The most bewailed SBC statistic is the average percentage of undesignated receipts given by churches to the Cooperative Program. The figure stands at 5.16% having declined from over 10% back in the days prior to the Conservative Resurgence. The decline has been incremental, steady, and relentless although during Frank Page’s tenure as SBC Executive Committee CEO the percentage has stopped declining and is more or less flat.
SBC leaders and others regularly speak of raising the percentage and returning to the earlier times when churches were happy to devote a tenth of their budgets to the CP. Sometimes this comes in the form of nostalgia and occasionally plans are offered.
- Churches should “tithe” to the CP just like they expect members to tithe to the church.
- Churches used to give 10% or more. They should just do it again.
- A church that gives less than 10% (or more recently from a state convention leader, less than the average) is not genuinely cooperative, or fully cooperative.
- If leaders, trustees, prominent pastors would just give greater percentages then the rest of the denomination would follow.
- Churches that give more in direct gifts to NAMB, IMB, and other Southern Baptist causes than they give to the CP are not cooperative.
- Great Commission Giving is a disaster for CP giving. If we just got rid of it churches would give more.
- Churches should be judged as to their cooperativeness on the basis of their percentage rather than on the dollar amount they give to the CP.
After following the matter for so many years, I’ve concluded that a lot of Cooperative Program increase talk is based more on magical thinking than reality. Some Southern Baptists have successfully divorced their thinking from reality on the CP believing that there’s a magic pill, an incantation, another grand program that will cause the CP will take off like a rocket…
…if we only taught our people that a church CP “tithe” is as biblical as a personal tithe, no matter that the Bible doesn’t teach this.
…if we had leaders who called out all those churches whose percentages are less than average as not being fully cooperative, no matter than CP bullying and shaming has never worked.
…if all of our elected leaders, trustees, employees were required to be in churches that gave 10% or more, and thereby disparage a considerable portion of all churches some of which give large sums.
…if we only stopped letting churches share their total giving to Southern Baptist causes, as if that is something to be ashamed of and as if ignorance is preferable to facts.
…if we only pushed percentages and ignored dollars, and ignore the unassailable fact that only dollars pay the bills, not percentages.
This discussion absolutely needs some new ideas. Do either Ken Hemphill or J. D. Greear have any new ideas?
Baptist Press asked both Hemphill and Greear about the CP. The question to both was: Please describe why you believe support for the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is vital to Southern Baptists’ mission and vision.
Hemphill: This is a key issue that motivated me to become a candidate.
First, establishing the budget requires cooperation at every level of SBC life. It is fine-tuned by the Executive Committee and approved by messengers at the annual convention. A church’s non-restricted gift through CP should be the norm for the sake of budgeting and planning.
Second, cooperative giving is a biblical approach to funding missions by churches who work together for kingdom-sized goals. As a funding mechanism for supporting missions, it has absolutely no peer in Christian history.
Third, CP giving and our mission offerings allow every church of every size to be an equal partner in the ministries of the state and national convention. Percentage giving is not measured by the size of the gift but the size of the sacrifice. We must celebrate percentage giving rather than actual dollars given by a particular church.
Greear: Cooperation between churches for the sake of mission is why the convention exists, and that cooperation has enabled Southern Baptists to produce more church planters, more missionaries, and more seminary graduates than any other group in America. Cooperative giving through the CP, Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon Offerings is a powerful and proven method for supporting Great Commission work.
As a former IMB missionary and a two-time seminary graduate, I have been the beneficiary of the CP in multiple ways. In recent years our church has increasingly gotten involved in giving, and we only plan for that to continue. We want to call a new generation of Southern Baptist churches, similarly, to rise up and engage in cooperative mission and giving.
Institutions like the CP and the entities they support enable our mission efforts to have staying power, and they should be important to all Southern Baptists.
There’s not a new idea from either.
Hemphill wants to emphasize percentages. In earlier comments he disparaged the idea of “neo-societal” giving, perhaps targeting solidly SBC churches that feel led to give large direct gifts to Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, or to partner directly with either of the mission boards to plant churches and reach the nations. It eludes me why any denominational leader would not celebrate dollar gifts, direct gifts, along with CP percentages.
Greear notes the usual items for promoting SBC giving in that the CP helps seminary students, missionaries. Elsewhere he calls “for churches to give more to the CP” and for state conventions to be “celebrate[d]” for “getting money to the field.” I believe he means by this that the state conventions that are reducing their portion of CP giving so that more money can get to the home and foreign fields are to be commended and celebrated. He also “encourage[s] all forms of Great Commission giving. We do not, of course, want to foster a societal approach, but we need to allow churches freedom in engaging.”
If there is anything new in all this it might be that non-traditional churches like Greear’s are giving heavily to all things SBC, including the CP. The past few years have seen more traditional megachurches like Ronnie Floyd’s and Steve Gaines’ greatly increase their CP giving.
My hacker and plodder SBC pastor opinion is that neither candidate will move the CP needle although Greear as a post-boomer has a better chance of influencing others to increase CP giving.
Frank Page’s successor, if he is wise and positive like Page, can help the CP. A new generation of state convention leaders, and this is where most of the CP money is spent, probably have the best chance of positively influencing churches on their CP giving. If these leaders instead declare war on a segment of Southern Baptists over theology or over percentages then the CP is guaranteed to decline.