|April 10 is Cooperative Program Sunday. Birthed 80 years ago by Southern Baptists, the giving plan replaced an inefficient and ineffective funding method known as “societal giving.” The Cooperative Program has produced the greatest missionary and educational system in the history of evangelical Christianity. State conventions were invited to partner with the Southern Baptist Convention in this awesome enterprise. State conventions were to be collection agents and promoters of the Cooperative Program. The states were to retain a portion and send a portion on to SBC causes. Although there is some disagreement about the original intent of the balance, generally it is understood that the partitioning of funds was to be 50-50. While state conventions have rarely lived up to this ideal, until the 1990s churches gave incredibly through the CP. The last decade has seen a precipitous drop in church contributions as a percentage of receipts. At this rate of decline the SBC giving channel will become inadequate to fund current ministries.
I believe there are two strategies that may bring a reversal. One is to launch a massive educational campaign on tithing. Whether this is called a “Stewardship Emphasis” or clothed in more contemporary nomenclature such as “God’s Financial Plan,” the effort must produce more tithers and givers. If worthy ministries need more money, they will have to create more givers.
Secondly, state conventions must adopt a new paradigm for ministry. Pastors and churches will have more confidence that the money is going where they want it to go if the bureaucracy is trimmed. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has the lowest church-to-staff ratio in the SBC. We give Mom and Pop Baptist a reason to have confidence in the SBTC mission and ministry delivery system.
Reaching North America and touching the world will only be accomplished as we allocate more resources for that purpose. The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and the six seminaries recently started an effort to more intentionally teach the emerging generation of leaders Baptist polity and the Cooperative Program. Pastor advocates and elected leaders who model Cooperative Program giving are essential for continued success. With all of the above, I am optimistic that the CP will continue as a viable tool to Reach Texas and Touch the World.