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Survey: Cooperative Program draws pastors’ confidence

NASHVILLE (BP) — Southern Baptist pastors are strongly supportive of the Cooperative Program, according to a study commissioned by the SBC Executive Committee and published in its Winter 2014/2015 edition of SBC LIFE.

The survey shows a continuing increase in confidence among pastors that the Cooperative Program supports ministries and missions valued by their churches — moving up to 81 percent from 73 percent in a 2012 survey that asked the same questions of pastors and 71 percent in a 2008 survey that included pastors, laypersons and other church staff.

The study also indicates that pastors’ support for the Cooperative Program does have its limits. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) agree that the strategies of SBC entities receiving Cooperative Program dollars are moving in an appropriate direction, though one in eight pastors (13 percent) say they are not. Asked whether the entities are using their Cooperative Program support effectively, more than six in 10 pastors (63 percent) say they are and 13 percent say they are not.

“This is encouraging news,” said Ashley Clayton, Executive Committee vice president for Cooperative Program, said of the survey conducted by mail and online during the spring of 2014. “A few years ago, a Florida pastor told me the Cooperative Program would have to compete for his church’s missions dollars. More recently, he told me, ‘Count me in,’ in support of the CP.” The pastor’s confidence in the CP increased as he watched what he called a “renewed focus” by SBC entities responding to “the values his church embraces,” Clayton said. “I believe this report shows that he is not alone.

“However, the survey also shows we still have a way to go to earn the trust of all our pastors,” Clayton said.

Cooperative Program allocations

Southern Baptist pastors also indicated they generally agree with the current allocation of national Cooperative Program funds for the entities that receive CP funding — the International Mission Board (IMB), North American Mission Board (NAMB), six SBC seminaries, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and SBC operating budget. The median responses were all within 1.2 percent of current allocations, which the pastors were shown as they answered.

While 15 percent selected the current distribution percentages as their preference, just over half listed higher percentages for NAMB, ERLC and the SBC operating budget, while nearly half listed slightly lower percentages for IMB and the six SBC seminaries.

“This is the third survey of pastors the Executive Committee has commissioned since 2007,” Clayton said. “We continue to see strong pastor support for the current allocation of the SBC portion of CP funds. In all three surveys, pastors indicated their agreement that IMB should receive about 50 percent of the SBC CP allocation budget, our seminaries should receive slightly less, with the difference distributed to small increases for NAMB and ERLC,” Clayton said.

A large majority of pastors have affirmed the statement “the Cooperative Program supports missions and ministries that my church values” in all three surveys, he said.

More than three-fourths (77 percent) agreed with the statement, “The SBC allocation budget places a high priority on penetrating lostness both locally and worldwide.”

Ministry priorities

Pastors also were asked to indicate the priority their churches place on 12 missions and ministry efforts funded by the Cooperative Program. “Sending and supporting overseas missionaries to reach unreached people groups around the world” continues to be their highest priority. It is the only ministry selected by more than 70 percent of pastors as “essential” or a “high priority” (71 percent), up 3 percentage points from the 2012 survey. And it is the only ministry effort that fewer than 10 percent of pastors rated a “low priority” (6 percent) or “not a priority” (2 percent).

The most notable change was reflected in pastors’ desire for the SBC to provide “a Christian perspective and response about social, ethical, and public policy issues” (54 percent selecting it as “essential” or “high priority,” up from only 37 percent in 2012).

Following is the percentage of SBC pastors who rated each CP-funded mission and ministry as “essential” or “high priority”:

In the 70 percent range
— Sending and supporting overseas missionaries — 71 percent (68 percent in 2012)

In the 60 percent range
— Engaging in local ministry projects for evangelism — 66 percent (65 percent in 2012)
— Developing and implementing an evangelism strategy for penetrating lostness in North America — 63 percent (59 percent in 2012)
— Improving the vitality and health of existing churches — 62 percent (59 percent in 2012)

In the 50 percent range
— Educating and training future pastors, missionaries, church planters, and other denominational leaders — 57 percent (57 percent in 2012)
— Providing a Christian perspective and response about social, ethical, and public policy issues — 54 percent (37 percent in 2012)
— Reaching ethnically and culturally diverse people — 52 percent (51 percent in 2012)
— Promoting an ongoing program of missions education for all ages — 51 percent (48 percent in 2012)
— Conducting an ongoing program of leadership development — 50 percent (45 percent in 2012)

In the 40 percent range
— Engaging in direct international missions — 48 percent (45 percent in 2012)
— Intentional church planting in cities and towns across North America — 44 percent (44 percent in 2012)
— Intentional church planting in large urban centers — 43 percent (43 percent in 2012)

“While international missions remains the highest priority for the Cooperative Program, pastors also place a high priority on participating in local ministry projects for evangelism, developing and implementing an evangelism strategy for penetrating lostness in North America, and improving the vitality and health of existing churches,” Clayton said.

“It is not a case of either/or,” he said. “Pastors see value in both/and — supporting an aggressive global vision while simultaneously strengthening a strong home base.”

Statistical Differences

Significant statistical differences emerged among pastors based on location, age and church size.

Pastors in the Northeast are more likely to select “reaching ethnically and culturally diverse people in large cities across North America” as “essential” (27 percent) compared to churches in the South (17 percent) and the Midwest (11 percent).

Younger pastors, age 18–44, are more likely to view “sending and supporting overseas missionaries to reach unreached people groups” as “essential” (38 percent) than pastors 65 and older (29 percent).

Pastors in the West (24 percent) and Northeast (28 percent) are more likely to view “intentional church planting in cities and towns across North America” as “essential” than pastors in the South (15 percent) and Midwest (11 percent).

Pastors of churches running 0–49 and 100–249 are more likely to select “improving the health and vitality of existing churches” as “essential” (32 percent and 30 percent respectively) than churches running 250 or more (19 percent). Older pastors, 65 and up, view this as a “high priority” (37 percent) or “essential” (24 percent).

Younger pastors (age 18–44) and older pastors (age 65 and over) are more likely to “strongly agree” that “the SBC entities supported by the Cooperative Program are moving in the appropriate direction with the strategies they have in place” (30 percent and 31 percent respectively) than pastors age 45–54 (20 percent).

In regard to educating and training future pastors, missionaries, church planters and SBC leaders, younger pastors, age 18–44, are more likely to say it is “essential” (33 percent) compared to pastors age 55–64 (25 percent) and age 65 and up (23 percent).

When asked about engaging in direct international missions projects, differences mainly emerged according to church size. Churches with 250 or more in attendance are the most likely to say it is “essential” (31 percent), while churches running 50–99 and 100–249 are more likely to select “medium priority” (24 percent and 33 percent respectively).

In perhaps the most telling generational difference, only 1 percent of younger pastors “strongly agree” that the “Cooperative Program supports SBC ministries and missions that my church values,” although another 36 percent “somewhat agree.” On the other hand, 53 percent of pastors 65 and up “strongly agree” with the statement, with another 26 percent “somewhat agreeing.”

Church contributions through CP

The Executive Committee also asked pastors about the decision their churches made regarding contributions through the Cooperative Program in the most recent budget process. The vast majority of churches (80 percent) decided to keep their CP giving the same as the previous year. Three times as many churches raised their CP contribution (12 percent) as decreased it (4 percent). Three percent said their church does not contribute through the CP.

Of churches making a change in their giving through the Cooperative Program (nearly 20 percent of the churches surveyed), 5.6 percent increased it by more than 2 percentage points of the church’s undesignated receipts, with another 9 percent increasing their CP contributions from 0.1 percent to 1.9 percentage points of their budget. On the other hand, 4.8 percent of churches decreased their contribution through the CP.

The final question on the survey referred to the “1% CP Challenge,” an effort by the SBC Executive Committee to encourage all Southern Baptist churches to raise their Cooperative Program contributions by 1 percentage point of their church’s undesignated contributions. More than one-fourth of pastors had not heard of the “1% CP Challenge” (28 percent). Forty-nine percent said they have not accepted the challenge. Eight percent of pastors said their church had accepted the “1% CP Challenge” and another 9 percent plan to do so in the next budget year.

METHODOLOGY: The mail and online survey of Southern Baptist pastors was conducted from April 23-June 4, 2014. The mailing list was randomly drawn from a stratified list of all Southern Baptist churches (7,072 in the South; 1,000 each in the Midwest and West; and 928 in the Northeast). Surveys were mailed to the senior pastor, with the option of completing the survey online. Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution and worship attendance of Southern Baptist churches. The completed sample is 1,097 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 2.9 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups. In addition to regions, church attendance and pastor’s age were categorized as follows — church attendees: 0-49, 50-99, 100-249, 250 or more; pastor’s age, 18-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65 or older.

    About the Author

  • Roger S. Oldham