NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An increase in biblical giving and an understanding of the value of the Cooperative Program are necessary if the Southern Baptist Convention is to avoid a financial crisis in the near future, according to a report adopted by the convention’s Executive Committee Sept. 23.
The report by the SBC Funding Study Committee lists seven recommendations to reverse what it found to be a gradual decline in both the money given to churches by Southern Baptists and the percentage of a church’s offerings passed along to the Cooperative Program. At the core of the recommendations is a better-educated constituency.
“[T]he factor that appears to be emerging as the most plausible explanation for the declining support for the Cooperative Program is a serious neglect of Cooperative Program education and promotion in the churches,” the report says. “Rather than widespread negative feelings about the Cooperative Program, there appears to be widespread ignorance about the Cooperative Program.”
Moreover, many of those who know something about the Cooperative Program “view it as a ‘necessary mechanism’ for funding the denominational bureaucracy but not the ‘key methodology’ for comprehensive world evangelization,” the report says.
The Cooperative Program, formed in 1925, is the method by which Southern Baptists fund missionaries as well as the seminaries that train future missionaries, pastors and fulltime Christian servants. It also funds state Baptist convention ministries and such SBC entities as the Ethics & Religious Commission. Ninety-five percent of CP money received by the SBC goes to the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board and the six seminaries.
The report finds that churches have been sending less and less to the Cooperative Program since the 1980s, during which they set aside an average of 10.5 percent. That figure fell to 7.39 percent last year. Additionally, giving by church members as a percentage of income has declined steadily in the last 30 years and stands at 2.03 percent — far below the biblical standard of the tithe.
A decline in giving already has led to the delay in the deployment of missionaries, a layoff of employees and an increase in seminary tuition.
“It is the opinion of the Committee none of the entities are in a financial crisis at present,” the report says. “However, all of them are experiencing trends in their fiscal health that could degenerate into a crisis in very few years.”
Two obstacles, the report says, must be overcome if the trend is to be reversed. The first obstacle is the “lack of commitment to biblical giving by large numbers of Southern Baptist members.” The second obstacle is the lack of knowledge about the Cooperative Program.
“Southern Baptists, especially the younger generations, must be taught the value of the Cooperative Program,” the report says. “CP’s image must be re-envisioned from a ‘necessary but stodgy bureaucratic finance system’ to a ‘dynamic, comprehensive, effective, missions strategy for Southern Baptists.'”
The report recommends:
— That Southern Baptists pray about the situation.
“This issue needs to be on the front page,” the report says. “While the SBC Funding Study Committee does not wish to be seen as alarmist or to evidence a lack of trust in God to provide for Southern Baptist mission work, it may be time to alert the constituency to a pending crisis.
“Celebrating incremental gains in income when real giving is dropping rapidly fails to properly challenge Southern Baptists to do what is required of stewards.”
— That the entities receiving funds from the Cooperative Program reaffirm its purpose, evaluate its effectiveness and seek ways to strengthen CP partnerships.
“The SBC Funding Study Committee believes it is important for these entities to give leadership together, express mutual support, and practice openness and accountability if there is to be Cooperative Program renewal in the churches,” the report says.
— That any additional offerings be discouraged in favor of making biblical stewardship and CP giving top priorities.
“The Convention and its entities will be better served by an aggressive stewardship education emphasis, perhaps as a part of Empowering Kingdom Growth, and a re-invigoration of the Cooperative Program,” the report says.
— That a pastor-led strategy be created with the goal of “re-invigorating stewardship and the Cooperative Program in the churches.”
“The SBC Funding Study Committee believes Southern Baptist pastors are God’s called leaders for the local churches and, by extension, for the work of the conventions,” the report says. “As such, their leadership in stewardship education and their confidence in the Cooperative Program methodology are critical.”
— That the six seminaries expedite the implementation of a CP education course that is already funded.
“This addition to the core curriculum can become a stack pole for a comprehensive emphasis on SBC identity and methodology for the students,” the report says.
— That the SBC Funding Study Committee work with LifeWay Christian Resources to put together Sunday School and discipleship literature with an annual Cooperative Program emphasis.
“LifeWay is an invaluable ally in the task to re-educate Southern Baptists about our great opportunities in cooperative missions,” the report says.
— That the mission boards work together with the Cooperative Program department in a joint “Cooperative Program/missions education process.”
“The SBC Funding Study Committee envisions jointly produced and coordinated multimedia resources, as well as the intentional training and coordinated utilization of missionary personnel in promoting the Cooperative Program in the churches,” the report says.
“Reminding the churches that the mission offerings and the Cooperative Program are complementary, not competitive, is one opportunity of this effort. Also, furloughing missionaries are already great teachers and motivators in the churches. Maximizing their effectiveness through a coordinated effort has tremendous potential.”
The convention was founded in 1845 by a group of people who believed that the task of worldwide missions is “so large no congregation can accomplish it alone,” the report notes, adding that unless recent trends are reversed, that goal is in jeopardy.
“Unless Southern Baptist churches are led to see Cooperative Program as a tool they need and want in order to fulfill the Great Commission, CP will lose support to other initiatives that appear attractive but are likely to be less effective than Southern Baptist Convention ministries,” the report says.