The exalted Rev. William Thornton put up a challenging piece last week on his new blog, “Cooperative Program Observer” and allowed us to repost it here, called “One thing I have never heard concerning the Cooperative Program.” He challenged those who criticize the Cooperative Program to devise a better system. I am a big fan of the CP and cannot think of a system that is any better.
But in the discussion, questions came up about the requirements for participation in the SBC. A church gets a messenger for every $250 it gives to convention causes through the CP. That formula has been in place for decades. It seems pretty low now, doesn’t it? A church gets a vote at the SBC annual meeting for $250?
I’ve not heard any real discussion of this and perhaps it falls into the category of something that ain’t broke and needs no fixing. But as we were discussing this I had an idea. I’m not sure it is either possible or advisable. But I thought it might make an interesting discussion at least.
Exactly how much of a contribution to SBC life should a church make before it gets representation at our annual meeting?
It is clear that over time inflation has lowered the standards for gaining the maximum 10 messengers at the annual meeting. When the $250 standard was put in, that was a much larger commitment than it is today. I don’t really know when the standard was set, but from my recollection it has been the same during my 3 decades of ministry. Maybe someone else knows when the $250 standard was put in place.
One option, of course, is to raise the standard. Make it $1000. Or $2000. I’m not sure what the modern equivalent of the $250 standard would be. The problem with this is that it would eliminate messengers from smaller churches.
I have another suggestion, one in the spirit of the widow’s mite. What if we made convention representation based not on amount of offering, but percentage of undesignated gifts given to missions through the CP?
Here’s how it would work. If a church sent any money at all to the SBC, it would get a messenger. One. It would then get another messenger, up to the maximum of 10, for each percent or portion of a percent it gives to CP missions. A church that gave between 1 and 2% would be entitled to 2 messengers, between 2 and 3 percent would give 3 messengers, and so forth.
This would place representation on the basis of percentage giving, not amount. A church of 75 people that gives 10 percent would get greater representation than a church of 5000 that gives a half-percent and does most of its mission work independently. Representation would be a product of commitment to SBC missions causes, not just the size of the church.
There may be very good reasons why this wouldn’t work. I cannot say I am an expert in the intricacies of SBC polity, so there may be legal or procedural issues that would interfere.
But, it seems fair to me. The right to vote at the SBC annual meeting should be rooted in passion for and commitment to SBC missions demonstrated by the local church. What better measure of that is there than percentage of undesignated offerings given to CP missions?