Yell leader for the CP?

April 14 is Cooperative Program Day in the churches.

April 14 is Cooperative Program Day. The CP has been one of the cohesive elements holding churches together as the Southern Baptist Convention. Over the last 20 years there has been a continual decline in real dollars. Churches averaged 10 percent of undesignated receipts going to CP in 1980 but the average dropped below 5 percent last year. Unless there is a reversal in the trend the Cooperative Program will cease to be a factor in doing ministry as Southern Baptists.

It is easy to point out the obvious reasons for the loss of participation through the CP involvement in missions and ministry. People want to touch, feel and know personally where their money is going. There is nothing wrong with this change. Erroneously, some see the CP as impersonal, bureaucratic or inappropriately allocated.

The concerns about CP being impersonal or allocated incorrectly can be answered easily. International and North American missionaries are available and desirous to tell the story in your local church. You can have college student groups, seminarians and convention staff members share in your worship services. You can go on mission to an international field with SBC and SBTC personnel—real people doing real ministry!

As far as allocations, the SBTC sends 55 percent of all CP dollars to the SBC. No other state convention gives away more undesignated money than it retains. SBC mission agencies receive about 73 percent of money forwarded through the SBTC. Seminaries get around 22 percent. Messengers from the churches approve the budget. The funds go where the giver wants them to go. Regarding bureaucracy, the SBTC spends less than 15 percent of its total budget for salary and housing. Your CP investment is your best bang for the buck in Great Commission giving.

The SBTC coordinates the combined efforts of 2,400 churches. By working together the churches address several problems of direct funding. One is accountability. The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) provides confessional parameters for investing in personnel. Churches’ convictions are reflected in funded church planters, presenters at events and the overall conduct of the convention. You can have confidence in those you support. SBC mission field personnel have a safety net that independent missionaries do not. While church or individual mission trips have their place they are no substitute for having people residing on the field. If a missionary is supported by one church or through an independent deputation process, the missionary is susceptible to immediate crisis should a major funding source dry up. Because of the combined strength of the CP this does not happen.

A second challenge for the Cooperative Program is exposure and promotion to the laypersons in the churches. Many church members are uninformed about how the CP works. There are over 2,000 pastors in the SBTC. There are over 1 million members in affiliated SBTC churches. The greatest force yet to be mobilized is the laity of the church. I encourage you to use bulletin inserts, videos and/or a brief personal explanation about the Cooperative Program in a Sunday morning worship service. SBTC makes available all of the above plus a new web-based missions education tool. Please tell the story about CP missions.

During uncertain financial times people are holding close what little they have. With a government that knows no fiscal restraints, some people have developed an entitlement mindset. Others reflect “the spend and worry about it later” attitude. A website, nerdwallet.com, says the average household owes over $7,000 in credit card debt. Financially underwater church members often fail to see how they can tithe or give. Most churches are trying simply to find a way to pay for the ministry of their local church. Missions in general and the CP in particular may be the first items reduced or eliminated in order to pay the light bill and the pastor. Yet the Cooperative Program is a faith ministry too. Second Corinthians tells of the incredible faith of the poor churches of Macedonia that gave out of their deep poverty. Get a plan to give and see God provide.

Perception is the cruelest form of reality. Within a few years a new generation of Southern Baptists will determine whether our “financial networking ministry” is worth preserving. Methods change but some methods still work. CP may need a public relations overhaul but our unified budget plan is an envy of all other Christian groups. Change the name. Change the image. Don’t change the method. We have missionaries who can’t go to the field because there is not enough CP. Seminaries are forced to make more direct appeals to donors because of CP shortfall. The Southern Baptist Convention launched the 1% Challenge last year. If the churches would take this challenge we could remedy the situation. The unengaged peoples of the world could more readily hear the gospel. Giving through the CP can make it happen.

I am sorry to report to you that there were several hundred SBTC churches in 2012 that gave zero through the Cooperative Program. Some of the issues I mentioned in this article are partially responsible for their non-participation. Appeals to loyalty or showing the effectiveness of the system may not suffice. Every church must be convinced this is best way with doctrinal integrity to be a part of Reaching Texas and Touching the World. If your church is not giving through the Cooperative Program consider placing CP in your budget for 1 percent of all undesignated receipts. I encourage every SBTC church to consider giving 1 percent more of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program in their next budget year. Should we see this happen it would enable us to have an unprecedented mobilization of missions and ministry in Texas and around the world.

I have only touched on some of the distractions people have in moving away from the Cooperative Program. Also, I have given just a few of the positive qualities of CP. My advocacy for CP is expected. Your enthusiastic encouragement of other leaders and church members carries much more weight. Your vocal support is vital. Will you be a cheerleader or if you are an Aggie, a “yell leader,” for the Cooperative Program? Millions of our lost neighbors will be blessed if you will.

I pray we will stay together, give together and go together. Thank you for allowing me to serve you.

Executive Director Emeritus
Jim Richards
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
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