EDITOR’S NOTE: This article initially was published in SBC LIFE (www.sbclife.org ), the journal of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.
NASHVILLE (BP) — Southern Baptist pastors have high opinions of the convention’s Cooperative Program, according to a study conducted by LifeWay Research.
The survey of 1,066 SBC pastors found 81 percent agree the Cooperative Program fuels an aggressive global enterprise of reaching the unreached people groups around the world. Similarly, 80 percent say the Cooperative Program provides partnership opportunities for local, state and national missions.
The study also indicates that pastors’ support for the Cooperative Program does have its limits. One in five pastors (19 percent) say the strategies of the SBC entities that receive Cooperative Program dollars are not moving in the appropriate direction and that SBC entities are not using their contributions effectively. However, the majority (55 percent) agrees the SBC entities supported by the Cooperative Program are moving in an appropriate direction. And 52 percent say the entities are using their contributions effectively.
Seventy-three percent of pastors say the Cooperative Program supports the ministries and missions valued by their churches.
“As pastors question every dollar they spend, it is not surprising that some are wanting evidence they are being good stewards with their mission dollars,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. This study shows pastors believe the efforts supported by the Cooperative Program matter. However, “some do not overlook the need for further ministry improvement in the efforts of the SBC entities supported by the Cooperative Program.”
Cooperative Program allocations
Southern Baptist pastors also indicated how closely they agree with the current allocation of national Cooperative Program funds. The median responses for the entities — International Mission Board (IMB), North American Mission Board (NAMB), six SBC seminaries, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and SBC operating budget — were all within 0.3 percent of the current allocations, which pastors were shown as they answered.
About one in five pastors entered amounts exactly matching current percentage allocations. A majority listed higher percentages for NAMB and at least half listed lower percentages for IMB, SBC seminaries and SBC operating budget.
“Pastors’ opinions on CP allocations are remarkably similar,” McConnell said. “Even when comparing mean percentages, which can be swayed by those wanting large changes, the responses have not changed significantly from a survey of pastors completed in early 2008 for the Executive Committee.
“Both the earlier survey and this study show mean percentages within 1 percent of the current allocations for IMB, ERLC and the SBC operating budget,” McConnell said. “Another similarity is both surveys show preferences for a slightly higher allocation for NAMB and lower allocation for SBC seminaries.”
Nearly 70 percent agreed with the statement, “The SBC allocation budget places a high priority on penetrating lostness both locally and worldwide.”
Pastors also were asked to indicate the priority their church places on 12 missions and ministry efforts funded by the Cooperative Program. The majority of pastors indicate “sending and supporting overseas missionaries to reach unreached people groups around the world” is the highest priority. Almost 70 percent of pastors rate it essential or a high priority, and it is the only ministry effort that less than 10 percent of pastors rate a low priority or not a priority.
Following is the percentage of SBC pastors who rated each CP-funded mission and ministry as essential or high priority:
— Sending and supporting overseas missionaries — 68 percent
— Engaging in local ministry projects for evangelism — 65 percent
— Developing and implementing an evangelism strategy for penetrating lostness in North America — 59 percent
— Improving the vitality and health of existing churches — 59 percent
— Educating and training future pastors, missionaries, church planters and other denominational leaders — 57 percent
— Reaching ethnically and culturally diverse people — 51 percent
— Promoting an ongoing program of missions education for all ages — 48 percent
— Engaging in direct international missions — 45 percent
— Conducting an ongoing program of leadership development — 45 percent
— Intentional church planting in cities and towns across North America — 44 percent
— Intentional church planting in large urban centers — 43 percent
— Providing a Christian perspective and response about social, ethical and public policy issues — 37 percent
“International missions is clearly a rallying point for the Cooperative Program, yet pastors also place a high priority on evangelism efforts in North America,” McConnell said.
Significant statistical differences emerged among pastors based on average weekly worship attendance and age. Older pastors are more likely to support the Cooperative Program and place a higher value on the ministries it supports.
Older pastors, 55-64 (57 percent) and 65-plus (60 percent), are more likely to indicate the entities use their Cooperative Program contributions effectively, compared to younger pastors, 18-44 (45 percent) and 45-54 (48 percent). Older pastors also are more likely than younger pastors to say the Cooperative Program supports SBC ministries and missions their church values: 65-plus (80 percent), 55-64 (77 percent), 45-54 (69 percent) and 18-44 (68 percent).
Pastors age 65 and over are the most likely to say improving the vitality and health of existing churches (41 percent) and developing an evangelism strategy for North America are essential (38 percent).
Nearly 50 percent of 65-plus pastors say planting in North America’s urban centers is a high priority or essential, compared to 40 percent of pastors age 18-44.
In regard to sending and supporting overseas missionaries, larger churches, with average attendance of 100-249 (42 percent) and 250-plus (47 percent), are more likely to say it is a high priority compared to smaller churches, 0-49 (33 percent) and 50-99 (29 percent).
When asked about engaging in direct international missions projects, differences mainly emerged according to church size. Churches with an average attendance of 0-49 (16 percent) are the most likely to select “not a priority.” Churches with 250-plus attendees (53 percent) are the most likely to say it is a “high priority” while those with 0-49 attendees (17 percent) are the least likely to say so.
Church contributions through CP
LifeWay Research also asked pastors about the decision their churches made regarding contributions to the Cooperative Program in the most recent budget process. The vast majority of churches (81 percent) decided to keep their CP giving the same as last year. Nearly twice as many churches raised their contribution (11 percent) as decreased it (6 percent). Three percent said their church does not contribute to the CP.
Of the 177 churches making a change in their giving to the Cooperative Program, 41 percent increased it by less than 2 percentage points; 22 percent increased it by more than 2 percentage points. Ten percent of churches decreased their contribution by less than 2 percentage points while 26 percent decreased their contribution by more than 2 percentage points.
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. Nearly 40 percent of pastors had not heard of the 1% CP Challenge. Another 42 percent said they have not accepted the challenge.
Only 7 percent of pastors said their church had accepted the 1% CP Challenge with another 8 percent planning to do so in the next budget year.
Methodology: The survey of 1,066 SBC pastors was conducted April 1–May 11, 2012. Surveys were mailed to the senior pastor with the option of completing the survey online. The mailing list was randomly drawn from a stratified list of all Southern Baptist churches (7,000 in the South and 1,000 each in the Northeast, West and Midwest). Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution and worship attendance of the churches. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.0 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
Carol Pipes is editorial manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article  first appeared in SBC LIFE, journal of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.