Such is not inscribed by the finger of the Almighty but by the finger of respected but not omnipotent denominational bureaucrats.
Our venerable Cooperative Program is almost a century old. It is not vigorous in it’s old age and even though it is rather weak of eye and has been in declining health for generations, still transfers $467 million dollars from church offering plates to a variety of destinations. State conventions (and I’m referring to the legacy southern states) collect almost all of the money and keep most of it. The states of the old confederacy, think of a crescent from Missouri down through Texas, east along the gulf states, and up the eastern seaboard to Virginia, are responsible for around 90% of CP revenues. States outside the south contribute but their part has never been much.
With uncounted billions needing the Gospel outside of our nation and hundreds of millions in our own nation outside of the church-saturated Southern states that make up most of the Grand Old SBC, how much of a CP dollar should stay in Georgia, Alabama, Texas, the Carolinas, Tennessee, etc?
Oh, at least 20 percent, 30 percent, one might say.
How about 60 percent? How sensible does that sound?
Not so much, seems to me.
State conventions have sucked up over 60 percent of CP dollars for decades. With the big Great Commission Resurgence push of 2010 that percentage dipped slightly below 60 but it was inevitably a losing fight to get the richest states to give up CP money.
Here in my fair state, Georgia, we built a magnificent building. Tremendous money suck. We now have a contract signed to sell it to an undisclosed buyer for an undisclosed price. We have millions in equity in that property only because the mortgage was paid off, indirectly, by money received from sale of our Baptist hospital, money supposedly set aside for health care needs.
Our state convention had a twenty year record of overspending and spending off budget to prop up failing enterprises.
Our state convention was spending 83% of revenues on personnel. The state convention was a full employment program for connected individuals. We had specialists and assistants to specialists. We propped up one weak college that has little chance of self sufficiency. One other college has made its own way. Another will require millions and millions as far as the eye can see.
We can build buildings, hire people, have meetings, keep failing conference centers open and do it all with CP money. Churches send. State convention spends. We can finagle the revenues to make it look like more is going to the mission boards than is. We can spin it to sound like we’re sending most of the money from the churches outside the state. That was never true.
Did I mention that we have had a growing population for years, now the eighth most populous state?
Millions more souls trod the red clay ground of Georgia yet baptisms in SBC churches in our state have been declining for years and years and years. Does that sound like we are doing a good job?
So, exactly what is being done with all those tens of millions in CP revenues? Apparently, not a lot in regard to our main mission of planting churches and seeing souls saved.
New administration here is making changes. Good. Business as usual, made possible by the steady stream of CP millions, isn’t the best option.
But, to answer the title question: Does the Cooperative Program make state conventions lazy and inefficient? The answer is, “yes” in my view. If there is a guaranteed income stream, institutions and organizations tend not to be innovative, energetic, and responsive to external changes.
The latest SBC vision quest calls for another $50m or so annually in CP revenues, most to be spent by state conventions. Count me as one who isn’t convinced that this is the best route forward. But, I’m persuadable. Show me how getting another $50 million in CP money where about $10m of that goes to IMB and a few million to NAMB will impact lostness anywhere? (Yes, I realize Ronnie’s hands are tied on this, even though he was prophetic and forward thinking prior to becoming our main administrative leader.)
Seems the secret is out. No church has to give to the CP. No church has to give 10 percent, 5 percent or any percent. You can be elected president of the SBC, or one of the vice presidencies, or an entity head, with a tiny percentage or even a small dollar amount. Pastors generally know how to lead their churches in best mission spending practices. Perhaps the CP will be retooled. If so, it will be done by forward-thinking state conventions.
Note on the Georgia Baptist taj, I expect that when approvals are secured for the new property, both the buyer and purchase price will be disclosed. Better be.