CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (BP) — Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, Fla., is a case study in how Cooperative Program giving has fared during the decade since the financial crisis of 2008.
Ten years ago, the congregation was thriving. Worship attendance was at 3,500 and climbing; pledges had been made for a multimillion-dollar building program; and southeast Florida’s real estate market was hot.
Then what has been dubbed the Great Recession hit. The housing bubble burst — striking regions like Florida, California and Las Vegas particularly hard — and the stock market’s Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced its largest single-day drop to date in late September 2008.
While Church by the Glades continued to grow and people continued coming to faith in Christ, finances tightened. With job losses and personal bankruptcies among members, the church made a difficult decision to decrease its giving through the Cooperative Program by some $300,000 annually over five years to sustain its building program and keep ministries afloat amid explosive growth.
CP is Southern Baptists’ unified method of funding missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.
“We love and are committed to the Cooperative Program,” Church by the Glades executive pastor Raul Palacios told Baptist Press. But a significant portion of the church’s financial resources had to be focused “on growing the church and reaching lost people.”
Today, Church by the Glades’ undesignated receipts and worship attendance are well above 2008 levels. But its CP giving has yet to rebound. “We definitely went through a very difficult time financially,” Palacios said.
Nationally, the story is similar.
Total undesignated receipts of Southern Baptist churches have recovered and in 2016-17 were more than $500 million above 2007-08 levels, according to SBC Annuals. But total CP giving through state conventions was $79 million less during the most recent fiscal year than in 2007-08.
CP giving to SBC causes is rebounding thanks to the sacrificial giving of Baptist state conventions — but giving is still more than $6 million below 2007-08 levels. In 2007-08, 37.28 percent of all CP funds were forwarded to SBC causes. In 2016-17, it had increased to 41.49 percent, according to SBC Annuals, the highest percentage in at last 50 years.
Kevin White, executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention, told BP, “We had two things going on at the same time”: the Great Recession and the Great Commission Resurgence, a series of recommendations affirmed by SBC messengers in 2010 and considered subsequently by the SBC Executive Committee. Along with their recommendations to the SBC, the convention’s Great Commission Task Force challenged state conventions to “return to the historic ideal of a 50/50 Cooperative Program distribution between the state conventions and the SBC.”
The NBC is one of six state conventions that forward at least half of their CP receipts to the SBC without a “shared ministry expenses” calculation. At least two other state conventions forward at least half after deducting shared ministry expenses for items like CP promotion, which benefit both the state and national conventions.
Though the NBC was behind in its budget following the recession, White said, they increased CP giving “because we believed God wanted us to trust Him and be part of the endeavor across the world of reaching people for Jesus Christ.” Other state conventions seem to feel similarly, he added.
Ashley Clayton, the SBC Executive Committee’s vice president for Cooperative Program and Stewardship, said renewed enthusiasm for CP-funded ministries among Southern Baptists makes him optimistic total CP receipts will begin trending upward.
“During the first two to five years of the economic downturn, churches changed their percentage of giving” through CP, Clayton told BP. As churches rebound from the downturn, increasing their percentages of undesignated receipts given through CP “is a slow process.”
Individuals “may change their gift every year,” Clayton said. “But our church very seldom changes its percentage giving” through CP — generally once a year at most.
Among factors that make Clayton and other EC leaders optimistic about a CP increase to come:
— Total charitable giving in the U.S. hit an all-time high in 2017, according to the Giving USA annual report. Total giving to religious causes increased 3.9 percent between 2015 and 2016 and an additional 2.9 percent between 2016 and 2017.
— The 19 Christian denominations that are members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability reported a cumulative 19.8 percent increase in the revenue they received between 2007 and 2017, the ECFA told BP. The SBC is not an ECFA member.
— Among Southern Baptist churches that gave $1,000 or more through the Cooperative Program in 2016, CP giving averaged 6.32 percent of their undesignated receipts — well above the 4.86 percent average for all Southern Baptist churches in 2016-17.
— SBC President J.D. Greear has prepared a customized video for each Baptist state convention this fall, extolling CP and urging churches to increase their giving.
White added that church plants are giving through CP at above-average rates, including one Nevada church plant that is two years old and in the top 15 CP-giving churches in the state. The North American Mission Board requires all church plants to give at least 6 percent of their undesignated receipts through CP, according to NAMB’s 2018 written report to the SBC.
Clayton concluded that while the SBC’s total CP giving hasn’t rebounded since 2008, “I suspect that it will.”