The SBC Executive Committee is always prompt in reporting monthly Cooperative Program receipts. Their fiscal year ends Friday so I look for a Baptist Press story on Monday that announces a significant increase in yearly CP contributions to SBC national and international missions. This is only the minority portion of the total Cooperative Program, since state conventions keep about 60% of every CP dollar given by local churches. The increase over last year looks to be about 3% but the exact figure will be known Monday. Calling a 3% increase “significant” is subjective but based on the past years of flat or declining revenues, why not blow the horn as if this is something really positive for the SBC. It is.
It’s no small matter in the SBC of 2016 that the Cooperative Program is showing even a slight increase in CP revenues. Our primary denominational giving plan has declined as a percentage of church undesignated offerings for decades but has flattened out the last few years. Even a 3% increase in CP dollars received by the Executive Committee for distribution mostly to our mission boards and seminaries is encouraging even if it isn’t sufficient to make any alteration in future plans for any of our entities.
The increase of about $5 million will provide about $2.5 million to IMB, about a million dollars to NAMB, and roughly $200,000 apiece to the six seminaries. Actual figures will depart a bit from these because the seminaries receive unequal amounts (based on an enrollment formula) and overages are weighted to give IMB more. Nonetheless, additional dollars are welcome wherever they are received. For perspective, the additional millions for IMB will amount to about 1% of its annual budget. The additional money to Southern Seminary, for example, will only amount to about .5% of their annual budget.
An additional five million dollars isn’t chump change anywhere and it’s encouraging to see numbers go up rather than down or sideways but the fuel for the national SBC entity’s future will not be coming from Cooperative Program dollars unless churches show a substantial increase in support. Many are calling for such, as much as doubling the overall average for SBC churches from roughly 5% of undesignated offerings to the old standard of 10%. No one has offered any compelling plan or rationale as to why churches would begin to double their CP offerings but it’s OK in the SBC to be aspirational in our pronouncements.
It offers a bit of contrast to consider that the money provided by churches to the IMB’s main offering, Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, was increased by almost $12 million this year. That amount is about five times what the CP increase will provide for international missions. No one knows if churches will continue to give the greater amounts to the LMCO or if this years record offering of $165.3 million was an outlier caused by last year’s IMB downsizing.
If SBC leaders had a crystal ball and could see the financial future, I’m guessing that they would all sneak a peek at what the CP percentages and offerings would be in 2025, the Cooperative Program’s centennial. My guess is that they would be privately pleased if the church percentage stayed at 5.4% where it is now. Still, anyway you slice it having around $190 million to divide among our national entities is the envy of other denominations.
If we could only get Roger Simpson the entire database so he could take a deep dive into trends, averages, and other stats.