At the recent Executive Committee meeting, Tom Elliff really made me angry. No, not like that. I wasn’t angry at him, but I was angry at what he said. As he was giving his IMB report, he gave some information that set me off a little. Before I get to what he said, let me share a graphic I saw over at William Thornton’s site, along with his Plodder’s assessment of the current CP trends.
After peaking in the 2006-2007 fiscal year, Cooperative Program giving took a sharp decline over the next three years. The last three years have been flat, but that is encouraging compared to the previous three. Maybe, as the Plodder opines, we have reached the bottom.
What does the decline of the CP mean? It means a lot of churches have decided for one reason or another that they do not wish to give, or to give as much to missions through the Cooperative Program in these days. The reasons for these decisions are varied, but the fact is that the CP statistics presented here represent thousands of individual decisions to either give less or to give elsewhere.
And that bothers me.
There is one primary reason I remained a Southern Baptist. Yes, I am theologically Baptist, but so are many other groups. But the main reason that I remained SBC is that, through the CP, I and my church could be part of a massive and for the most part effective missions program to reach people to the ends of the earth. I just don’t believe that we can get as much bang for our missions buck anywhere else than through CP missions.
So, now, back to Tom Elliff. He shared with us that we are now back under 5000 missionaries serving in the IMB. Once, it looked like we were heading toward the 6000 mark and now we are back under 5000. We have had to reduce our missions force by over 700 missionaries. Did you catch that?
The decline in CP giving has cost our worldwide missions effort 700 missionaries!
So, here is my question to you churches that have cut their CP gifts in recent years:
Is whatever reason you cut your giving worth taking 700 missionaries out of service around the world?
I know many want to do hands-on missions through mission trips and partnerships – those are great. But are they as eternally valuable as the work that 700 missionaries could be doing today. The do-it-yourself missions attitude has some very positive effects by getting people and churches personally involved, but when it is accompanied by a neglect of Cooperative Missions, it is not a healthy thing.
Some churches are in a financial crisis today, just like the SBC is. And, of course, if a church’s giving is down, CP percentages will also be down. Can’t help that. In our focus on planting churches, we need to also do what we can to help unhealthy churches return to health so that they can also give.
Some churches are giving less because they are upset with some aspect or another of SBC life. They didn’t like the GCR, or what NAMB is doing, or have some theological quarrel with some aspect of what we do cooperatively. I understand that. Back in my younger days, I hated knowing that my CP dollars helped to pay the salaries of seminary profs I thought were undermining the faith instead of advancing it. But, as the child of a missionary, I also knew that our CP was doing some very good things and was worth it in spite of the problems.
To those of you who have stopped giving because of some problem you have with the direction of the SBC, I would only ask this question:
Is what you are upset about worth taking 700 missionaries off the field?
In the last four years, the world has not become less lost. The decay of depravity has increased. In the last 4 years, the need for missionaries has not lessened. There is no shortage of either places for missionaries to serve, nor of volunteers for such service.
Whether you liked the GCR or not, you should appreciate the analysis that was at the basis of the report. It identified the general and growing self-centeredness of American Christians. We now give an average of 2.5% to charitable causes. That means that we are keeping 97.5 % for ourselves. If our treasure is indicative of where our hearts are, as Jesus said, then this is a sign that we are self-absorbed and care more about our own lives than we do the mission of God.
And churches in our denomination are now giving around 6% to missions causes. That means that we are keeping 94% for ourselves. It is hard to call ourselves missional when we keep so much of God’s money for ourselves.
Look, folks, what a person gives is between that person and the Lord of all. And what a local church gives is their own business in a convention of autonomous churches. But I still ask those churches that are not supporting CP missions, and especially those that have reduced their CP giving to consider this:
Is what you are doing with your money more important than what 700 missionaries could be doing around the world?
I know, you might say, your church’s giving is not going to make a difference. Of course not. My church could stop giving through the CP and there would not be a blip on the radar at the IMB or NAMB. But when that decision is compounded with other choices made by other churches suddenly it becomes significant.
I am not a big fan of cliches, but some of them are true. Here is one that is at the root of SBC missions that I think is eternally true – one that many churches in their do-it-yourself strategies have forgotten.
We can do more cooperatively than we can do separately.