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SBC president hails task force report, says evangelism & CP support are essentials in selecting denomination leaders

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch is applauding a task force report that calls for greater Cooperative Program support from leaders throughout the Southern Baptist Convention.

The report was released Sept. 17 by the Task Force on Cooperation, an eight-member group that included four SBC entity heads and four state convention executives. It issued 13 recommendations, with the goal of boosting Cooperative Program giving and improving cooperation between the national and state conventions. Chief among the recommendations was one calling on elected leaders throughout the convention to “come from strong Cooperative Program churches” and to be “well known advocates” themselves of the Cooperative Program.

“Never before has the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention — from entity heads down to every Sunday School teacher and pastor — needed to sound the call for evangelism and the Cooperative Program,” Welch told Baptist Press. “Everybody can appreciate the heartfelt and clear message of the task force — that leadership should lead the way, in both going and giving.”

Southern Baptists have been widely praised for their involvement in the Hurricane Katrina disaster relief, with more than 5,000 volunteers spread throughout the region. But what many Southern Baptists fail to recognize, Welch said, is that Cooperative Program dollars provided the “infrastructure” that allowed Southern Baptist disaster relief teams to be on the ground immediately after the storm. Because of the funding stability provided by the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists can respond quickly and comprehensively in times of disaster and not undercut the deployment of missionaries overseas and at home, and not turn away a single student from SBC seminaries, he added.

The task force’s report, Welch said, could “not be more timely.”

“In my view, we’re at one of our greatest points of destiny and have before us the greatest opportunity,” he said. “However, everything hinges on unity of purpose…. We must now accelerate not only the going but the giving, in light of all the need that is now apparent by the disasters and likely those that lie ahead.”

Founded in 1925, the Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministry efforts of state and regional conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. Each time someone gives to a CP-cooperating church, a portion of the money goes to the state (or regional) convention, which then forwards a portion to the Southern Baptist Convention. Contributions received for national SBC entities are distributed according to the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

In recent years, Cooperative Program giving has been stagnant and has struggled to keep up with inflation. In 2003, the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board — both of which receive CP funds — cut their respective budgets, preventing new missionaries from being assigned to the field.

The task force’s report said the problem is multi-fold. One problem, according to the report, is the portion that churches are forwarding through the Cooperative Program. In 1984, churches forwarded an average of 10.6 percent of their offerings through CP, although today that number is only 6.64 percent, the report said.

“If that trend continues, it’s not going to be many more years until the Southern Baptist Convention and all of our work is just a whimper of what it is and has been,” Carlisle Driggers, executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention and a member of the task force, told BP.

A lack of leadership, the report said, is at least partly to blame for the drop in support from churches.

“[T]oo many top Southern Baptist Convention leaders and officials for too many years gave scant attention or support to the Cooperative Program as they discharged their responsibilities,” the report says. “It is well known that a number of our leaders in the past generation hardly ever spoke about the Cooperative Program or promoted it in one way or another. For the most part, their churches were poor models of Cooperative Program support. As a result, it has been projected that thousands of pastors and churches reduced their Cooperative Program percentage of undesignated monies as they followed the example of those who led them.

“For sure, this reality has hurt the Cooperative Program as much as anything and has been discouraging and regrettable. About that point, there yet remains a huge amount of disappointment, mistrust and even raw emotions which need to be recognized, addressed, and reconciled all across the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Echoing the report, Driggers said SBC leaders — both state and national — should lead their churches to give “10 percent of their undesignated monies” through the Cooperative Program.

“It’s just a fact of life that people follow good models of leadership,” he said. “You’ll always look up to good leaders.”

Welch’s church, First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., has given at least 15 percent through the Cooperative Program for the past 30 years.

“Southern Baptists are blessed to have a president who has been an effective champion of the Cooperative Program, and his commitment is not an overnight conversion,” said Morris H. Chapman, president and CEO of the Executive Committee and another task force member. “His personal commitment to our method of funding national and international missions has been a long-term conviction.

“If we are to build on his success in promoting the Cooperative Program to allow Southern Baptists to expand our ministries and missions throughout the world, we need convention leaders like him, who are well-known advocates of the Cooperative Program, realized by the consistent and significant giving of their churches through the Cooperative Program.”

Another task force member, J. Robert White, said the Cooperative Program worked so well for so long “that we took it for granted.” White serves as executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

“We believed that it would continue to bear fruit without tending to the need to educate each new generation regarding its importance to all that we do,” White told Baptist Press in an e-mail. “This blasé attitude about the Cooperative Program began to be revealed through the election of SBC leadership who pastored churches with exceedingly low levels of Cooperative Program support. Add to that the rarity of any verbal support for the Cooperative Program from SBC leadership, and the concept of CP Lite became prevalent.

“With the Cooperative Program dollar shrinking at a frightening rate, we are finally awakening from our slumber to recognize that if this trend continues we will no longer have a Southern Baptist Convention as we know it.”

The solution, White said, is to “re-educate” Southern Baptists about the necessity of the Cooperative Program, to elect leaders who are “excellent models” of CP support and to train seminary students about the importance of the Cooperative Program. In an effort to assist in training seminary students — as well as to educate laypeople — Chad Brand and David E. Hankins have coauthored a book, “One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists.” It will be released by Broadman & Holman in May 2006.

“We must have a unison voice of support for the Cooperative Program from all of our national leaders,” White said.

The task force’s report included more than a dozen recommendations:

— People “elected to Southern Baptist Convention positions of leadership” should come from “strong Cooperative Program churches” and should be “well-known advocates themselves of Cooperative Program commitment.”

— Every elected SBC and state convention leader “should promote the Cooperative Program” with “vigor and intentionality on a consistent basis.”

— The Cooperative Program should “be placed at the top of every agenda” during SBC annual meetings and state convention meetings. CP also should be a top priority for “various state and national entities that receive Cooperative Program funds.”

— The International Mission Board and North American Mission Board should promote the Cooperative Program “as vigorously” as they promote, respectively, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.

— “Every effort” must be made to “incorporate a renewed call to biblical stewardship and the Cooperative Program” as a “vital link in support of the invitation of Jesus to live out His Kingdom principles.”

— The state conventions and the SBC Executive Committee must join together to provide leadership for “Cooperative Program promotions and expansion.” “We simply must come together for these uncertain times and for the years ahead.”

— Southern Baptists should be taught “to practice the biblical standard” of tithing.

— Southern Baptist churches should send “at least a tithe of undesignated receipts” to mission causes through the Cooperative Program.

— “Every avenue” must “be explored” to educate Southern Baptists — particularly those 40 and younger — about the Cooperative Program.

— SBC and state convention leaders must agree upon “a single-focused, simple to understand” strategy for Cooperative Program advancement. “[T]hat strategy must be built on identifying the strengths of the Cooperative Program and adding to those strengths while not giving so much time and attention to what is wrong with the Cooperative Program.”

— SBC entities must not pursue “financial mission support in a societal approach” — that is, by seeking donations directly from churches outside of the Cooperative Program framework. “This practice is the polar opposite to the Cooperative Program and will mean the death of Southern Baptists as we have existed, especially since 1925.”

— As CP giving increases in churches, state conventions “must be challenged” to move toward a 50/50 distribution of Cooperative Program funds — that is, keeping 50 percent of CP funds while forwarding 50 percent to the national body.

— SBC leaders must help the state conventions “encourage the churches, especially high profile churches, to give greater support” to the Cooperative Program.

In addition to Driggers, White and Chapman, other members of the task force were: Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board; William Crews, past president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary; Robert E. Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board; O. Wyndell Jones, retired executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa; and Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust