If just 10 percent of Southern Baptists over age sixty-five tithed their estates to SBC Great Commission ministries, an additional five billion dollars would go to support Kingdom causes over the next twenty years, according to Warren Peek, president of the Southern Baptist Foundation (SBF).
The SBF wants to help Southern Baptists realize this astonishing power of legacy giving and assist them as they include their churches and other ministries in their wills. Last year the SBF consulted with 287 individuals about their estate plans, completing more than one hundred plans with total giving of nearly thirty million dollars.
Established in 1947, the Foundation serves as a subsidiary of the SBC Executive Committee to provide investment and estate planning services for SBC entities, institutions, and individuals.
"The importance of being prepared and having a plan for the future cannot be understated," Peek said. "Research shows pastors believe the estate planning of Christians should include gifts for the future health and financial ability of a church or ministry," yet four out of five pastors have not provided their congregation with "even basic information such as fliers and notices on estate planning in the past year," he said.
My Legacy of Faith
An SBF-sponsored initiative called My Legacy of Faith (MLOF) is attempting to change this relative unpreparedness when it comes to estate planning. Through the MLOF website (www.mylegacyoffaith.org), Southern Baptists can plan how to distribute their estates to benefit both their families and ministries they would like to continue to support, while also reducing taxes. In addition, the site provides a template for a legacy will—a document that records important memories and thoughts for family to keep for generations to come.
Mylegacyoffaith.org also features resources that churches can use to explain and promote estate giving. On the SBF website, short videos recount the legacies of Southern Baptist leaders like EC President Frank S. Page and former EC President Morris H. Chapman.
"The most important stewardship lesson in my life that I have learned is that God owns it all and I don't," Page said in his legacy video. "And so that's why, for example, in my will more than a tenth of my estate goes to ministry—some of that through the local church, some of that through the Southern Baptist Foundation, which will be directed toward wonderful missions and evangelistic and educational opportunities throughout the Convention.
"I believe we need to encourage people to do more than just tithe on their income that they receive now, but to look at doing more than a tithe of their estate," he said. "Sure you can take care of your children and your grandchildren, but there's going to be more than you probably realize, and much of that can go to minister to God's Kingdom until Jesus comes back."
The MLOF initiative emerged from the work of an estate stewardship task force formed in 2008 by representatives from the Southern Baptist Foundation, state Baptist foundations, SBC entities, and other Baptist groups. The task force sought to popularize the phrase "whole life stewardship" to encourage estate giving.
Estate Planning Research
A recent survey by LifeWay Research suggests that MLOF is a needed initiative. While most SBC pastors believe Christians should include a legacy gift to a ministry or church in their wills, 86 percent of SBC churches provide no estate planning help to the congregation, the survey found.
Perhaps as a result, 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. Among churches that received wills and bequests, the average amount was $22,507.
In a congregation of one hundred people, tithes from the estates of just 10 percent of the members could generate as much as a quarter of a million additional dollars over a twenty year period, Peek said.
People "don't think about their house, all its contents, their retirement plans. They don't even think about the life insurance that they leave," he said. "But when you start adding all of that up, it gets over $250,000 easily."
According to LifeWay Research, just 9 percent of SBC churches say they have provided information on estate planning and 3 percent have held a seminar on estate planning. Seven percent say they publish notices that gifts of non-liquid assets (such as stocks, real estate, and cars) are accepted.
The lack of legacy giving information in churches may stem from the pastors' lack of knowledge about estate planning. LifeWay Research found that nearly 40 percent of pastors have no estate planning documents for their own families, including trusts, wills, living wills, electronic wills, and durable powers of attorney with healthcare directives.
"Pastors have a desire to serve their congregations in the area of giving and foster an environment of generosity that benefits generations in the future," Peek said. "But one of the issues revealed through the research is the importance of education."
God's Giving Blueprint
One potentially surprising source of estate gifts is Southern Baptist missionaries. Because of a 2010 decision by the SBF board of directors to help missionaries with their estate plans, the Foundation worked with 231 families and individuals who work with IMB during the past year. Of those, ninety-two completed estate plans that will generate million of dollars for Kingdom causes over the years.
Peek cited those missionaries as models of estate stewardship and said they reflect God's blueprint for Christian giving expressed in John 3:16—God so loved the world that He gave. If missionaries who have sacrificed so much to take the Gospel to the nations can afford to give from their estates, other believers can too, Peek said.
Estate giving "to your local church and to other charities that you support really shows the philanthropy and the giving of the heart which you lived for, which you supported your whole life," he said. "And it's a great example for your kids to follow."
For more information on estate giving or MLOF, contact your state Baptist foundation or the SBF at 800-245-8183.
Compiled by SBC LIFE editorial associate David Roach.