Shrinking CP Giving & The Future Of The SBC

Buried among the Baptist Press headlines last night, was a hint of trouble on the horizon for the Southern Baptist Convention.

No, it wasn’t some blogger mocking a famous preacher. No, it wasn’t a scuffle over missions policy or female preachers. The trouble was much closer to the heart of the SBC.

Cooperative Program receipts for the year were down .65 percent and combined giving for the year was down .87 percent . . . This is the first time in 15 years that both Cooperative Program and combined giving have not surpassed the previous year.

You can read more on Baptist Press, but I want to start a conversation about why this is happening and how the SBC will respond.

Why Is The Cooperative Program Down?

The drop 15 years ago is widely attributed to the loss of money from more moderate congregations. This year’s soft giving is attributed to the economy. That should be a no-brainer, and I think everyone can agree with Dr. Morris Chapman’s statements:

“I think it reflects the impact of the recent economic crunch that has hurt so many American families. But it is remarkable that, given the severe economic strain the country has experienced, gifts to national efforts through the Cooperative Program still topped the $200-million mark for the third year in a row and overall giving to national causes surpassed the $400-million benchmark for a second straight year.”

But is there something more organic happening here than just the economy? Here are some other factors that we should not miss.

  • What about the harsh demographic trends and the graying of the SBC?
  • What about the cultural move away from Southern Baptist style religion?
  • What about all those shrinking churches that Dr. Frank Page said will close their doors by 2030?
  • What about churches doing missions outside the Cooperative Program?

You can sort these issues out in the comment section, but I think there is a convergence of threats that will put the CP on the defensive for many years to come. The economy is certainly a factor, but there may be more mischief at work.

How Will The Executive Committee Respond

I appreciate the mild wording of this initial news release. This is a small drop, and possibly much better than denomination insiders were expecting. However, as the factors listed above continue to pressure the program, you should expect a more forceful response. Here are some steps I expect we’ll be seeing over the next few years:

  • A new push for loyalty to the Cooperative Program
  • Renewed calls for state conventions to pass on a higher percentage of their CP receipts
  • More urgency surrounding our special offerings (i.e. Lottie & Annie)
  • More aggressive fund raising by all denominational entities, especially Seminaries
  • We will be forced to admit the diminished ability of the IMB to advance the Gospel due to funding constraints

What Do You Think?

Obviously, this is a conversation that is just getting started. But I would like to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below to join the conversation.

What Other SBC Voices Are Saying

Comments

  1. says

    For a long time we have been loyal to the CP for its efficiency. We hear the stories about before the CP when agents from each board canvased the country begging churches for funds. Now, I grew up outside of Murray, Kentucky where there is a historical marker about the CP, and I certainly agree that it is efficient. But is efficient and effective the same thing?

    For all its good here is one major negative of the CP: It separates the local church from missions. I can put my money in the plate knowing that 10% is going to the CP and I can read the magazines and bulletin inserts that I get. I can even pray for South America during a Prayer Emphasis, but that is incredibly different from giving directly to a missionary who has come from my church or my community who I know and who I pray specifically for. In an SBC church, except for Christmas and Easter, you don’t have to think about what or who you are giving to, and the idea that missions is a special work done by a special group of people is instilled in the church rather than the idea that missions IS the work of the church.

    I’m not saying that we do away with the CP, but we do need to evaluate its weaknesses and ask if there is anything that can be done to strengthen it.

  2. says

    As a military family that has moved around several times and been in at least 6 different churches in the past 16 years, one of the problems I’ve seen is the “seeming need” for all things bigger and better — programs, buildings, outreach, entertainment, and so forth. Goals for “other offerings” on top of normal tithes (which I believe are down as well, if I’ve heard correct?) are kept at a lower base because many churches feel they are already asking too much of their members for other things.

    Our church home in Yuma, Arizona was NOT like this though and is one of the reasons I am very thankful God moved us to have them as our home church while we were stationed there. Morningside has a staggering breakdown of mission money going out on Monday mornings — 20% of all money gets directly put into missions!! They also consistently set higher goals for each years special offerings (Annie Armstrong, Lottie Moon, CP, etc.) and typically reach even above those goals. Plus, they support other missionaries, and send people on trips but without taking away the funds that would typically be given to SBC oriented programs. What I really grew to appreciate was the fact that they don’t have an either/or mentality when it comes to missions. Other things needed to be done, and they were taken care of, but never at the expense of the commitments to missions that we had made.

    Morningside is a small church with an older building but Pastor Gilbert shares the love of Christ like probably none I’ve ever seen before. His family is real and they are open about the problems they have faced. The church is very friendly and loving and wants to do the work of the Kingdom without letting a “little thing like money” get in their way. I think that shows as an output of the monies they consistently give.

  3. says

    Joshua, I respectfully disagree with you as it seems you are saying that you think your church can’t do both. You CAN do both, and should. The CP has the capability of more far reaching efforts than any individual church by itself ever could and we NEED that capability! However, an individual church should still support and uplift its own set of missionaries, mainly because of the very reason you give — mission work IS the business of the local church. Having your own set of missionaries to support will grow your church in its prayer life, its capacity for compassion on a real personal level, and in your belief in the power of miracles still taking place in this world as your missionary reports back to you all the incredible and wonderfully powerful God “things” happening all around them. I can’t even expound in proper words about how far reaching/impacting both “programs” have.

    God bless,
    Sallie

  4. says

    @Sallie: I think you bring up a good point. On the local church level our budgets are usually structured to send a certain % of general offering on to the Cooperative Program. But special offerings usually work around that CP allocation.

    Another aspect is building debts. I don’t know the figure, but I would guess that more churches hold mortgages and building debts now than in previous generations.

  5. says

    Sallie, I certainly wouldn’t argue with you about doing both, but the question I guess should be “Is the CP a viable tool for the future of the SBC?” My church could support through prayer and finances a missionary couple directly through a number of organizations like PIONEERS for example, but will the CP (as it is) ever be able to produce the same kind of commitment for IMB missionaries or NAMB church planters? I think you will have to go against the grain to achieve that.

    We can’t just keep saying that everything is perfect and pretending like the CP was given by direct inspiration from God. It is a human tool and therefore a flawed one. God HAS used it, but that does not mean that he will continue to use it. If there is an even better way, then we should desire it.

    That’s all I was trying to say :)

  6. says

    You are completely right that it was a man made tool and as such is flawed from the beginning :-) It just felt like you were saying you couldn’t do both and/or it wasn’t viable. I think you can and that it is :-)

    God bless,
    Sallie

    Sallies last blog post..What My Weekend Looks Like…

  7. Dr. James Willingham says

    Sirs: The shrinkage in giving is the result of two factors. One, it is the result of the exporting of jobs overseas and the fact that workers are not needed any more. Seventeen yrs. ago, I wrote a response to a request by a vocational director of a county school system concerning information she supplied about automation, computerization, and robotics. E.g., a Burger King in New York employed 400 people and was a 24/7 operation. They automated, and employed a young man from Germany to run the Laser Cooker at $90/hr and his assistant, a young Japanese female $60/hr. The other members (18) of the crew were clean-up people employed at or near the minimum wage. Quite a reduction in crew and wages. There were other examples that I could mention, but the point is clear as I wrote in my response: There are no jobs in sufficient number for the number of people on earth today, especially in the more developed nations. They have come into the category of what H.G. Wells called in his book, The Open Conspiracy, “Useless Eaters.” Automation, etc., has taken away the need for workers. I am grieved at what I see and know and suspect. We really need to pray for a Great Awakening for the whole earth in one generation. As C.S. Lewis stated in the third volumne of his sci-fi trilogy, That Hideous Strength, “They pull down deep Heaven upon their own heads.” I will not say what factor two is but I think it is obvious to the discerning mind that reads and studies outside the box, knows the priniples of extrapolation, multiple confirmation by sources totally independent of each other, a better grasp of the scientific method than is taught in the schools today (I refer to the synthetical and paradoxical elements which are generally unknown and even neglected due to the rigidity induced by preoccupation with the analytic method and a lack of insight into wholistic or, more precisely synthetical (note: not dialectical) thinking, investigating, and methodizing). I weep for our people and our nation. Sadly, people who are now advocating eldership ministry (and I believe in a plurality of ministers) seem to know little about congregational church government; theirs appears to be a knee jerk reaction to the abuses of congregational polity. I know of one case where the congregation was totally by-passed in the retirement of the Senior Pastor/Elder and the coming of the new one. Thankfully, that was not a Southern Baptist, but there is that attitude among us and it needs guarding against – if we are going to address the awful hour coming upon us and stay to see the whole earth filled with His knowledge and glory as the waters cover the sea. What we face is possibly the greatest disaster, crisis/opportunity for success beyond our wildest dreams. God is faithful to His promises, but we must plead them and act upon them which is the true Sovereign Grace way. Think of the Pilgrims who were ready as they so stated in their covenant at Plymouth Rock to be stepping stones for others to advance the advance the cause of Christ which is what happened. If memory serves correctly, Adoniram Judson’s father was pastor of a Congregational Church in Plymouth. Judson, of course, felt the call to missions and became a Baptist on the way to the mission field and the rest, as they say, is history. The most responsible, rock steady, people, Sovereign Grace believers were involved in the First and Second Great Awakenings and the launching of the Great Century of Missions as Kenneth Scott Latourette called it. The enemy as come in like a flood, and Spiritual Israel (the mountains, the churches) are about covered, but the standard, a counter flood is coming. Jesus said, “I am coming to you.”
    While He will come bodily one day, He is coming spiritually all the time. Hanserd Knollys said the bridegroom at midnight was Jesus coming to His bride spiritully and that was the beginning of the 100o yrs. I don’t know enough to agree or disagree, but I do know enough to pray for such for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. We all should do this.

  8. says

    * A new push for loyalty to the Cooperative Program
    * Renewed calls for state conventions to pass on a higher percentage of their CP receipts
    * More urgency surrounding our special offerings (i.e. Lottie & Annie)
    * More aggressive fund raising by all denominational entities, especially Seminaries
    * We will be forced to admit the diminished ability of the IMB to advance the Gospel due to funding constraints

    (Let me identify one of my interests in this — I am a missionary, sent out by SBC churches through the IMB, currently serving in a temporary position in the Richmond office.) While I hope that a renewed focus on and interest in the Cooperative Program would not be motivated by loyalty to the CP as a program, the first 3 possible results have the potential of being good things. Our strength as a convention has been our cooperation — by working together we are able to accomplish more and, yes, be more effective than we are alone. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We have to work at being stronger and more effective; both individual missionaries and local churches have to work at making missions more personal; local churches and state conventions have to sacrifice to provide funds needed for the cooperative ministries. But, one of the beauties of the Cooperative Program is that every Baptist and every church, no matter how large or small or how wealthy or poor, can play a part in multiple ministries.

    If we have to “resort” to every SBC ministry and institution doing its own fund-raising, then we take a huge leap backwards to a splintered approach to doing the larger ministries (the society approach). We will see every growing amounts of contributions being used for fund raising rather than ministry.

    The Great Commission is for every individual believer and for each local congregation. Each one of us — as we go, wherever we go — has the responsibility to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey. But, as others have stated above, it’s not an either/or situation — either through the IMB/NAMB or the local church — it’s both. We can send more missionaries, prepare them better, support them more adequately, and have them be more incarnational through an organization/institution like the IMB. But, many churches can also take on more responsibility for international missions by intentionally sending people on strategic missions trips and even by taking on the responsibility for engaging and reaching an entire people group (becoming an SC or SL church is one way to do that).

    Bob Allens last blog post..Fall Is Back!

  9. says

    @Bob Allen: Thanks for your response, a comment from your perspective is very appreciated. One assumption of my post, which I did not make plain, is this:

    Local church budgets will come under pressure going forward, so their giving will likely shrink. Since my church gives a percent of total budget, if my total church budget drops, then CP giving will fall. This is the structure of many (if not most) churches. It’s build into our budget process.

    So, when small churches fail, as Frank Page suggests half of them will, that money is gone. Even in churches that are able to replace older members, who are passing away, with younger families. It will be hard to maintain budget levels.

    It would be easy for pastors to reallocate the CP money if these younger members do not have loyalty to the CP. More so, if these younger families value kids programs and personal involvement in missions over the national offerings.

    So, the genius of the CP is the connection with the average SBC church. But if the churches fail, so will the CP.

  10. says

    Tony,

    I am sure that the biggest reason for the shortfall in CP giving is due to the weak economy and the difficult financial position that many Churches are now facing.

    However, I must point out that there will be a financial impact to the CP from all those young pastors we keep hearing about that are leaving the SBC. I also must point out that the conduct of some Sate Conventions and the IMB have had a negative impact on CP giving. Due to the “Aggressive” and “Antagonistic” Anti-Calvinistic activities of the Florida Baptist Convention and the Landmark policies of the IMB my congregation made the decision that we could no longer support the CP.

    Decisions have Consequences…

    Grace Always,

  11. Dr. James Willingham says

    The consequences referred to in the above blog as to cutting out the CP is just what certain forces outside the SBC would like to see happen. When SBC goes down, then there will be no large protestant body in the US any more. Fragmentation and atomization, divide and conquer, the tactic is as old as warfare. Infiltration, polarization, etc., the tactic has been tried on Southern Baptists many times before. The Primitive -Missionary split, the Landmark split, the modernist-fundamentalist split, the conservtive-moderate split, all of these were aimed at blunting the Great Awakenings and the Great Missionary impulse. The conspiracy seems to succeed as C.S. Lewis suggested in his That Hideous Strength, and it is at that point that they pull down deep heaven on their own heads. An Awakening involves two things, the right theology and a heavenly presence descending upon a people and covering them like the waters cover the sea.
    When Heaven came down in Moravia in 1727 men working in a field 10 miles from the church where people were praying fell under conviction. In America in the Awakenings Heaven seem to come down many times. My prayer is, “Drop down, ye heavens, drop down.” and “Thy Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is being done in Heaven.” The reason why the Sovereign Grace Theology is the one is that it offers joyful, liberal, generous, wonderful works of God among a people besotted and utterly helpless. And it utterly transforms them. It is the secret of moral, social, cultural, spiritual, national, and etc. renewal. The hour c0ming on the whole earth (Rev.3:10) seems to be about here, the hour fraught with terror and hope of victory beyond our fondest dreams. Let us pray, pleading the promises of a tsunami of knowledge and glory, the standard and counter wave to the evil now coming in upon us almost wholesale. Our hope is as bright as the promises of God. Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.

  12. says

    Dr Willingham,

    Who can dare speak a word against such elegance and passion as found in your above post? Certainly not I… May our great God of compassion grant your prayer for the SBC!

    However, I must say that yours is a dangerous prayer… Why? Because, as I am sure you are aware, Great Awakenings are always preceded by a time of great examination and judgment of God’s people. “Judgment must begin at the house of God” (1Peter 4:17) Even so… I pray God hear your petition!

    You mentioned “divide and conquer, the tactic is as old as warfare.” Yes, and I think you have hit the nail on the head concerning the true struggle we face in the SBC today. Within the current leadership of the SBC today we have what I would call “Dividers” and “Uniters”… We have those who are battling to “Exclude” other Baptist from the SBC because they do not look/think/believe exactly like them, and on the other hand we have those who are battling to be “Included” in the SBC.

    Those who seek to unite the SBC are evident for all to see… they do such things as host “Building Bridges” and “Together 4 the Gospel” conferences. Those who seek to divide the SBC are equally evident for all to see… they do such things as oppose “Building Bridges” and “Together 4 the Gospel” conferences and then host their own conferences to correct the negative influence they perceive these conferences designed to bring unity to the SBC are having upon the next generation of pastors.

    It should be becoming clear to all in the SBC by now that the work of missions and giving to the CP will always suffer when the “Dividers” in the SBC are allowed to win the day.

    Grace Always,

    Greg Alfords last blog post..Lords of the SBC

  13. Dr. James Willingham says

    Dear Greg: I pet 4:17 in the original actually states that “The Judgment must begin at the house of God.” There is a definite article before judgment which raises the very interesting thought that the day of judgment has already begun in the church. No wonder we suffer. When you pray for a Great Awakening – and I have been praying for one for 35 years (not that I think much of my prayers – ugh!). One fellow I know has been praying for one over 50 years. All we do is suffer, suffer, suffer, and suffer some more. God’s victories are dearly bought, but our anguish is as nothing in comparison to our Lord’s miseries on Calvary. I cannot believe that the Father can behold that as He does and see the blood of His One-of-a-Kind, only begotten Son, and not determine that His work and message take the whole earth in one generation and even for a thousand generations. One fellow (I consider him the wisest man I ever met) asked me over 40 yrs ago, “Have you ever thought that at any one time every last soul on earth could be the elect of God?” I answered in the negative. 6-7 yrs later his question blew my eschatology to pieces, when I was looking at Jonah 3. The prophet’s message literally was not fulfilled. The real issue was he purpose for which it was given, namely, to bring the Ninevites to repentance. The King asked, “Who can tell?” and the 4th chapter gives God’s arguments on the issue with reference to Jonah. So the prophecies of gloom and doom elsewhere could have such a purpose as to cause repentance and so God can spare. I strongly urge a consideration of Jonathan Edwards, “Humble Attempt.” The prophecies he discusses in that work lie at the core of the First and Second Great Awakenings and the Great Century of Missions. They will serve well for our situation to day. I try to plead some of them every day in prayer for the awakening to come. Whether I will live to see it, let alone to a have a little part in that blessed event, I don’t know. But I am thankful for the privilege to so pray, regardless of the suffering it involves.

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