Estate planning untapped tool for SBC churches

The majority of pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention believe Christians should include a legacy gift to a ministry or church, but 86 percent of SBC churches provide no assistance to their congregation to help with estate planning, according to a recent study.

LifeWay Research conducted a survey of SBC pastors on behalf of the Southern Baptist Foundation designed to gauge the awareness and preparedness of churches to issues surrounding estate planning, investments and wills.

According to the survey, 84 percent of SBC churches received no estate gifts in the year preceding the poll. Eleven percent received one estate gift and just 1 percent received three or more gifts the previous year. Churches that reported receiving at least one gift bequest received an average of $22,507.

“One of the issues revealed by the research is the need for education,” said Warren Peek, president of the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Foundation.

“While the research shows that pastors believe the estate planning of Christians should include gifts for the future health and financial ability of a church or ministry, four out of five pastors – 86 percent – have not provided their congregation with seminars or even basic information such as fliers and notices on estate planning in the past year,” Peek said.

Nine percent of SBC churches surveyed did report providing information on estate planning, and 3 percent have held a seminar on estate planning. Seven percent indicate they publish notices that gifts of non-liquid assets (such as stocks, real estate, cars) are accepted.

Pastors were also asked if their church has three things in place related to estate planning. Three percent say they have an endowment, 10 percent have a process for the disposition of non-liquid assets given as gifts, and 12 percent have a scholarship fund. Eighty percent have none of these.

The study also reveals that while 72 percent of pastors agree that “Christians should include a legacy gift to a church or ministry in their estate plan,” 40 percent of pastors don’t know if their congregation would want to contribute to the church with estate planning. Another 29 percent say their congregation would not want to contribute to the church with estate planning.

The LifeWay Research study shows that SBC pastors are much more inclined to preach on the importance of giving from one’s income than one’s assets. Eighty-five percent of pastors agree they “regularly preach on believers giving a portion of their income to God’s work.” This compares to 59 percent of pastors who agree they regularly preach on believers giving a portion of their assets to God’s work.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the average charitable estate gift in 2010 was $70,000. LifeWay Research asked pastors how they would most want to use these funds if they were to receive a gift of this size today. Among the 11 uses listed, pastors would most want to use a gift of that size for capital improvements (26 percent); 15 percent selected “pay off church debt”; 10 percent would begin a new ministry; 8 percent would plant a new church; 8 percent would hire a staff member; and 7 percent would want to improve the church’s cash position. Other answers include purchase land (4 percent), purchase equipment for existing ministries (4 percent), and other capital investments (3 percent). Only 1 percent of pastors surveyed would create an endowment.

“The importance of being prepared and having a plan for the future cannot be understated,” Peek said. “It is clear pastors have a desire to serve their congregations in the area of giving and to foster an environment of generosity that benefits future generations.

“Two practical steps that pastors can take to cultivate this type of thinking are to put a process in place to accept and dispose of gifts of non-liquid assets and to make available information on estate planning,” Peek said.

The Southern Baptist Foundation was established in 1947 and serves as a subsidiary of the SBC Executive Committee to provide investment and estate-planning services for SBC entities, institutions and individuals.

Methodology: These questions were asked as part of a mail survey of SBC pastors conducted April 1-May 11, 2012, that included the option of completing it online. The mailing list was randomly drawn from a stratified list of all SBC churches. The 1,066 completed surveys were weighted to match the actual geographic distribution and worship attendance of SBC churches. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.0 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups. – LifeWay Research