EDITOR’S NOTE: Bob Terry is editor of The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org) of the Alabama Baptist State Convention.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Albert Mohler was right when he told students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., that “we do need a great example from the leaders of our convention in terms of support for the CP (Cooperative Program).”
He was on target when he added that Southern Baptist churches committed to the Great Commission are going to have to send more than 6 percent of their undesignated gifts to missions through the CP and individuals are going to have to give more if churches are to send more.
Unfortunately, it is still an open question about who will provide those “great examples.”
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., made his initial observation during a panel discussion. He was joined on the panel by fellow Great Commission Resurgence Task Force members Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Ronnie Floyd, GCRTF chairman and senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Springdale, Ark.; Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary; and North Carolina pastors Al Gilbert and J.D. Greear.
Of these six task force members, only Hunt serves a church, First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., that reported an increase in giving to missions through the CP in 2009. True to his pledge when first elected SBC president, Hunt led his church to increase CP giving by about $45,000, even though the church experienced a decline in undesignated receipts of about $500,000 for the year.
The other five all reported on the Annual Church Profile a decrease in their churches’ percentage of missions giving through the CP during the year in which they served on the task force. Two reported lower percentages even though their churches showed increases in undesignated receipts.
Three of the six reported CP gifts below 2 percent of their churches’ undesignated receipts. The other three reported CP gifts below 3 percent.
Of the task force as a whole, 12 members reported percentage declines in CP giving for 2009, while six reported increases. Four members’ churches reported incomplete information, and one reported the same percentage of CP giving as the previous year.
To be fair, the 2009 church year ended soon after the task force began its work. The commitment to CP giving that appears to have grown during the yearlong study may not have had time to be evidenced. Certainly Floyd is putting himself on the line, promising increased CP giving from the church he serves and urging other pastors of large churches to do the same.
The task force’s report says a lot of good things about the Cooperative Program. The report calls on Southern Baptists “to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach.” The CP is called “the central and preferred conduit of Great Commission funding” and “the most effective and efficient means of channeling the sacrificial support of our churches.”
Individual church members are urged to use 10 percent of their income as the beginning point of Christian stewardship. State conventions are urged to channel half of their receipts to the SBC. The SBC is asked to allocate 51 percent of its CP receipts to the International Mission Board.
Surprisingly the report sets no goal for churches related to CP giving. It laments the current 6 percent SBC average for CP giving and calls upon churches to “increase the percentage of their Cooperative Program giving.” When asked about this in a telephone press conference, Floyd said because each church is autonomous, the task force did not want to appear to be giving directions to churches.
It is also true that some prominent megachurch pastors are sensitive about their CP giving records. Many equate reporting their giving records with criticizing their giving records.
During the telephone press conference, Hunt explained that Cooperative Program giving would be much lower than it is if not for the large dollar amounts given by the larger churches. He also asked why small churches that give nothing at all to the CP are not mentioned by the denominational press.
What could not be said in the press conference is that in Alabama, the Cooperative Program giving record of every cooperating church is printed in the state Baptist paper. And every church that does not give is encouraged to contribute to missions through the CP by the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
The task force report calls for no action by the messengers to the SBC annual meeting related to the Cooperative Program. Instead messengers will be asked to support new “language and structure related to Great Commission Giving.” This would recognize “all monies channeled through the causes of the SBC, state conventions and associations as Great Commission Giving.”
Only two sentences of the 11 paragraphs in the section on giving deal with Great Commission Giving, but from those two sentences comes the recommendation to be considered by messengers to the annual meeting. The rationale offered in the press conference was that the current “Total Missions Giving” category allows a church to count money spent on a non-Baptist project and the new designation better tracks what is spent on a cause supported by the association, state convention or SBC.
This column was not written to criticize anyone. As we have said before, each church makes decisions as it understands the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit. This column was written to affirm Mohler’s observations about the importance of examples set by convention leadership.
Because we believe missions giving through the Cooperative Program has helped mobilize Southern Baptists’ efforts for worldwide missions and ministry, as the report states, it is important that leaders set worthy examples in CP missions giving. Words alone are not enough.
We believe the task force report would be stronger if messengers were asked to reaffirm the CP, churches were asked to set worthy examples for members through CP giving, including targeted goals, and convention leaders were asked to set worthy examples in their support of the CP.
This could be much more helpful than changing “Total Missions Giving” to “Great Commission Giving.”
Bob Terry is editor and president of The Alabama Baptist, where this commentary initially was published May 13.