NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)––The large majority of Southern Baptist pastors believe strongly in the Cooperative Program (CP) — the Southern Baptist Convention’s unified approach to missions support — because it allows congregations to accomplish more together than they could achieve by themselves. New data from LifeWay Research indicates that 1 in 4 pastors see room for improvement in how CP dollars are allocated and how efficiently they are being used.
A census of all Southern Baptist congregations, conducted by LifeWay Research between November 2007 and February 2008 on behalf of the SBC’s Executive Committee, revealed that 87 percent of pastors generally are satisfied with the Cooperative Program compared to 13 percent who generally are dissatisfied. One out of 3 pastors strongly agree that state conventions and SBC entities supported by the CP use the contributions efficiently.
According to Bob Rodgers, the Executive Committee’s vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship, “The Executive Committee initiated the survey of all Southern Baptist churches to collect data that would provide an empirical baseline of our churches’ thoughts, feelings and perceptions about the Cooperative Program and stewardship, and to give us insights for developing a more focused strategy in the promotion of the Cooperative Program and stewardship across the convention.”
Pastors also selected one of six descriptions that best fit their view of the Cooperative Program. The description chosen by the most pastors (44 percent) was “mostly positive” stating, “We believe the CP perhaps could be improved in some ways, but is doing a very good job at present of supporting worldwide missions.”
The second largest group of pastors (36 percent) describes the Cooperative Program as “overwhelmingly positive,” stating, “We believe the CP is not only satisfactory, but is essential to the continued existence of the SBC, and the fulfillment of its mission of worldwide evangelism.”
Thirteen percent of pastors have a “mixed” view, agreeing that the CP “could be improved in many ways.” The remaining responses were spread across “mostly negative” (2 percent) and “overwhelmingly negative” (1 percent). Three percent of pastors describe their church as “unaware” of the Cooperative Program.
Pastors feel strongly that the most important objectives of the Cooperative Program are to send and support missionaries (83 percent) and to provide resources to plant churches (74 percent) in North America and around the world. More than half strongly agree it is important for the CP to educate and equip pastors, missionaries and ministry leaders, to address social, moral and ethical concerns, and to support state convention missions and ministries.
“Clearly, pastors believe the Cooperative Program is valuable for more than two reasons, but supporting missionaries and church planting are the most widely affirmed as essential,” said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. “Since many churches equate ‘missions’ with the Cooperative Program, we should not be surprised that ‘missionaries’ are at the top of the agenda for pastors.”
Pastors indicate that the most important benefit of the Cooperative Program is that it “allows my church to support more missions endeavors efficiently than we could on our own.” Seventy-six percent of pastors strongly agree that this is an important benefit and a nearly identical 74 percent strongly agree that this currently describes the CP.
In sharp contrast to the strong overall view of the CP and agreement upon its objectives are pastors’ assessment of how efficiently contributions are used. While 65 percent of pastors strongly agree it is important for SBC entities supported by the Cooperative Program to use the contributions efficiently, only half that number (34 percent) strongly agree efficiency is present today. Similarly, 63 percent of pastors strongly agree that efficient use of funds by state convention entities is important but only 32 percent strongly agree this is the case today.
Stetzer explained, “Although the vast majority have a positive view of the Cooperative Program and a majority believe the funds are used efficiently, it is important to note that there is a noticeable drop between those who ‘strongly agree’ that it is important the Cooperative Program be efficient and those who ‘strongly agree’ it actually is efficient.”
Views of the current allocation of funds also fall short of the importance pastors place on it. Fifty-four percent of pastors strongly agree the appropriate division of Cooperative Program funds between state conventions and the SBC is important. Currently 31 percent of pastors strongly agree funds are divided appropriately between state conventions and the SBC.
A larger majority of pastors (62 percent) strongly agree that it is important for the Cooperative Program to allocate contributions appropriately among state, national and global ministries, missions and entities. Only 38 percent strongly agree the current allocation is appropriate among state, national and global ministries, missions and entities.
Despite indicating room for improvement in efficiency and exact allocations, more than two-thirds of pastors strongly agree that the CP currently “supports SBC entities, ministries, and missions that my church values.”
Two-thirds of the pastors surveyed said they have promoted the Cooperative Program in their churches during the past year. Other frequent activities to emphasize missions giving include budgeting a percentage of offerings for missions (62 percent); promoting once-a-year offerings for SBC entities (73 percent); and providing offering envelopes that allow designated giving for missions (67 percent).
The primary resources used to promote the CP, according to the pastors, are bulletin inserts (72 percent), posters (62 percent), missions magazines (54 percent), prayer guides (51 percent), videos (50 percent), missionary speakers (49 percent) and subscriptions to state Baptist papers (41 percent).
A summary of the results is available at www.lifeway.com/cpsurveyfindings.
LifeWay Research is a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. The census of congregations was conducted through an online survey completed by 3,500 senior pastors, 285 other ministers and 5,245 laypeople. Participation was solicited through two invitations mailed to all senior pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention in November and December 2007. Pastors’ responses were weighted to minimize response error based on church size. Because the sample of pastors is a census (every senior pastor in the SBC), there was no sampling error in selecting the invitation list.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.