I am a CP guy. My current church gives 12% to missions through the Cooperative Program and that is the smallest percentage of the 4 churches I have been involved in during my 31 years of ministry. A couple of my churches gave in the neighborhood of 20% and my last church was giving near 15% – I believe in the Cooperative Program! I think it is an amazing and genius idea that has enabled us to fund an unparalleled world missions program. I have fought against tendencies to fix our church’s financial problems by cutting missions giving – that is the easy way out, and I am convinced, the wrong way! To twist the old phrase, “I’m CP born and CP bred, and when I die, I’ll be CP dead.”
That is why it pains me to say what I believe:
The Cooperative Program is on the endangered species list.
When I was a kid, the standard Southern Baptist church had Sunday School, morning worship, Training Union, evening worship, and Wednesday night prayer meeting. Training Union (later called Church Training) was the first to go. Sunday night worship services seem to have largely followed that path. But the linchpin of SBC life since 1925, the funding method that allowed us to become what we have become and do what we have done is almost inexorably following the same course.
Here’s the basic point I would make: The CP depends on Southern Baptists buying into some key premises about giving, missions and our denominational cooperation.
- We can do more and better missions together than we can do separately.
- We trust our leaders and our entities to make wise decisions about the use of our money.
- We are committed to denominational life and cooperation. Our Southern Baptist identity is strong.
I would say that none of these things is very true anymore. Many churches and even some state conventions believe that they can decide better how to spend their missions dollars than the denomination can. They believe that they can do a better job funding missions individually and directly than they can joining together with other churches to support IMB, NAMB and our other works together. And, frankly, there is such a sense of division, of us against them, of anger and competition between disparate groups that cooperation – the sine qua non of the “Cooperative” Program – is becoming less of a reality.
I present the following evidence and perspectives.
1) The increasing phenomenon of designations in giving.
There is nothing wrong with deciding where you missions offerings are going to go. That is your right as an autonomous Southern Baptist church. But when churches and state conventions start the designation process, that is going to destroy the SBC’s CP system.
- William Thornton wrote an article entitled “New Wrinkle to the Cooperative Program” discussing the decision of South Carolina Baptists to directly allocate $583,000 to the IMB. Again, there is nothing sinful about that, but it is an indication that people are not willing to play within the system.
- Several pastors issued threats against Midwestern Seminary when its presidential search committee announced its candidate, threats that they were going to designate around the seminary.
- An increasing number of churches, many frustrated with NAMB or some other entity, are bypassing the CP and giving directly to the IMB and/or their favorite seminary.
Again, autonomous churches do what autonomous churches do. But if we do not trust the denomination to settle its priorities and make wise decisions with our money, the designation phenomenon will continue to increase. Every time someone designates, it is a small cut to the cooperative missions that we hope to do. None of those cuts is devastating, but enough small cuts will eventually kill the patient!
2) The increasing prevalence of the do-it-yourself spirit.
One of the themes of the “missional” movement has been the idea that it is not enough to simply give to missions, you have to be on mission yourself. Amen! But one of the unintended consequences of that concept has been the tendency of many churches to go with a do-it-yourself approach to missions.
When I was a kid, SBC churches simply did not support missionaries outside of the system (or at least it was very rare). Now, it is a unique church that does not support several local or international missions efforts in addition to whatever they give to the CP. My church, a strong CP church by just about any rubric, also supports other missionaries and ministries outside the SBC tent. Churches have also begun to fund mission trips throughout the USA and around the world to get their people personally involved in missions.
Where does the money come from to fund these works? The overall percentage of missions giving has not increased in most churches. A lot of these do-it-yourself projects have been funded out of money that once would have been given to the SBC through the CP.
Let me reiterate what I have previously reiterated and will likely reiterate again. Churches are free to make their missions decisions as it pleases them. And the do-it-yourself spirit of missions is a good thing. But if we fund our do-it-yourself missions by reducing our CP giving (and percentages bear out that this may be happening) it is another blow to the health of the CP.
3) Young pastors and younger (hipper?) churches that are invested in denominational life and cooperation are as rare as humble SEC football fans.
Sorry, my sports-related bitterness came out on that one!
There are a lot of good young pastors in SBC-affiliated churches, who are doing a good job and building good churches. But many (I might say most, but I don’t have statistics) of these younger pastors and younger churches have little sense of denominational identity, have little interest in denominational affairs and have almost no commitment to cooperative missions through the CP.
For the 700th time, that is their right, but the SBC cannot survive if our younger pastors work completely outside the structure and system.
- Go to the website of one of the young, hip churches (I mean that descriptively, not pejoratively) and try to find out if they are affiliated with the SBC. Many church websites hide this denominational relationship like a state secret.
- Check the giving stats (if any of those kinds of churches even bother to fill out the ACP) of those kinds of churches and their CP giving will often be minimal.
- Look at the CP statistics of some of the pastors who are now stars in the SBC universe, and you will see a lack of interest in or commitment to the CP.
For the millionth time, that is their right. They are committing no sin. But if the LEADERS of the SBC do not give to the CP, how are others going to respond?
When this current generation of young pastors with little or no interest in the SBC become the dominant generation, they may do great work, reach many people, build wonderful churches, but unless their attitudes toward cooperation change, there will be no future for the Cooperative Program.
4) Finding megachurches that are heavily invested in the CP is as rare as finding Nebraska Cornhusker fans who are not insanely obsessed about their team.
Oops! My bitterness leaked through again. Sorry.
The rise of megachurches (sometimes called the Walmartization of the church) has had many profound effects on the church today. But megachurches tend to be a world unto themselves and are therefore less interested in cooperation with other churches.
A lot of those megachurches have a strong church identity. They have their own way of doing things and they have been effective. They see the struggles of the SBC in recent years. Why, they wonder, should we give to a plateaued or perhaps even declining denomination’s work when we are doing something effective right here? What we are doing is working and what the SBC is doing isn’t.
The “do-it-yourself” spirit is more prevalent in megachurches, because they have the money to do significant work themselves. Our offerings will likely be about 400,000 bucks this year, so our CP gifts will come close to $50,000. What could we do with 50k in missions work? A little. For us, the CP is a greater investment. But if we had a budget measured in the millions, we could support our own missionaries and maintain control and authority within the local church.
It is natural that megachurches would decide to fund their own missions efforts. It is not sinful. But, it is just one more nail in the CP’s coffin.
5) The spirit of distrust and division in the SBC has made cooperation much more difficult.
Several people on this site in recent years have said in plain language that they do not want to help fund churches that are Calvinistic. This debate has produced great rifts in our fellowship. An us-against-them, good guys vs. bad guys spirit has risen up. People have accused our denominational leaders of top-down power grabs and a redefinition of what it means to be Southern Baptist. Perhaps at the root of much of our angst has been the Traditionalist Southern Baptist way versus the newer attempts at more “culturally relevant” ministry approaches.
I don’t really want to open those old cans of worms and rehash them. But these debates have left many Southern Baptists angry, disillusioned and distrustful of leadership. Who is right and who is wrong? That is not the issue here. My point is that if we continue to allow our differences to drive us into camps, if we do not develop a shared vision of Southern Baptist identity that disparate groups can buy into, we are going to continue to break apart.
In conclusion, let me share the words of an email I received a couple of days ago. His context was a little different, but the principle he gave applies here as well.
Remember the movie …Gladiator…as they were huddled together in the arena waiting for the big doors to open and Russell Crowe said something to this effect, “Whatever comes out of these gates, we have a better chance of survival if we work together.”This is what I’m beginning to see!