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Cooperative Program vision, partnership fuel 34 state conventions’ CP leaders

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Strategies of new vision and partnership for helping Southern Baptists understand and support the Cooperative Program as a cornerstone of missions fueled a gathering of CP directors from 34 state conventions Feb. 23-24 in Nashville, Tenn.

The sessions, anticipated to become an annual meeting of CP directors, were sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s Cooperative Program development division.

“Our churches are very mission-minded,” said David Hankins, Executive Committee vice president of Cooperative Program development, “so we must deliver the message that CP is missions. It’s missions in their associations. It’s missions in their cities. It’s missions in their states, our nation and around our world.”

Educating Southern Baptists anew of the Cooperative Program — now celebrating its 75th anniversary — and its centrality to missions is crucial, Hankins said, at a time when “total CP gifts are up” from Southern Baptists across the country “but the percentage given by local churches continues to decline.”

Participants in the Feb. 23-24 CP directors’ meeting voiced enthusiasm about the gathering and, moreover, the current 75th anniversary “Partners in the Harvest” emphasis in Cooperative Program promotion by the SBC and the state conventions.

Every state convention and SBC entity has signed on to participate in “Partners in the Harvest” — with its key goals of 1) recording 1 million baptisms nationally and internationally this year, 2) involving a record number of church members in volunteer missions projects and 3) receiving $750 million in combined CP and other missions gifts.

Among reports from the various state conventions on responsiveness to the Partners in the Harvest theme, Dan Euliss, team leader for stewardship education and offering promotion for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, told of an overwhelming response from North Carolina pastors and churches. More than 1,250 churches committed to participate in the partnership emphasis after a moving appeal during their state convention last November.

“If anything, we need a renewed vision for what the Cooperative Program is all about,” affirmed J. Allen Hill, specialist in Cooperative Program, stewardship and state missions for the Georgia Baptist Convention, “and this theme helps to begin that process.”

“By focusing on the ‘harvest,’ it makes us aware that our primary focus should be on a lost world in need of a Savior,” Hill, a former SBC missionary in the Philippines, said.

“Partners in the Harvest brings alive the concept of shared ministry,” echoed Herb Stoneman, evangelism and stewardship consultant for the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention. “It’s a new day for cooperative giving.”

Several CP directors took note of efforts to produce CP resources for use in churches with a younger look and feel.

“It was exciting to realize that the Cooperative Program staff of the Executive Committee is serious about reaching younger generations with the Cooperative Program story,” said Bob Ethridge, director of information resources for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. “To do that successfully can truly mean a new day for this God-given channel of missions support.”

Norm Miller, Cooperative Program promotions coordinator for the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia convention, noted, “Contemporary demographers say that while some people today are not interested in ‘institutionalized religion,’ they also say that the same people want to ‘be a part of the larger whole.’ Whereas the CP’s traditional supporters have given from a sense of ought, the next generation of givers will need to be shown what the CP does before the same sense of ought compels them to give to God.”

Hankins, of the SBC Executive Committee, reported that the CP state directors gave input for developing a “best practice” consensus of Cooperative Program promotion in the state conventions and in local churches.

“Our goal is to develop a strategy that will effectively promote the CP in every Southern Baptist church,” Hankins said, with resources to “intertwine CP promotion in all of their publications and communication.”

“A ‘best practice’ strategy should include the church providing contemporary, age-sensitive materials and using various forms of media, printed and electronic, to continually keep CP missions and ministries before their people,” Hankins reflected. “Special emphases like Partners in the Harvest, along with the spring and fall missions offerings for national and international missions, should also be a regular part of a church’s calendar.”

A number of resources already are available from the state conventions’ Cooperative Program offices and from the SBC Executive Committee’s Cooperative Program development division.

At the SBC’s Internet site, www.sbc.net, for example, various resources are available, including artwork for church bulletins and newsletters, sermon outlines with a CP emphasis and, soon, a music video and video clips focusing on the “pray, give and go” emphases of Partners in the Harvest.

Currently under development are Power Point presentations to be available via the sbc.net website, links to state Baptist conventions’ CP initiatives and various resources focusing on younger church members.

Churches may still sign up to participate in Partners in the Harvest by calling their state Cooperative Program offices or the SBC Executive Committee Cooperative Program development division at 1-800-722-9407 or writing to its staff at 901 Commerce St., Nashville, TN 37203.

During their Nashville meeting, CP directors agreed to continue using the Partners in the Harvest theme to promote cooperative missions and ministries. Voicing gratitude that local pastors have been very receptive to this renewed emphasis on partnership, Hankins noted, “If we are going to fulfill Jesus’ command to go into all the world, we must take our partnership to a new level.”

The Cooperative Program, begun in 1925, begins with local churches’ offerings each week, a portion of which are designated for the missions and ministry efforts of state and regional conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. State and regional conventions next retain a percentage of Cooperative Program contributions they receive from the churches to support work in their areas and send the remaining funds to SBC national and international missions and ministries. The percentage of distribution is at the discretion of each state or regional convention.

The CP is a key source of support for more than 5,000 missionaries of the SBC International Mission Board and more than 5,000 missionaries of the North American Mission Board.

John Kyle, director of Cooperative Program development for the SBC Executive Committee, contributed to this article.