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FIRST-PERSON: CP (Cooperative Program)

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–CP is a special designation in our Baptist life. It seems as though, in our day and age, we are driven to reduce institutions and organizations to a handful of letters that identify them. For example: countries become USA or UK, and we still refer to the former USSR; colleges become MC, BMC, WCC, USM, MSU or DSU and we usually know what they mean; and then in church life we have FBC, SBC, SS, DT, MBC and CP. Now, if you have been around Baptist life very long, you are able to figure out these designations.

More and more our publications refer to CP and it seems our folks understand it less and less. What is CP all about? Well, for years the work of God had no unified method of funding programs, ministries or institutions, and generally speaking, they struggled under the weight of debt or inability to be funded effectively to accomplish the task.

In 1925 messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention voted into effect the Cooperative Program (CP). It was a plan by which the smallest or largest church could participate in sending funds that would be channeled to every significant endeavor in Kingdom work. A dollar from Mt. Pisgah, or a dollar from First Baptist Church of Big City, would find its way to places that would send missionaries, build churches, take care of needy children or publish materials to be used to help disciples grow. No one was forced to do anything, but thousands of churches began to cooperate in order to accomplish together what none could do separately.

This plan of funding, coupled with our passion to reach people for Christ, enabled the Southern Baptist Convention to become the largest evangelical group in America. Undeniably, God has blessed this program of cooperation. Success cannot and must not be evaluated only by dollars. CP has allowed us to cooperate in building the largest mission force in the history of Christianity and strengthened the efforts to reach a nation for Christ. CP is more than just a means of gathering offerings.

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— CP means “Caring People” — It is a fact that nothing will happen on the mission field or make a difference in our world if something has not happened in our hearts. All across Mississippi and all across our nation there are believers who meet in clusters called churches every Sunday. They have a sense of God at work in their lives to be a part of something that carries the Gospel, not just to their Jerusalem, but beyond to the Judea and the Samaria of their world, and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. In our churches there are literally thousands and thousands of people, young and old, rich and poor, who care enough to give. CP is literally a stream of worshipful giving that flows from caring people.

— CP means “Circling Planet” — Through our gifts we are part of a worldwide strategy to tell every person on the planet that Jesus Christ loves them and died for them. CP helps us to lift up our eyes on the fields that are white unto harvest and have a vision of reaching every nation and every people group in the entire world.

The goal of biblical evangelism is not just to reach a community or a state or even our nation, but it is to blanket the world with the Gospel and to circle the planet with the Good News. No doubt there are other organizations and denominations that have a similar desire or vision; but, until now, no group of people has had such a significant plan and made such an impact as CP.

— CP means “Complete Package” — One of the marvels that has always been a part of CP is that it enables all of us to be a part of doing all of the work. When a church is a part of CP, it is involved in providing a complete package. There are so many dimensions to Kingdom life and so many ministries that are needed that no church can do everything.

CP provides for missions at home and around the world. It provides for educational support, whether it is in Christian colleges, Sunday School, discipleship, evangelism or stewardship training. It provides for music involvement, leadership support for pastor and staff, enrichment and location. It provides for child care and involvement in social issues and ethical problems. It enables us to have camps and retreat facilities, and it provides a channel for accumulated resources to be used long beyond our lifetime. It is the lifeline for seminary training and for food distribution to the starving. It provides for the Gospel to go behind prison walls, and it helps to tear down walls of separation.

— CP means “Crisis Prevention” — I am referring to the fact that while Cooperative Program dollars continue to inch upward, the percentage of dollars sent through the Cooperative Program of total church income continues to inch downward. For Southern Baptists convention-wide, the percentage is about 8 percent. There are a variety of reasons why the percentage of giving has gone down. Some have diverted funds into other mission endeavors, and some have retained the funds for local mission projects. In some cases there is a lack of understanding as to what the Cooperative Program is or does. Whatever the reasons, it is a matter of concern if we are to maintain our strength and effectively carry out the task that the Lord has given us.

As you celebrate this marvelous experience that God has provided for us called CP, I would encourage you to prayerfully consider what you do and what the Lord would have you do to be a part of something that is truly God-given, heaven-empowered and worldwide in its impact.
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Jim Futral is executive director-treasurer of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

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