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"Sin is unchanged, the Scriptures are unchanged, the Savior is unchanged, but changing opportunities require changed methods. Whether we realize it or not we live in a new day. . . . Our country sustains a new relation to the whole world. [The World War] has thrust us into the position of world leadership. We cannot evade our new responsibilities. We are under inescapable obligation to serve the whole world. In rendering such service old programs will not suffice. We must enlarge and multiply and vitalize with the spirit of Christ our institutions, missionary, educational and benevolent, in order to measure up to the world needs which constitute the call of God. We have the greatest opportunity of the ages to preach the gospel to all nations. We will sin against God and against humanity if we do not enter the open doors set before us. The Seventy-Five Million Dollar Campaign is our response to the challenge of these world opportunities."
The Baptist Standard, June 19, 1919  1

"The program is broad. It takes in every form of Kingdom activity. . . . we have come to the time of a sound and well-balanced denominationalism."
J.B. Gambrell, SBC President  2

       Established in 1845 primarily to support foreign and domestic missionaries, the Southern Baptist Convention enjoyed uneven support throughout the South until the end of the nineteenth century. By 1919, however, the Convention would confidently embark upon its most aggressive, ambitious effort to date: a campaign to raise $75 million. The $75 million goal was to be reached by the offerings of the Convention's three million Southern Baptists over a five-year period, and the campaign was path breaking in a number of ways. Most obviously, $75 million was a huge sum of money and the most ambitious fund-raising goal yet undertaken by Southern Baptists. The campaign was also groundbreaking for the denomination in that it was the first time the Convention made direct financial appeals to the individual members of its churches, most of whom had not previously contributed to its work. And finally, the campaign established a new trend in which Southern Baptists would no longer choose whether or not to support the work of individual mission boards but would make a general contribution to the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole, the allotments to each Board to be determined by a select committee of Convention leaders.

       Up until this point in Convention history, churches and individuals affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention decided whether and how much to donate to its various causes: foreign missions, home missions, seminaries, state missions, etc. The various boards would advertise in the religious press and would send representatives into the churches and associational meetings to report on the work being done and to request financial support from the membership. Only a minority of church members made any sort of contribution to the work of these Convention boards, and it would not have been unusual for the membership to support the work of one board but not another.

"Millions for the Master"                                 

       During the nineteen-teens, after more than three decades of growth and centralization within the Convention, calls for greater efficiency in managing the Convention's work, including the use of budgets, began to be heard from some parts of the Convention's territory. Part of the reason for this could be that the Convention saw its leadership changing from mostly ministers in the late nineteenth century to laymen in the early twentieth century. These businessmen -- women would not be allowed to be Convention representatives until 1919 -- probably influenced the Convention's greater emphasis on efficiency and budgeting with their repeated calls for "more business in religion." 3 Influences from outside the Convention, particularly the recent experience of World War I, had at least an equal affect on the decision to inaugurate the $75 million campaign. An economic boom in the South resulting from the war -- cotton prices rose significantly -- made Southerners optimistic about their economic future and willing to pledge more than ever before to the support of their denomination's work. Furthermore, the success of war bond drives impressed upon Convention leaders the potential of an enthusiastic, concerted, large-scale fundraising effort.

       Amidst little if any controversy, representatives to the 1919 Convention meeting passed a resolution to raise $75 million for the Convention's work and appointed a committee to direct the campaign. Headquartered in Nashville in the Sunday School Board's building, this campaign committee would determine the allocations to various Convention boards, would direct the large publicity campaign, and would oversee the work of the campaign directors within each state, association, and local church. The first months of the committee's work focused on the South-wide publicity campaign:

"To carry this message to the people, both the Baptist and the secular newspapers were employed, along with millions of tracts, letters, posters, pamphlets, and charts. In addition, denominational leaders, pastors, laymen, and women went everywhere addressing conventions, associations, rallies, and churches in an effort to arouse and enlist all Southern Baptists in attaining the goals that had been set."4

       The enlistment campaign culminated in the weeklong pledge drive -- "Victory Week" -- at the beginning of December. By the end of Victory Week, Southern Baptists had promised to support their Convention's work to the whopping tune of $92.6 million.

"Big Business For Our King"                                 

       As mentioned above, the $75 million campaign marked a turning point for the Convention's organizational structure. For the first time, churches donated money to a general fund that was apportioned by a small committee of Convention leaders to support all of the Convention's causes. Here is true incorporation as Alan Trachtenberg defines it: a body of "stockholders" with extremely limited power over policy make financial contributions to a huge pot that is controlled by a small group of managers. The quantity potential can grow dramatically with this structure, achieving "far-reaching" ends, but the result is a dramatically decreased potential for direct action at the local level. As early as 1909 the Religious Herald recognized and warned against this trend toward incorporation:

"The real work of the Convention is no longer done by the Convention itself. It is practically impossible, with the present organization and methods, and in the physical conditions in which the Convention is frequently forced to meet, to deliberate about anything. So it has come to pass that debate is practically unknown and conference is out of the question. We are coming rapidly to the place, if we have not already reached it, when we must rely wholly upon the Boards and standing committees to do our thinking for us. This is to some extent both desirable and inevitable. At the same time we cannot suppress the conviction that it is not best for us, or for the interests which we seek to promote, that our great representative body should degenerate into a mere celebration, a place for set and formal reports and addresses, a sort of spectacular gathering, full of holy enthusiasm, it may be, but lacking utterly the deliberative element."

Religious Herald, May 20, 1909 5

       As the Religious Herald intimates, the general Convention meetings had in effect become stockholders' meetings by the early twentieth century, with the important decisions being made by select "boards of directors." The $75 million campaign embodied the Convention's trend toward incorporation to the greatest extent yet.

Spreading the Word                                            

       The 75 million campaign was an effort to sell the Southern Baptist Convention and its program of work to every member of every Convention-affiliated church in the South. As indicated by the fact that Southern Baptists pledged almost $20 million above the $75 million goal, the publicity campaign was an overwhelming success.

       What inspired Southern Baptists to pledge so much? While many factors should be taken into account, the rhetoric of the campaign that appeared in denominational newspapers reveals what were perhaps the deepest hopes and fears of Southern Baptists encountering the modern age. Letters published in the Baptist Standard of Texas under the title "What will the 75 Million Dollar Victory Do for Southern Baptists and the World" provide telling examples of the ways in which Southern Baptists were thinking about this united effort. In the words of letter writer Dr. George D. McDaniel, the campaign would have three major byproducts:6

  1. "Denominational solidarity" and "Denominational strength"
  2. "the betterment of the world"
  3. "Those who have the truth will vindicate their right to be its custodian."
McDaniel's categories can be applied across all the rhetoric surrounding the campaign. Southern Baptists believed that their fundraising effort would benefit both the denomination and the world, and their drive for success was, at least in some measure, predicated upon threats to their belief or criticisms of their denomination from the outside.

Denominational solidarity and strength
"[Success in the campaign] will go far towards uniting our people and bringing about that unity of spirit without which we shall never accomplish our mission in the world."
Rev. J.E. Dillard 7

"It will enlist thousands of men and women, boys and girls, who never did give anything for denominational work. It will enthuse other thousands who have been indifferent. I confidently expect great revivals and thousands of conversions as a result of this campaign."
Dr. F.M. McConnell 8

"The great results will be not the money raised, but the courage that comes from a consciousness that we are capable of great things."
Dr. J.W. Conger 9

"Our whole Southern Baptist army must be mobilized."
The Baptist World, July 31, 1919 10

Betterment of the World
"Every righteous consideration that led us to enter the World War should influence us now to dedicate all of our resources to world reconstruction."
The Baptist Standard, June 19, 1919 11

"All of our forces should go afield for souls. . . . All of our hearts are moved afresh for the lost, suffering world by the tragedies of the last years. Every appeal of earth and heaven is for us to go out after men and bring them to Christ."
L.R. Scarborough
General Director of the $75 Million Campaign 12

Proof that Southern Baptists Were a Chosen People
"There have been many who did not regard us with proper esteem, as the Lord's chosen. We can now compel attention."
Dr. O.L. Hailey 13

"We call this the day of Baptist opportunity, because of democracy's triumph. True, but it is in Europe the democracy has flung aside autocracy and opened up the path from the human soul to God. Europe's loudest call is to Baptists."
The Baptist World, July 10, 1919 14

"The primary test of our Baptist method of doing things is about to be made. Can we, with our loose organization, surpass all other Christian denominations in the financial campaign which will require co-operation of every Baptist in the South? This co- operation will necessarily be voluntary co-operation. There will be no conscription, only volunteers will serve. This campaign will prove the strength of our spiritual democracy. . . . God is calling Southern Baptists to the spiritual leadership of the world."
Dr. R.W. Weaver 15

       Clearly as important to Southern Baptists as the causes for which the money was raised was the vindication of their faith that they believed success would bring. Despite the increasingly corporate structure of the Convention, they identified their denomination as the most theologically and organizationally democratic. In a world now "made safe for democracy," Southern Baptists were even more confirmed in their belief that their Baptist democracy made them a chosen people of God. It was especially important to hold fast to this belief in light of Baptists' realization that they lived in "a new day." An editorial in the Baptist Standard admitted that "We hear much about the returned soldier and his changed attitude toward religion." However, readers should be assured that "men who came back unbelievers were unbelievers when they went in." The world was changing around Southern Baptists. They responded by mounting the most vigorous fund-raising campaign in their history.


       During Victory Week at the end of 1919, Southern Baptists pledged to give $92.6 million to the Southern Baptist Convention over a 5-year period, a figure well over the $75 million goal. When the campaign drew to a close in 1925, the Convention had collected $58.6 million. One obvious reason for Southern Baptists' failure to meet their 1919 pledges was the financial depression that set in across the South soon after Victory Week. Cotton prices plummeted from their wartime high during the early 1920s, the years in which the Convention was collecting on its pledges.

       But even this figure of $58.6 million was far greater than any Convention receipts previously. The Foreign Mission Board in its 74 years of history had collected $12.5 million; during the 5-year campaign it almost matched this figure with its allotment of $11.6 million. The Home Mission Board in its 74-year history had received $8.2 million; during the 5-year campaign it gained $6.6 million.

       The campaign also marked a turning point in Convention history in that began the new trend by which the Convention itself collected money and disbursed it among its various boards according to a centrally determined budget system. Soon to follow in Southern Baptist life would be the Cooperative Program, the financial and budgeting arm of the Convention that continues to manage the financial affairs of the Convention today.

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1 "We live in a new day," editorial, Baptist Standard (Texas) June 19, 1919: 18.

2 J.B. Gambrell, "Looking Over the Field," Baptist Standard (Texas) August 21, 1919.

3 William Wright Barnes, The Southern Baptist Convention 1845-1953 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1954) 221-222.

4 "75 Million Campaign," Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, 1958 ed.

5 "The Convention," Religious Herald (Virginia) May 20, 1909: 10. Cited in Barnes 172-173.

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6 L.R. Scarborough (Director of 75 Million Campaign), "What will the 75 Million Dollar Victory Do for Southern Baptists and the World," Baptist Standard (Texas) July 17, 1919: 9.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 "A Steep Hill," editorial, The Baptist World July 31, 1919: 6.

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11 "We Live in a New Day," editorial, Baptist Standard (Texas) June 19, 1919: 8.

12 L.R. Scarborough (Director of 75 Million Campaign), "From Our Knees Out to the Nations," Baptist Standard (Texas) June 19, 1919.

13 L.R. Scarborough (Director of 75 Million Campaign), "What will the 75 Million Dollar Victory Do for Southern Baptists and the World," Baptist Standard (Texas) July 17, 1919: 9.

14 "Let Us Beware!" editorial, The Baptist World July 10, 1919: 6.

15 L.R. Scarborough (Director of 75 Million Campaign), "What will the 75 Million Dollar Victory Do for Southern Baptists and the World," Baptist Standard (Texas) July 17, 1919: 9.

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