Fears that the SBC may be returning to a societal method of mission support are unfounded if one looks at dollars given by the churches. While it is impossible to compile and categorize all mission giving by the 47,232 SBC churches, the data that is available seems sufficient to conclude that in spite of all the handwringing over the demise of the Cooperative Program, most church support for SBC causes is still through our venerable and wonderful Cooperative Program.
Here are a few factoids:
- The total CP for 2015-2016 was $475.2 million.
- The total for the designated major offerings (Lottie, Annie, etc.) and direct giving to entities is in the neighborhood of $250 million. These direct gifts are, ahem, societal gifts.
- Associations: maybe $60 million, that’s probably way over but I’m guessing (0.6% of total church undesignated receipts), another societal avenue.
- Gifts sent directly to the EC for CP allocation, $5m
So to reach a sum equal to the $475.2 million CP total, another roughly $160 million in SBC designated gifts is needed from all the smaller SBC mission organizations such as children’s homes, various state college, state or associational sponsored ministries and programs, etc., that receive direct funding from churches. I’m not seeing anything that would generate another $150+ million in societal giving.
The complaint is that the Cooperative Program as a percentage of church budgets and giving has declined by half and, thus, the SBC is moving back towards the pre-1925 societal system. No question about the decline of the CP. The Executive Committee receives more designated dollars for distribution to our SBC entities than it receives from the state conventions in CP money for distribution according to the CP allocation formula. Almost all of those designated dollars are Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong mission offering dollars. This has been the case for several years now.
The explanation and narrative is that churches are leaving cooperative giving in favor of societal giving. Generally, yes, seeing that churches have about 95% of their budgets available for non-CP causes and there are many more non-SBC causes that compete for church mission dollars. But churches are still making their choices and giving heavily to SBC missions of all kinds, to a sum approaching one billion dollars. If that is bad, then the churches may be blamed for it. After all, they make their autonomous choices. Rather than lay blame on the churches for which all denominational entities exist to serve, it’s much easier to blame high profile pastors and others for not being sufficiently cooperative which is what we see from some SBC segments.
The Cooperative Program is still our main channel for mission support. It is a huge funding engine and it is stable. Total CP giving is, well, almost as flat as a pancake having declined 0.26% annually over the five most recent years for which data are available. I expect that the figures for 2016-2017 will show an increase such that the five year trend may be totally flat. No one holds a party for a CP report that shows no growth but let’s at least say that the offering is flat, not declining.
If we are in for a series of highly contentious, high profile elections where there are winners and losers in elections and hiring decisions, then we may as well brace ourselves for a continuation of a declining Cooperative Program.
As an additional consideration here, even if we have a dual system which has one large common pool of revenue from the churches (Cooperative Program) and several streams of direct or societal giving that range from very large to very small (Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, state mission offerings, direct gifts to the seminaries and other SBC causes) the whole dual system is “cooperative” in the sense that we all agree on it and desire all segments of it to be successful. If churches or pastors are singled out because they use the giving channels but do so in what some view to be unacceptable proportions, e.g. the church that gives 2% to the CP but several times that directly to SBC causes, then that disapproval might itself be seen as an attack on our cooperative system.