October is Cooperative Program month. While serving as a pastor, I didn’t often have a special CP Sunday or emphasis although I regularly attempted to educate the congregation on our main channel of mission support. Of all our denominational efforts and enterprises, the CP is the one that needs the most explanation, education, and promotion. After all, the title “Cooperative Program” doesn’t convey anything concrete about how the money is spent. Cooperation is, needless to day, fundamental for the SBC but exactly how we cooperate financially is complicated and not easily conveyed.
We have had a stream of CP stories this month and David Roach has an interesting one: Recession still impacts CP 10 years later.
The backdrop for the story is a megachurch that was giving considerable gifts to the CP prior to the recession which caused deep cuts in their CP giving. The reduction was reported as a staggering $300,00 annually over a five year period. Today the church is prospering with greater attendance and giving than in 2008 but has not chosen to return to their previous levels of CP support.
“We love and are committed to the Cooperative Program,” Church by the Glades executive pastor Raul Palacios told Baptist Press. But a significant portion of the church’s financial resources had to be focused “on growing the church and reaching lost people.”
To translate that explanation one might say that the church felt they could put the money to better uses locally than to forward the funds through the CP to their state convention and then Nashville and beyond. To be candid, this megachurch is an example of what generally explains the decline in CP giving for all these years. Local churches make a value decision about their available revenues and the CP has less value than other spending destinations and no outsider can argue with an autonomous local church about their spending priorities.
Roach covers some relevant statistics on the CP:
Total undesignated receipts of Southern Baptist churches have recovered and in 2016-17 were more than $500 million above 2007-08 levels, according to SBC Annuals. But total CP giving through state conventions was $79 million less during the most recent fiscal year than in 2007-08.
CP giving to SBC causes is rebounding thanks to the sacrificial giving of Baptist state conventions — but giving is still more than $6 million below 2007-08 levels. In 2007-08, 37.28 percent of all CP funds were forwarded to SBC causes. In 2016-17, it had increased to 41.49 percent, according to SBC Annuals, the highest percentage in at last 50 years.
Several points may be offered:
- States may certainly be commended for “sacrificial giving.” Their sacrifice was to cut their take of total CP from about 63 cents on the dollar to about 59 cents. Most, perhaps all state conventions had to cut jobs. This qualifies as “sacrificial” in my book but giving an additional four cents on the dollar spread over a decade is incremental change, not drastic change. Most of us wouldn’t consider a cut of a little over six percent as “sacrificial” but if your job was 100 percent cut, you would.
- Once a local church gets to the place where they cut the CP percentage, it’s tough to recover or surpass the previous levels. Megachurches aren’t like yours and mine but in this sense they are. Once CP cuts are made, it’s harder to add the money back in. The BP story doesn’t offer much explanation of why the church hasn’t recovered to their previous CP levels. Where a church spends its available mission dollars is an easy question to address on the local church level. It’s a lot more difficult to convince givers, leadership, and the congregation that precious but amorphous Cooperative Program should be the preferred destination rather than more concrete and specific mission causes. If they kept the money and spent it elsewhere it’s inescapable to conclude that the underlying reason was that they thought it better spent elsewhere.
- The percentage of undesignated church receipts that goes to the CP is well under five percent, 4.86% according to latest figures. I once thought five percent would be the floor for CP giving. Evidently, it is somewhat below that. We’ve long said ‘goodbye’ to the 10% days. They are forever gone no matter how often or loudly folks speak of a “CP tithe.” Where we will land is uncertain. 4%? Lower?
- One might expect total CP receipts to increase. It’s a much less likely that the CP percentages will show any significant increase. Ashley Clayton, our CP guru with the Executive Committee says that “a renewed enthusiasm for CP-funded ministries among Southern Baptists makes him optimistic total CP receipts will begin trending upward.” Note the reference to “total CP receipts” and not percentages. The economy is going well. Churches are doing better. Neither of those seem to indicate a CP percentage increase. In fact, the percentage dropped by almost six percent in the most recent year. Three more years like that and we will be at 4%.
- It is more likely that direct funding to NAMB and IMB will increase. That has been the trend and it makes sense. Our two main mission entities, home and foreign missions if you will, are easy to explain and what they do is simple to convey. NAMB mainly plants churches. IMB reaches the nations. Could you explain in a sentence where your state spends their majority share of the CP? NAMB is receiving record Annie Armstrong offerings. Lottie Moon is at levels unsurpassed except for the one year following the personnel drawdown. I see nothing on the horizon that will change this.
- They key to the CP’s future lies with the state conventions. After all, they keep most of the money. They also have the most difficult task of conveying the value and propriety of keeping most CP dollars in the sixteen state conventions of the South. If new leadership in these states which account for around 90% of all SBC revenues can reinvigorate CP support, then the future for the CP will look a bit brighter. If these keep on the same general track, then flat CP revenues will be the most optimistic outcome. Will a new generation of state convention leaders be able to convince churches to give more?
What might cause the CP to increase in appeal to local churches? More promotion? More education? Adjustment to the SBC CP allocation formula? Changes in the state conventions that keep most of the CP revenues? Rebranding? Fresh, innovative leadership? I don’t have an answer to the question.
So, what’s your church doing with the CP these days? Have you increased, decreased or what? Did you make cuts after or during the recession? Have you recovered in either dollars or percentages since?