Is the Cooperative Program important today? With Great Commission Giving and Cooperative Giving as alternatives to CP giving, the question begs some type of answer — and the answer can be convoluted and complicated.
Before and during the initial years of the Conservative Resurgence, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting could not help but notice more moderate messengers wearing badges that stated they supported the Cooperative Program with 10 or more percent. Today, the average SBC church gives just over 5 percent to CP, and that figure is expected to slip under 5 percent soon. Most moderates officially or unofficially left the convention. Conservatives seized control of the SBC from their more liberal members, but a critical issue lingered: “Will they increase their CP support?” While some did, many others did not. The increase in CP giving from conservative churches was not enough to offset the loss of revenue from churches who left the convention outright or began to support more moderate and rival groups like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship instead of CP.
The Conservative Resurgence is history, and the ill-fated Great Commission Resurgence did not succeed in reversing declining baptisms and attendance. In the information age, everyone has an opinion and publishes it in one form or another. A common theme is that the SBC has already seen its best days. In our current climate, more and more churches are opting to do their own ministry and missions without a strong commitment to CP-funded ministries. The often-used slogan, “We are better together,” seems to have been replaced with a “build your own network” mentality. Our churches are autonomous. No church is required or forced to support the collective work of the convention. However, it is expected, if we believe “we are better together.”
On the Executive Board and Trustee Recommendation Form of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, two questions, in particular, are insightful: 1) Has this person (the nominee) shown evidence of support for the Cooperative Program, and 2) Does this person affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000? The national convention and state conventions are in precarious positions when they have leaders who do not show a healthy support for CP, yet this happens regularly. We do not receive a large percentage of church budget funds from them, but at the same time, we apparently need to show better numbers, so we add their church growth numbers to the total denominational statistics. Yet, members from these churches have not typically been allowed to serve on boards and committees.
In the last 10 years, only three pastors who were elected president of the SCBC led a church that gave in double digits to CP: Tommy Kelly of Varnville First, Keith Shorter of Mount Airy Baptist, and Fred Stone of Pickens First. Currently, Varnville First and Mount Airy are giving more than they did then, and Pickens First continues to give in double figures. On the other hand, most of the churches in the last 10 years whose pastors served as president are giving less to the Cooperative Program. Many churches are faithfully serving God, reaching people, and supporting missions — they are simply not doing it primarily or decisively through CP support. The question is, “Why?” The answer is more perplexing.
Since 2011, the SCBC has met its budget only once (in 2012). The Southern Baptist Convention has exceeded its budget the past five years, although the amount given toward the 2018-2019 budget of $194 million was just over $313,000 less than last year. The 2019-2020 budget, which began Oct. 1, is $196.5 million. The SCBC had a budget of $32 million in 2011, when about $28.4 million was given. If giving does not increase in the next couple of months, the SCBC (with a budget of $28 million) will experience its seventh consecutive year of deficit budgets.
Some suggest that our convention of churches, in large part, has begun to give in a way that resembles the old societal method. One church leader shared that her church chose to give directly to the Executive Committee of the SBC because their focus was missions. Other churches have reduced CP giving and increased church ministries, church missions, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings. So the question, “Is the Cooperative Program important?” becomes a valid query.
Is there a better way for churches of all sizes to work together in spreading the gospel, discipling people, reaching the unreached, informing Baptists and making a lasting impact in a dark world than the Cooperative Program? It is certainly not the only way, but is it the best way to accomplish the most good for as many people as possible? It is a way of stewardship that was born in the SBC and has been a force for global ministry.
The SCBC provides some funding for the three universities, Connie Maxwell, Baptist Ministries of Aging, The Baptist Courier and, of course, the various services and ministries of the Baptist Building. Some believe the SCBC should not support any of the institutions. If that line of reasoning is carried to its conclusion, the need for a state convention would fade slowly away as more and more focus is directed to the national convention. It should never become an either/or choice, but rather a commitment to both state and national conventions and their respective ministries.
Our styles, methods, appearance and secondary beliefs may differ, but can our diversity find a common bond for state, national and international service to Christ our Lord through the Cooperative Program? I think it can, and I believe we should find the devotion to make it happen.