Is it my own limited observation or is the old SBC stand-by, Cooperative Program guilting or shaming on the wane?
I don’t know who coined the phrase but I’d guess that most SBC pastors know what is meant by Cooperative Program shaming or guilting. Many have experienced it. I’ve seen it for decades.
Here’s my informal definition: Cooperative Program shaming is the implied or stated criticism of a church and/or its pastor and members for giving too little to the Cooperative Program. It is often measured either by an arbitrary percentage (commonly 10 percent often labeled the ‘denominational tithe’) or by the current average percentage of church CP gifts as a part of total undesignated giving ( now 5.16 percent). Shaming is almost always is done by percentage rather than dollars, thus a church can give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the CP and still be shamed.
Although I don’t recall the phrase being used in the early 1980s, I saw some CP shaming at my very first associational annual meeting when the statistics for the previous year were handed out on a mimeographed sheet. My church was at around ten percent but several were much lower. No pastor or church members had to stand in a corner for their low CP giving but it was in the atmosphere.
I have most often heard the term “shaming” used in this context from my younger pastor colleagues who seem to be less vulnerable to it. But, shaming can be effective. There were public stocks to shame offenders in earlier times. How about the scarlet letter? There may still be those who would lean towards having low CP church pastors wear a placard declaring their paltry CP support. I suspect that someone will offer a tiered plan for SBC participation based on CP percentages, a back door shaming plan.
Whatever the origin, Cooperative Program shaming is in the Southern Baptist vernacular but I think it is losing favor. Here are a few observations:
- I have never heard any staff in my own state convention employ it. In fact, when I had a meeting with a state staffer a few years ago, I made mention of my church’s low CP percentage. The brother replied that the state convention was the servant any SBC church regardless of their CP percentage. I greatly appreciated that. Neither have I heard convention leaders and officers employ CP shaming.
- CP shaming comes mostly from pastors who resent the fact that their church gives 8, 10, 15 percent to the CP, often at the expense of upgrading staff pay or maintaining church facilities, while others give 1 or 2 percent.
- The selection of ten percent as a CP standard and doing so on the basis that there is some relationship or equivalence between the Christian’s tithe and the church’s CP percentage is often used. This is a back door way of shaming (“How can a church expect members to give the tithe and not do the same for the CP?”). The concept is not even hinted at in Scripture and is a cheap way to try and shame or guilt a pastor and church into giving more. Hooey.
- It doesn’t work. Denominational leaders often ask for more to be given to the CP. That’s a perfectly legitimate though not terribly successful strategy when decoupled from vision and results.
- It is counterproductive. Let’s face it. Many SBC pastors are recalcitrant and contrarian. To try and guilt them into giving more works in reverse…seems to me.
Which brings me to the reason I resurrected this well-worn saga. Here’s a 2016 excerpt, a quote from Florida Baptist Convention president Tommy Green:
When it comes to CP giving, we do not guilt our churches. I have not initiated any individual conversations with pastors concerning their church’s commitment to CP. I fully believe that the local church decision must be valued and honored by our SBC. The percentage a church gives is not the litmus test for our involvement with that local church. As a former pastor of a local church, I fully understand the nuances of resources, commitments, and factors that impact a local church budget. The state convention exists for the church and not the church for the state convention. Our goal is to bring value and not guilt to the churches of Florida.
The future of state conventions, their churches, and the Cooperative Program probably looks a lot like what has happened in Florida over the past couple of years. The state convention has downsized, decentralized, and has cut their CP percentage to under fifty. At the recent SBC meeting in Phoenix, Green gave Frank Page a gaudy check for $3.1 million for the CP, 51% of the proceeds from the sale of their headquarters building. Other states have indicated a move towards selling underutilized assets as well as a plan to decrease their portion of CP revenues. The downward trend line for CP giving by the churches has long been established.
Imagine that, a state convention that has the goal of “bring[ing] value and not guilt to the churches.” Novel concept. From where I have pastored it often looked as if the state convention’s goal was to “serve churches” by building staff and buildings. Those days are gone. Good.
There’s a warning in all this to those who think there can be a groundswell of pastor and church support for returning to the halcyon CP days when churches gave over 10% to the CP and the state convention kept two-thirds of it. That’s not the direction things have been going. The typical promotion plan of merely asking for more money or guilting the churches into giving more is not effective.
The CP is essential to the SBC going forward, not mainly because of the hundreds of millions of dollars it generates but because it is the key to our cooperation. It works best when denominational organizations at every level show the churches what they intend to do to add value to the local church. Let them show a commitment to paring programs and assets that do not contribute to that goal. See if the churches respond positively.
Waning shaming…a positive development.