NASHVILLE (BP) — A committee established in February to study “the current reality in Southern Baptist life of churches either escrowing or discontinuing Cooperative Program funds” concluded that fewer than two of every 1,000 Southern Baptist churches diverted CP funds during the past year.
“This percentage was lower than anticipated,” and reasons for diverting CP funds “varied as much as the number of churches identified,” according to the final report of the CP Study Committee, an ad hoc group created by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s CP Committee.
The study committee’s written report, which included 10 suggestions and encouragements for addressing future challenges to CP, was released Sept. 19 at an EC meeting in Nashville.
During the month preceding the study committee’s formation, Baptist Press reported on two specific churches that said they would escrow CP funds based on actions taken by specific SBC entities. Other churches had taken or were considering similar actions, according to reports received by the EC. The CP Committee cited such reports when it voted, in response to a member’s motion, to establish the study committee.
The study committee’s objective, CP Committee chairman Rolland Slade told BP, “was to find out why churches were either escrowing, withholding or designating CP funds. That was the first part. The second part was to come up with redemptive solutions for whatever those reasons were.”
The 13-member ad hoc committee received reports from executive directors of state Baptist conventions that 75 churches across the SBC “were withholding, designating or escrowing CP funds.” That total represented .0016 percent of Southern Baptist churches, the study committee stated.
“It was difficult to quantify the total of CP dollars being withheld or escrowed” by those 75 churches, according to the report.
Only 14 churches were “identified and confirmed” by the committee as “escrowing, designating or withholding funds.” Based on information from the SBC’s 2015 Annual Church Profile, those 14 churches were estimated to have diverted a total of about $1.5 million away from CP.
Total gifts through CP in 2015-16 eclipsed $475 million, according to the 2017 SBC Annual.
Twenty-two of the 42 state convention executive directors surveyed “stated they were uncertain or did not know of any churches withholding or escrowing CP funds,” according to the report.
Though reasons for diverting CP funds varied, the committee stated, “one of the more frequent responses was varying opinions of political candidates, followed by the amicus brief supported by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the International Mission Board” backing a New Jersey Islamic society’s religious liberty lawsuit.
Some churches said they decreased CP giving because of “congregational financial indebtedness” or because they believed cooperating with the SBC did not benefit the congregation, the report stated.
“Some reduction in CP” appeared to be “offset by a corresponding increase” in designated giving, according to the report.
Slade, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, Calif., said “communication is the key” to resolving conflicts among the Southern Baptist family that affect CP. The study committee’s 10 suggestions and encouragements, he noted, call for ongoing communication among EC members, EC staff and state convention executive directors.
Among the suggestions and encouragements:
— “We encourage first and foremost that the Southern Baptist Convention keep its focus on the overall goal of winning the world for Christ.”
— “We suggest that in the event of a conflict or issues that are deemed threatening to the Cooperative Program, a process fashioned after the restoration model outlined in Matthew 18 be entered to bring about a resolution.”
— “We suggest that a summary report be made to the Executive Committee officers” during their “regularly scheduled meetings in February, June and September” of communications to the EC that may impact CP.
— “We suggest [that] the Cooperative Program Committee … bring a report to the SBC Executive Committee” of significant findings related to CP “annually at the [EC’s] September meeting.”
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ unified channel for supporting missions and ministries in North America and across the world.