In an interview with state paper editors our current president was asked about the CP, our flagship giving plan now almost 100 years old.
Concerning the Cooperative Program, Gaines said there is no biblical justification for churches to tithe 10 percent of their receipts to the Cooperative Program, regardless of how good the missions support program is. Churches today have a lot of their own ministries and are doing a wonderful job of reaching their communities for Christ. Those ministries should not be sacrificed for giving to the Cooperative Program through their state conventions.
He admitted that his own church, Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, does not give 10 percent but he and his wife, Donna, are still motivated to give a tithe because of the good work they see going on in their community as well as around the world.
Bellevue was reported to have budgeted $1 million for the CP for 2016-2017, about 4.6% of undesignated receipts. Although that is slightly below the SBC average (around 5.4%) it is a commendable number for a megachurch. I’d doubt that any megachurches give a higher percentages but I’m speculating. It was Gaines’ predecessor, Adrian Rogers, who famously noted that “dollars pay bills, not percentages.” A nice, round figure like one million dollars will pay a lot of bills.
But it’s his redundant reference to “tithe 10 percent” to the CP that is noteworthy. In almost four decades of being semi-literate about SBC denominational matters I’ve heard state and national entity staff tout the CP tithe, promote the 10% of undesignated church offering receipts to be given through our cooperative giving plan. It is often put as a biblical mandate: members should give a tithe to their church and churches should give a tithe to the denomination. By doing so, it is conveyed as a command from God. God has no commands that I find about the Cooperative Program. There is no relationship between a member tithing to his church and a church tithing to the CP. It was this kind of promotion that made many Southern Baptists use the labels, perhaps unfairly, “sacred cow” or “golden calf” for the CP. The program was inappropriately revered rather than the use of the funds.
Gaines is correct in saying that there is no biblical justification for churches to tithe to the CP. It’s hardly worth discussing. He didn’t say it but there’s no valid analogy in deploring a member designating money to his or her church (rather than to the general budget) and a church designating gifts to SBC causes (rather than the CP).
The best course is the one Frank Page has taken (his megachurch gave 12.4% when he was elected SBC president in 2006) as Executive Committee CEO: encourage churches to give a little more because we are doing a lot of great work with the funds. If he has touted the CP tithe I missed it.
It’s tough for the Cooperative Program these days, witness the current squall over an entity that receives less than one percent of CP revenues. We will not be going back to a church average of a tithe or more CP giving for many reasons. The hope is that we can maintain around a five percent average. Success is uncertain.