The Cooperative Program is now in its tenth decade of existence. For many Southern Baptists, their memory of it does not include any time when it was a thriving, increasing measure of Southern Baptist denominational health. The general narrative concerning it has been negative in that churches, relentlessly and depressingly, have dropped their CP percentages, a decades long trend.
Here are a couple of things that offer a modicum of optimism relative to the CP:
First, the sub-narrative that megachurches are not helpful to the Cooperative Program and do not support it with the same dedication that smaller churches do is true enough if one looks at percentages. I do not know of many megachurches that make CP gifts above the 5.4% average percentage of undesignated gifts. I know many, many smaller churches that do so.
So, check the news on the SBC’s most prominent megachurch pastor and current SBC president, Ronnie Floyd. His Cross church is giving one million to the Cooperative Program this year. Very few churches have ever reached seven figures in CP gifts for a single year. Floyd has asked hard questions about the CP, yet continues to lead his church to give very generously to it. This is denominational leadership. I commend him and his church.
Perhaps we could stop, or at least slow down, the criticism of megachurches and their pastors for not being CP supporters. Almost all of them are supporters to some extent. When churches make autonomous decisions to give generously to the CP, they should all be commended. Fact is, 4% of SBC churches give 50% of all CP gifts, so if we wanted to engage in the unprofitable sport of finding targets for criticism we can easily do so; however, I prefer the posture of almost all state convention, seminary, mission board, and other SBC leaders who rejoice when a small church gives 20% or when a large church gives $1 million even if there is some spread between their giving percentages. I cannot recall any SBC leader not expressing appreciation for whatever level of CP giving a church engages in.
Second, the latest Executive Committee report on CP giving shows receipts slightly above budgeted allocations. If this month and next are good months perhaps there will be a small surplus at the end of the fiscal year. I don’t know about all pastors or entity leaders but I always thought that when revenues exceeded the budget, such was worth an Amen! Maybe even a Hallelujah!
Many of the state conventions, the hardest hit SBC entities of the past decade, deserve credit for taking steps to slightly reduce the portion of the CP that is kept in-state. Leaders like Ronnie Floyd deserve credit for making significant increases in their CP support. We are indeed on the same side: large church, small church, high percentage, low percentage, state convention, national entity.
While no one sees churches as a group returning to anywhere near the 10% of undesignated offerings that was the standard of 35 years ago, we might see the CP level off at 5 to 6 percent and at least have an idea of what we will need to do as we go forward.