JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–The Cooperative Program was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1925. However, I believe the concept was in the mind of W.B. Johnson and Southern Baptists’ founding fathers in 1845 when they wrote that the SBC was designed to organize “a plan for eliciting, combining and directing the energies of the denomination.” The words still appear in the SBC Constitution.
The word “elicit” means “to call forth,” such as in emotions, feelings and responses. I think the founding fathers used the word “combining” because they believed we could accomplish more together than individually because of the common cause of the Great Commission.
Is the Cooperative Program all we do in the missionary enterprise? No, but it is the lifeline of our missionary and education ministries.
In taking a look at how it works, it all begins with the local church. The church adopts a budget. In that budget, the church includes an area for mission expenditures. The mission section usually contains the amount the church will send through the Cooperative Program. Some churches give a percentage of their receipts. Others give a specified amount.
A church’s gift through the Cooperative Program is sent to the state convention office — not “headquarters.” The church is the headquarters of the Florida Baptist Convention and other state conventions across the country. The state conventions send a portion of the Cooperative Program receipts to the SBC Executive Committee to support denominational causes and missionaries. Approximately 95 percent of what we send to the SBC is distributed to the two mission boards and the six SBC seminaries.
The state convention then keeps a portion of the funds to support statewide ministries. In Florida, the Cooperative Program supports the work of our statewide ministries of missions, church starting, evangelism, migrant ministries, children’s homes, college students, and all that we do as Florida Baptists.
You may be asking, How do we determine what percentage is sent to the SBC and what percentage remains in Florida?
Each November during the Florida Baptist State Convention, messengers from the churches vote on a division of Cooperative Program dollars. This division varies by state. Florida Baptists voted to send 40 percent to the SBC in 2006 and rank near the top in denominational CP giving in both the amount and percentage.
Sixty percent is allocated to Florida Baptist causes, which includes 8.5 percent as priorities: pastoral assistance for mission pastors and church annuity for our Florida Baptist pastors. Also included in the 60 percent is an 11.835 percent designation which is distributed to our institutions and entities: Baptist College of Florida, Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, Florida Baptist Witness and Florida Baptist Financial Services.
The Great Commission is the heartbeat of the New Testament. How can we best keep it beating? By taking all of the Gospel, into all of the world, all of the time at the same time. Toward that end, the Cooperative Program is God-given and mission-driven.
John Sullivan is executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention.