Southern Baptists face “challenging days” with Cooperative Program giving, Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, told committee members in Nashville, voicing hope for an upswing in giving.
While sharing his passion for CP and its role in supporting missions and ministry around the globe, Page said the momentum for the “1% CP Challenge” continues to grow for churches to increase CP giving by 1 percentage point of their budgets.
“I have written personal letters to almost 3,000 pastors thanking them for their involvement” in the 1% CP Challenge, Page said Feb. 17. “Our state executives are saying, ‘Frank, please don’t stop. Our people are just starting to get it.…’ We won’t stop.
“It is my passion that fuels my heart belief in this,” Page said. “I supported this before I was paid to support this. As a pastor I strongly supported over 10 percent of our church’s undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program.”
Giving through CP is the best way to “concurrently, consistently and, yes, completely fulfill Acts 1:8 as a church body,” he added. “Through that, you’re involved in missions and ministries all over the world, all the time.”
Philanthropic giving has increased in recent years, and 53 percent of churches say giving is up, Page reported. Despite increased giving in other areas, CP giving has continued to decrease through the years. In the last five years, CP gifts forwarded by churches have dropped 11 percent.
“In 1982, the average Southern Baptist church forwarded on 10.7 percent of its undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program,” Page said. “But in 2012 it was down to 5.41 percent. It’s pretty much declined two-tenths of a percent every year.”
One potential bright spot, Page said, is that the current 5.41 percent has held since 2012, a possible indicator the CP Challenge is beginning to resonate with more churches.
“We pray ceased and will now tick back up,” Page said. “That’s our hope and prayer. We’ve been putting a lot of energy and effort, particularly trying to engage young ministers and unengaged ministers, to say, ‘We challenge you to study it, look at it.… Can you find a better way to be involved in Acts 1:8?'”
Biblical stewardship is the key to reversing the downward trend of giving, Page said. To help, the Executive Committee is renewing efforts with state Baptist conventions to implement comprehensive plans for biblical stewardship.
“I’m going to push churches to do more, to give more,” Page said. “When I ask you to give more, it doesn’t come to the Executive Committee. We’re lowering our Cooperative Program allocation so when you hear me beating the drum and asking for more, it’s to go to these other entities and agencies to do that which God has called them to do.”
While CP giving numbers among churches have decreased, Page said state giving percentages have risen.
The average percentage of CP gifts forwarded to SBC causes from 33 state conventions has gone from 34.7 percent in 2001 to 38.2 percent, according to the latest figures. But because CP giving from churches has decreased, the dollar amount from states has only increased from $182 million in 2004 to $183 million in 2013.
State conventions also are streamlining staff. From 2000 to 2013, the number of state convention staff has dropped from 1,750 to 1,350, Page reported. Some conventions are becoming “extremely focused” to better meet the needs of churches, he added.
“Now some of them say we didn’t have a choice; we had to — the money quit coming in,” Page said. “But some have done this purposefully…. State conventions are trying to do that which they believe their churches are calling for and that’s to send more to the national level so that we might touch this lost world for Christ.”
While giving patterns and trends continue to fluctuate, Page said he will remain firm on his commitment to promoting the Cooperative Program.
“I know that church giving is different these days but I will not back away from what I believe is the best Acts 1:8 strategy that ever had,” he said. “… I will tell you I’m excited about the unity that we’ve had in this body by the Spirit, a passion for reaching this world for Christ and I’m excited about it.”
In related news, Page announced that Ashley Clayton has been promoted from special assistant to the president with Cooperative Program and Stewardship to vice president for Cooperative Program and Stewardship Development. Look for a related BP story to be posted this week.
— Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press.