnie Floyd: Vision 2025

Ronnie Floyd is reaching that age when a fellow starts to think about the legacy he’ll leave behind. At such times, some people start thinking in terms of building monuments. Others consider endowing scholarships or sponsoring artistic endeavors.

And still others, like Ronnie Floyd, apparently dream of creating expensive, useless work projects for their underlings that will keep them busy for years.

That last impulse appears to explain everything about Ronnie Floyd’s aspirational project, Vision 2025.

According to its SBC-hosted website, Vision 2025 comprises six goals that hopefully will lead to vastly increased recruitment for the SBC by the year 2025. Ronnie Floyd unveiled it in 2020, so the SBC had five years at that time to achieve it.

In a lot of ways, Vision 2025 represents some truly breathtaking goalpost-moving, even for a religion whose leaders are well-versed in the art.

Read: How John Stott moved the evangelism goalpost

But all those past recruitment initiatives focused on SBC leaders’ desired results, like the time they issued a literal million-baptism challenge to their churches, which ended in hilarious (and predictable) failure.

How Ronnie Floyd redefined SBC goalpost-moving

Instead of focusing on results, Vision 2025 focuses on the actions that will hopefully lead to desired results. For example, Strategic Action 1 demands the recruitment of 500 full-time missionaries, which would bring the SBC’s number to 4,200.

From the SBC’s Vision 2025 landing (and really, only) page.

That may sound like a lot. But in 2015, the International Mission Board (IMB), which handles missionaries’ pay, slashed their budget. They’d been drastically overspending for years. That slash resulted in their missionary ranks reducing further than expected, going from 4,700 to 3,800 by 2016. Ronnie Floyd, the SBC’s president at the time, expressed his deep disappointment with the move.

(Interestingly, the Executive Committee, which Floyd began leading a few years later in 2019, sets the annual budgets for the SBC’s various organizations and seminaries, including this one. That fact will be relevant soon.)

Regardless, missionary numbers have declined for the past couple of years. According to the 2021 Annual Report, the SBC counted 3,558 IMB-funded missionaries in 2020, which represents a loss of 57 over the previous year. Regardless, even if Floyd could possibly achieve his desired 4,200 goal number, it still wouldn’t come anywhere close to the SBC’s numbers in 2015.

So in some ways, we could view Vision 2025 as Ronnie Floyd’s desperate attempt to return to the SBC’s heyday, those halcyon days before the decline really set in. In 2015, SBC-lings still thought their self-described “baptism drought” was temporary. More than that, even, they were certain that they were immune to the serious dip in numbers that other denominations were facing because they were TRUE CHRISTIANS™ who totally “preached the Word.”

Captain Cassidy’s Christianese 101:

TRUE CHRISTIAN™: a gatekeeping, wagon-circling attempt deployed by tribalistic, un-self-aware Christians to make themselves look and feel like the prettiest princesses of Christendom. They use this term and others (real Christians, convictional Christians) to mean someone just like themselves, who:

  • believes roughly the same doctrines as the judging Christian does
  • hasn’t ever gotten caught doing anything the judging Christian thinks is completely and absolutely off-limits
  • dies with both of the previous conditions being true

Obviously, this definition knocks all ex-Christians out of the running for that coveted title. Alas, it also kinda knocks out all the judges, too, but let’s not tell them and wreck the fun.

Also, bear in mind that one judge’s TRUE CHRISTIAN™ is another’s Hell-bound heretic. (See also: Doctrinal yardstick measuring contests.)

It’s important to note here that Vision 2025 wasn’t officially rolled out in 2020. Floyd proposed it in time for the 2020 Annual Meeting attendees to vote on it, but as we see in the 2021 Annual Report (p. 136), 2020’s meeting got canceled due to the pandemic. It was only voted upon in 2021. There’s $200K allocated to it in this year’s budget, but I see no actual processes and apparatus supporting it beyond its splash page on the SBC’s home site.

Even so, there’s just not a way for the SBC to achieve any of its goals, not even if they renamed it Vision 2027. (And that’s nowhere near as catchy!)

But even those moved goalposts are impossible to reach given the SBC’s current reality

The initiative’s demands that are actually quantifiable reckon without the SBC’s reality as a terminally-declining denomination.

For example, Strategic Action 2 demands the opening of 5000 new SBC-affiliated churches. That would raise the SBC above 50,000 churches total. Hooray Team Jesus!

But the SBC’s level of church growth must take into account the large number of churches closing each year. As of last year, the denomination stood at 47,614 churches. The net growth of SBC churches tends to be less than 100 new churches per year. Last year’s net growth was 22, probably because of the pandemic; the year before was 62, which is a lot closer to the SBC’s annual norm.

So, Ronnie Floyd wants thousands of someones to open a net of 2386 extra churches in the next three (or even five) years. No way. It isn’t going to happen.

Read: Wait, how many churches are closing per year?

And even if it could, all of those proud new pastors would have no assurance at all of recruiting enough brand-new congregants to support them even on a part-time basis. Make no mistake, however: these churches would indeed need new blood to avoid bankrupting existing churches. As it is, new churches tend to cannibalize their areas’ existing congregations⁠—especially if those new churches boast impressive suites of programs and member perks. Smaller, struggling churches can’t afford such things.

Worse, the SBC’s perennial membership decline⁠ ensures that all these new and pre-existing churches must share way fewer congregants among themselves with every single passing year.

Ronnie Floyd: If you build it, they will come (but not really)

Overall, Vision 2025 operates under the principle of if you build it, they will come. That slightly-garbled phrase was a quote from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams. In it, a guy hears a voice telling him, “If you build it, he will come.” If you’re wondering, “it” turns out to be a baseball field. So the guy starts transforming his cornfield into “it.”

Everyone tells the guy that this is a really bad idea. After all, he kinda needs that cornfield to make a living. But he does it anyway. And everyone for miles around comes to watch baseball there. So it works out fine in the end.

However, movies are not real life at all. That is a lesson evangelicals do not ever seem to have learned.

Read: Left Behind, where evangelical dreams finally come true

Ronnie Floyd’s Vision 2025 could be summarized neatly as If Southern Baptists create tons of churches, vastly increase donations, and fling tons of missionaries around, then unwashed heathens will join all those new churches in record numbers.

And that’s where the initiative’s “strategic actions” don’t simply rely on Underpants Gnome planning. It’s rather telling that the landing page has only one real action for participants: an offer to join the initiative’s “prayer team.”

If every single person who joins that “prayer team” spits in one hand and prays with the other, then even they know which will fill up first.

The utter, unabashed failure of Vision 2025

Confession time: I have a real fondness for overweening, grandiose SBC projects. I love their “baptism challenges” and “EVANGELISM TASK FORCE” rah-rah and huge multi-year projects like the Bold Mission Thrust that began in 1979 and failed at almost every single checkpoint afterward.

(Yes, seriously, they called it that. Billy Graham was even involved with it, according to the 1979 Annual Report).

The SBC just has this uncontrollable impulse to keep creating these projects.

Then, midway through almost every one of them, it becomes painfully obvious that they’re not going to achieve any of their goals. At that point, the spin-doctoring starts.

Vision 2025: Dead, but undying

That’s where we are with Vision 2025. It’s now 2022, and the SBC’s leaders have only barely begun to start it. None of its “strategic action” items is even close to being even vaguely on track. Even if they restart the timer, so to speak, there’s no way any of it can happen.

Very quickly, I realized that given Vision 2025’s high chance of failure on every single count, this initiative would soon be dead in the water. It’d just be busy-work at best for SBC churches, just a fundraising shell for the pew-warmers.

When Ronnie Floyd quit his SBC job last fall, I saw its death knell. But I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how the SBC’s leaders would end the whole farce.

And then, oh then, I saw something that made me laugh out loud.

O how the mighty have fallen!

It’s just a little mention in an SBC news article, but oh, the implications to Ronnie Floyd

The other day, I was catching up on SBC news. On their official news site, Baptist Press, I spotted an article about the Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF). In the wake of the big investigation they paid Guidepost to perform, the SATF had some recommendations to make. These recommendations are supposed to help the SBC root out sex abuse in its ministerial ranks and make member churches safe for everyone.

These include the formation of an official abuser database that all SBC churches must use and update as needed, as well as the creation of another task force to actually implement the recommendations. You can see all of their recommendations here. For what it’s worth, they all sound like they’d work just fine to accomplish the SBC’s stated goals.

But gosh, Cas, I hear you saying, Who’s gonna pay for all that stuff? I mean, SATF thinks it’s gonna cost $3M! And I hear you there!

Well, the SATF wants the money to come mostly from “Cooperate [I think they mean Cooperative] Program overage.” Every year, as I mentioned above, the Executive Committee sets a budget for the year ahead for all the SBC-wide programs and activities. They base that budget on expected donation levels from the flocks. “Overage” may refer to them getting more money than expected, or it might mean something closer to the accounting term. Whatever the case, it sounds like they want to use money that turns out to need a home, rather than take any from existing programs and sub-groups.

But their other source of suggested income?

Trimming the budget of Vision 2025.

They might as well, I mean. It’s not like Vision 2025 can actually accomplish its own stated goals. And the guy spearheading it, Ronnie Floyd, the leader of the Executive Committee, quit in a dramatic huff last year.

So to me, that little line spoke volumes.

Speaking of Ronnie Floyd quitting in a huff

In fact, Ronnie Floyd quit because of the SATF. He didn’t like the fact that this committee was going to investigate his private royal fiefdom, the Executive Committee. He didn’t like the fact that the committee planned to release their investigation’s results to the public and act transparently. And he most especially didn’t like the fact that all of this was going to happen with or without his approval.

Basically, the enemy faction defeated Floyd, and he knew it.

Even after quitting his SBC job, Ronnie Floyd still holds a lot of power in one major political faction of the SBC, the Old Guard. The Executive Committee isn’t exclusively made up of Old Guard guys like him. But it contained a lot of them.

The Old Guard dictated the SBC’s response to sex abuse for decades. But the Pretend Progressives overtook that task a couple of years ago, and they now largely run that whole show.

Thus, the Pretend Progressives are the ones who pushed hard for the SATF’s creation. The SATF’s investigation itself was supposed to be fully independent. For what it’s worth, I detect no specific faction-pandering in it. But its investigation focused in great part on the Executive Committee. Just because of the Executive Committee’s overall makeup, that investigation was naturally going to make the Old Guard look very, very bad.

So yes, there just might be a teeny weeny bit of faction warfare going on behind that itty bitty throwaway line about defunding at least some of Vision 2025 to pay for SATF’s proposed recommendations.

The burning question of the hour for Ronnie Floyd

I guess my only question is this:

Did Ronnie Floyd also detect the same death knell I did for his prized busy-work initiative? Did he hear his legacy withering on the vine to the tune of Mario’s death jingle, ba-DUM-de-DUM-dum-dum-dum?

The sound of 90s kids’ childhood.

Aw, who am I kidding? SBC leaders are more attuned to the ripples of power in their vicinity than a chocoholic is to the presence of the candy aisle at an unfamiliar grocery store. I’m certain that Ronnie Floyd knew as surely as I did what a major diss this represents.

Yes, I’m as certain of that point as I am that caticorns are imaginary (if adorable) and that Jesus ain’t standing by to take anybody’s call.

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...