By David E. Hankins, Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention
As Cooperative Program Day (April 11) approaches, the CP has been receiving high profile attention by Southern Baptists. We have been asking about the future of this 85 year-old missions funding network.
The good news is that the SBC in adopting the Great Commission Resurgence Report last June once again affirmed the CP as the primary means for supporting our common missions work as Louisiana Baptists and as Southern Baptists. The bad news is that we have not yet managed to reverse the rapid 25-year decline in the average percentage of church receipts forwarded to missions through the Cooperative Program (from 10.5 percent in 1984 to under 6 percent in 2009).
This decline represents the strategic Cooperative Program Challenge. The churches that make up our state and national conventions are the only ones who can successfully meet the challenge.
[img_assist|nid=7177|title=The CP Squeeze|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=464]What steps must be taken by the churches?
1. Southern Baptist churches must re-value our common ministries. Southern Baptist churches, by definition, are those that place a premium on joining with like-minded churches to accomplish joint missions and ministry. We are independent in our congregational governance but cooperative in our mission strategy.
Through the decades, Southern Baptist enterprises (schools, mission boards, children’s homes, publications, training ministries, benevolence ministries, etc.) thrived because the churches believed these jointly managed endeavors made the most impact on the Kingdom. They were an important arm of the local churches’ outreach. Some ministries outlived their usefulness and were discontinued. New ones have been added. But, by and large, Southern Baptists have a deep appreciation for and loyalty to these common ministries. Local churches were thankful for the influence “Baptists” were having for Christ.
That appreciation and loyalty has begun to wane. Some have said that decline in appreciation is because the CP seems impersonal. Some of us have been working for years to tell the CP story in attractive and compelling terms. We have also worked to get these messages heard at the local church level.
Southern Baptists, by God’s grace, are doing some amazing things! I hope you will listen as information about our common work is sent to your mailbox, your inbox, and your Facebook. Let us come to your church and tell the mission story live. I think your folks will be encouraged by all that is being accomplished.
We welcome ideas about how to improve our impact or how to start new endeavors. Let us hear them. I appeal to Southern Baptist leaders (denominational and pastoral) to carefully re-value the usefulness of our common ministries, communicate that value effectively to our churches, and, thus, cause these ministries to flourish.
2. Southern Baptist churches must re-value our common methodology. The success of the CP has not only come because of the great ministries being performed, but also because of the common funding methodology employed. The change from the endless independent appeals to the churches by multiple agencies (before 1925) to one common appeal through the CP was dramatic.
It was so successful that it became axiomatic for most Southern Baptist churches to have as a core value regular increases in the percentage they contributed through the Cooperative Program. Even if they had one ministry they preferred, everyone saw the value in giving to the whole enterprise. No wonder Southern Baptists were able to sustain better than a 10 percent average CP contribution for fifty years.
Today, the trajectory is toward decreasing the percentage of CP giving. Churches seem to be lessening their enthusiasm for common ministries and increasing their enthusiasm for local church directed enterprises. The question in many places has changed from “What can our churches do?” to “What can my church do?”
I am not against local church directed missions. Advances in technology, information, and travel have opened all sorts of possibilities. But Southern Baptists must be careful, in their enthusiasm for independent ventures, not to lose the great contribution made by their commonly funded ministries. Additionally, the overall expenditure for all kinds of missions by the churches is in serious decline.
I am grateful for our congregations who are re-emphasizing CP. They are providing the leadership we need to re-invigorate our missions support.
3. Southern Baptist churches must re-value biblical stewardship. We must rise from the abysmal average church member gift of 2.5 percent. This is robbing resources from the local church and missions. Thank the Lord for you who tithe. May your tribe increase.
There was a recent announcement that state executive directors affirmed the move toward a 50/50 allocation of CP with the SBC. I support this and have for years. There is no reason for the SBC and the LBC to haggle over the sharing of resources (see Joe McKeever’s cartoon above).
There can be enough for all to share equally.
Here is how that will happen. If Louisiana Baptists will commit to tithe, and the churches will increase their percentage given through the CP toward 10 percent, we will be able to see our Louisiana missions thrive while sending even larger percentages of the CP to the ends of the earth. The speed with which the 50/50 is accomplished is in the hands of the churches. With God’s help – and yours – I believe we are up to the “CP Challenge.”