The Cooperative Program is our main funding mechanism. It puts more dollars than any other source into SBC state conventions and their assorted ministries as well as the SBC level entities (one proviso on this, though, is that direct giving puts more dollars into SBC level entities than does CP). Perhaps more important than the dollars is that the CP is our method of uniting churches, state conventions, and SBC level entities in cooperative ministry. Almost all of us desire a strong CP and most of us would think an increasing CP dollar flow makes us a healthier convention.
While it would be nice in some ways if we could go back to the double-digit percentage averages of the 1970s (we are at an average of 5.16% of church undesignated receipts to the CP according to the latest figures available), no amount of cajoling or cheerleading will put us there. I know of no SBC leader who expects that to happen although a few of the more long-in-the-tooth leaders do get overwhelmed by heavy doses of nostalgia and speak wistfully about the halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s.
It’s reasonable to be optimistic about having a stable and even increasing Cooperative Program…if we don’t blow off all our toes with denominational rancor or provincialism. Is it a reasonable conclusion that there will be no possibility of a thriving CP unless we conduct ourselves such that we convey the value of all kinds of churches, all kinds of church mission giving patterns, and all kinds of church mission giving priorities?
I think so, and I appreciate the denominational folks that I’ve dealt with over the years who have been careful not to disparage a pastor or church that gives less than 10% to the CP, or less than the current average, or who makes the two mission offerings a priority. I appreciate the leaders who have appealed to pastors and churches in a positive manner.
In regard to below average CP giving, there are plenty of targets. Just 4% of SBC churches accounted for half of all CP giving in a recent analysis. I’ve never seen a median CP percentage for all SBC churches, only an average, but I’d guess that if below average CP percentage churches are targeted that would be 30,000 or more of the almost 50,000 SBC churches. Some haughty SBCers disparage any church that gives under the mythical and unbiblical CP “tithe” of 10%.
We need all kinds of churches on board with the Cooperative Program.
Here are some approaches to promoting the CP that seem counterproductive to me:
- Posit an artifical percentage goal as if that had some connection to reality. The 10% goal is disconnected from any reality in SBC life. It is not a goal that goes beyond a number, although some salivate over what we could do with all that additional funding. I liked Frank Page’s approach which was to encourage churches to increase what they are doing now. Divorcing the CP from where and how the money is spent is death to the program.
- Disparage churches that give below the current average. A state convention executive recently declared that churches which gave below the national average did not fully support the CP. That’s not much of a plan to increase the CP. Trashing churches isn’t a growth plan.
- Declare war on a class of pastors and churches. While some object to martial terminology, I think it fits. If Calvinistic pastors and churches, and definitions are quite fluid on what that means in SBC life, are seen as the enemy, I doubt that is much of a motivation for increasing cooperation. There no argument that more calvinistic pastors are being graduated by our seminaries than previously. If a state convention decides that these are unacceptable within their borders, it only follows that those pastors and churches would consider more carefully where their mission dollars are sent. Such is not a threat but rather a reevaluation thrust upon them by (mainly) state convention leaders.
- Ignore the fact that we now have considerable numbers of dually affiliated churches and that these lack our common history which affects CP giving.
- Take a highly partisan and aggressive stance on the election of SBC leaders. If a state convention leader has a personal preference for SBC president or other SBC positions, that is to be expected. If the resources of a state convention are made available in a partisan fashion, that’s a bit different. State conventions are autonomous players in SBC life. They may act as they will but I cannot see how this would lead to increased cooperation.
- Dismiss classes of churches who have substantially increased cooperation because it came too little and too late. Is it lost on us that there has been and is a considerable shift in behavior by larger churches? The megachurches of Ronnie Floyd, Steve Gaines, and J. D. Greear have greatly improved their previous very low CP percentages and are now giving huge sums to the Cooperative Program. Reasonable people would say that this is good. Unreasonable people are saying that it doesn’t matter and that it is not enough. Thank God these and other very large churches see value in the CP and in SBC mission support.
- Create an artifical divide between “societal” and “cooperative” giving. Concomitant to this would be disparaging churches for “societal” giving, even if that giving was to our mission boards, seminaries, and other SBC work.
- Present the CP as sacred and the standard by which all things SBC should be measured. It is both valuable and invaluable to our cooperative efforts but it is not sacred. The SBC did splendid work for 80 years without it. When it was established, it grew not because churches were required to participate nor because churches were cajoled and criticized for not participating at certain levels, but because leaders commended the CP on the basis of its value to the churches.
Frank Page will be replaced in due time. One hopes that the Executive Committee finds a leader who is as inclusive, positive, and encouraging to all pastors and churches as was Frank Page.