COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — Underfoot throughout the exhibit hall at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting were 12-inch directional decals affixed to the carpeting that proclaimed, “Fueled by the Cooperative Program.”
Those decals — signaling ministries funded by CP gifts at the state or national level — were in front of at least three-quarters of the exhibits, including the North American Mission Board exhibit, which offered coffee cups emblazoned with the names of Send Cities, and the International Mission Board exhibit, which distributed Kingdom Growers coffee beans. Between the two was the CP Stage, where several recipients of that Cooperative Program fueling explained over three days how CP fuel is expended.
“The CP Panel is really to spotlight the impact that Cooperative Program dollars have throughout North America and the world,” Mike Ebert, NAMB executive director of public relations, said. “It’s the missionaries who benefit, [as well as] the lives that are changed and the churches whose impact is multiplied through their giving.”
CP ‘to a new level’
Cooperative Program giving is up, said Executive Committee President Frank S. Page in the first of 10 20-minute interviews videoed for online viewing and watched by annual meeting participants walking through the exhibit hall.
“There is a new level of trust,” Page said. Churches that stopped giving have restarted their giving, and churches that were giving are giving more, he added.
The decline in the number of Southern Baptists can be stopped just as the decline in CP giving was stopped, Page told Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research, noting that the Cooperative Program is experiencing a resurgence. Churches are engaging with CP for the first time, and younger leaders are looking seriously at Southern Baptists’ unified method for funding missions and ministries, he said.
“We’re seeing some reengagement from guys my age,” Page said, noting that CP began a decline decades ago but in the past six months has shown a strong up-turn.
The Great Commission Resurgence in 2010 helped spark the CP surge, Page said. It led pastors such as Ronnie Floyd of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas and Johnny Hunt of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., to recommit to funding the Great Commission through CP, he said.
Now Cross Church leads Arkansas and First Baptist Woodstock leads Georgia in CP giving, Page said.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Cooperative Program’s birth, and Page is leading a 10-year, multifaceted Great Commission Advance toward the 100th anniversary in 2025. He has plans to engage churches that have never participated in CP.
“We’re also looking at a strategy to reach those who have been engaged at one level” and move them “to a new level,” Page said, adding that he sees his role as bringing in the funds to support the IMB and NAMB in their Great Commission work.
Stetzer referenced Annual Church Profile data which could be interpreted to predict a long-term, accelerating decline in membership at Southern Baptist churches. Though the trend line suggests a continuing decline, Page said a Holy Spirit revival could reverse that trend.
If churches “become true soul-winning, evangelistic places of ministry and mission, we’ll turn this … around,” Page said. “Together we can do more, better.”
‘Check on’ CP investment
Stetzer also interviewed SBC President Ronnie Floyd about Great Commission Advance.
“I saw Ronnie Floyd, so I thought I’d stop and listen,” said Micah Rogers, of International Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. He was among the crowd that stopped to hear what was being said on the CP stage.
“Prayer is our greatest action,” Floyd told Stetzer. “We need our churches to rally to the primacy of prayer, to live on mission with God. We’ve got to have leaders in clear agreement that the highest need is spiritual, is a great awakening.”
Floyd spoke of the need for visible unity throughout the SBC, for a reemergence of Christians joining together for the propagation of the Gospel.
“If we talk to each other, we don’t need to talk about each other,” Floyd said. “God called me to love people. That’s what we need to get back to. I need you and you need me.”
He encouraged people watching the interview online to come to next year’s SBC annual meeting in St. Louis.
“If you give to [missions through] the Cooperative Program, you ought to come check on your investment,” Floyd said. “We’ve made significant changes. We need our convention to see what we’re doing in the world. … I’m more encouraged now than in years about the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Lostness around the world
Reaching the lost — at home and abroad — requires a first-century approach to a problem as old as mankind, three SBC entity leaders agreed in a June 15 discussion led by Micah Fries, a vice president at LifeWay Christian Resources.
In addressing “lostness around the world and the Great Commission,” IMB president David Platt, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore and Page agreed that the “illusion of American Christianity” is rapidly fading to reveal the extent of human sinfulness.
“In terms of falleness, we have the exact same situation that we have always had since Eden,” Moore said.
The three leaders fielded questions from Fries, who said Christians in America have “lost the home field advantage” and now must speak the Gospel into a culture that has no frame of reference for it.
Flagging evangelism by Christians — and not an antipathy to the message — explains the decline in conversions, Page said.
“So I’m calling people to a first-century kind of lifestyle where it was a natural way [of life] to share the good news Jesus Christ with neighbors and friends,” Page said.
Many American Christians are convinced no one wants to listen and are panicked by escalating cultural battles, Platt said. The first-century church, facing similar cultural challenges, prayed for boldness, a practice pastors today should emulate, he said.
Taking a cue from foreign missionaries, “ordinary Christians” can learn to engage their foreign-born neighbors, Platt said. Befriending Hindu neighbors, for example, can help Christians identify potential cultural barriers in their churches that hinder Hindus from attending. Bridging divides at home, in turn, can naturally lead some to take advantage of God-given opportunities abroad — without entering fulltime ministry.
“[Don’t] leave jobs to become a missionary, but leverage jobs to be a missionary,” Platt said.