In Part One, I explained that despite its worthy intentions, the One Percent Challenge does not satisfy the test of a specific and measurable goal, advocating that Southern Baptists pick a number high enough to meet our ministry obligations and promote it so our churches might measure themselves against it and determine if they are paying their fair share. I also dismissed the notion that setting such a true target (rather than a minor directional change) would in any way violate the autonomy of any local church.
In Part Two, I separated Cooperative Program goals from leadership requirements and exposed the fallacy of pitting missions dollars against missions percentages.
In Part Three, I take issue with recently failed experiments in which the direct appeals by our agencies, combined with the bypassed support channels of our churches, have stripped our missions funding of its trademark cooperation. Any approach utilizing Church Budget Funding to support missions must remain available to churches of all sizes if we are truly to cooperate. Churches valuing creativity and individuality may not realize it, but by marching to the beat of a different drummer, they are undermining our otherwise unified approach to the financial support of missions.
Unofficial Definition of SBC Loyalty
In Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie, Wayne Flynt summarizes with great clarity the golden age of Southern Baptist cooperation:
By the 1950s the Cooperative Program, executive committee, and Sunday School Board unofficially defined what it meant to be a loyal Southern Baptist: set aside at least 10 percent of church contributions to the CP (and nothing to non-SBC causes); obtain pastors who had graduated from SBC seminaries; purchase all support materials and literature from the Sunday School Board. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998, p. 400.)
No messenger passed a resolution. No editor wrote an article. No blogger posted a blog. It was simply understood—an unwritten rule. But today we live in a world where the unwritten rules of yesteryear have all been reduced to writing and clearly spelled out:
- Hair Dryer—Do not use while taking a shower.
- Electric Rotary Tool—Not intended for use as a dental drill.
- Hair Coloring—Do not use as an ice cream topping.
- Christmas Lights—For indoor or outdoor use only.
- Superman Costume—Wearing garment does not enable you to fly.
- Rowenta Iron—Do not iron clothes on body.
Today, it is sadly necessary for us to write, “Cooperative Program—in 2010 by convention action we affirmed this as our most effective missions funding channel. We further note that church donations under ten percent produce funding levels insufficient to fulfill our mutual Great Commission goals.” Our Platinum Rule for Cooperation has been forgotten, ignored or taken for granted.
Somewhere along the way, discontented with their share of Cooperative Program support, a Southern Baptist agency made their first direct appeal to a church for some type of special funding. As long as such gifts were given through designated funds over and above the unified church budget, no real threat to the Cooperative Program existed. However, at some point, churches began to use undesignated budget funds to bankroll private mission projects—volunteer trips, parachurch organization support and other approaches diverting mission dollars away from the Cooperative Program.
This reasoning makes perfect sense when viewed from the perspective of the local church: “This is still missions. In fact, we are personally involved to a much greater degree. Rather than just writing a check and throwing money at the Great Commission, we are active participants in its fulfillment.” However, from the viewpoint of the entire denomination, Southern Baptists are forced by this philosophy to abort a significant measure of our missionary sending plans.
Many of our smaller churches, financially incapable of such private initiatives, continue to give their ten percent, only to realize that our larger churches, having diverted much of their missions budgets away from the Cooperative Program, are now giving only five percent or less. Will the larger churches hear our cry for help? “Yes, you are doing missions, and we are certainly grateful. But in many cases your program is simply not the Cooperative Program but the Independent Program. Since we cannot afford to join you in the Independent Program, will you rejoin us in supporting the very Cooperative Program responsible for fueling the greatest missionary sending strategy in history?”
Changing the Channel
If on one side of the coin we find an appeal by agencies for special societal funding, then on the other side of the coin we find churches circumventing our traditional Cooperative Program channels. This is unseemly business—the picking and choosing between associations, statewide missions work, seminaries, national and international missions boards and other denominational causes and agencies. All of these ministries are doing great work and are worthy of our support. When we fight like brothers and sisters over the last brownie in the pan, it makes us look petty, greedy and childish. The answer is simply to bake more brownies.
Frankly, I’m not buying the narrative many put forth—that our churches are giving less because they have carefully studied the funding formulas and are voting with their dollars to starve our state conventions in order to better support our national one. (Even if this did describe the situation accurately—it’s not working at all. Richmond has missionaries ready to go and the money diverted from our state conventions is not coming close to getting the job done.) However, I don’t believe this theory, which might admittedly explain a fraction of the decrease, is sufficient to explain our entire 4.4% shortfall. I think most churches have simply dropped their percentages over a period of time as they have gradually lost their sense of “Ten Percent CP Loyalty and Responsibility.” I believe that, more than anything else, we have simply and gradually lost our Ten Percent CP Culture. I believe this can be returned—with a healthy and balanced sense of appreciation for our ministries at every single level—church, association, state and national. Most Southern Baptists are law abiding citizens who support our government at city, county, state and federal levels—not dreaming of cutting out any realm of oversight. Ours is not really a denomination of anarchists and non-conformists. We just sometimes grow lethargic and need to be awakened from our slumber.
Recently, I was reminded by a wise and experienced Southern Baptist that there was a time, not that long ago, when any gifts received directly by national or international missions organizations were automatically returned to the states so as to preserve our denominationally approved Cooperative Program funding formula. Cooperation was so highly valued in those days that churches whose independent actions threatened it were properly chastened. How far we have fallen from such clearly defined expectations.
In conclusion, the mistakes of the past few years can be reversed as support for the Cooperative Program returns. God can lead us to fund the Great Commission with a CPR—a Cooperative Program Revival. I have great faith not only in the power of God but also in the willingness of Southern Baptists to do the right thing and pay their fair share. The same convention that decreased CP by 4.4 points can increase CP by 4.4 points. But if we are going to get with the program, we must have the courage and moral fortitude to define that which fairness entails. There is a number out there, a percentage of total SBC undesignated church offerings, that will pay all the bills for every entity at every level. It may not be magic, but it will be a trick—a very simple one. It all starts with a clearly defined goal for each church. The magic begins when we simply “pick a number” and show it to every single Southern Baptist congregation, telling them, “Hit this number and we thrive—fail to hit it and we suffer.” Then we leave the matter between them and God. They still may not respond, but at least they will clearly understand what the CP needs to operate effectively.