A drop of rain. A seed of corn. A thin red cent. None, by itself, seems significant. But collectively — and cooperatively — a drop joining with other drops of rain becomes a deluge. The grains of corn feed an army. The thin red cents fund a movement.
The Cooperative Program is like that. The gifts I give out of obedience to my Lord join with other gifts to provide a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus, spiritual food for the hungry soul, and support for sending laborers to the ends of the earth.
The church I served in Northwest Tennessee for twenty-one years was a "10 percent and more" Cooperative Program church. This means that at any given time at least ten cents out of every dollar contributed to the church budget was forwarded by the church to the Cooperative Program.
The state where I lived became a "40 percent state." This means of the ten cents of each dollar my church contributed to the Cooperative Program, six cents remained in Tennessee while four cents (40 percent) were forwarded to the SBC.
Once the SBC received these funds from the state, 50 percent went to the IMB, 22.79 percent went to NAMB, 22.16 percent went to the seminaries, and the remaining 5 percent went to the ERLC and the SBC Operating Budget, of which the Executive Committee received about 2.5 percent.
Let's do the math. For each dollar that I gave to my church, ten cents went to the state. Of the four cents the state forwarded to the SBC, a little less than one cent went to NAMB, a little less than one cent went to seminary education, an incremental amount went to the other ministries named above, and two cents went to international missions.
It doesn't sound like much. Just like the single rain drop. Just like the individual grain of corn. Just like the thin red copper-coated zinc penny. One could argue that international missions only received two cents.
But hold it! I didn't just give a dollar to my church. As a long-time pastor, I am well aware that in every church there are some who only give a dollar. But as a practicing tither from the day of my conversion, I gave more than a dollar. And what about those many other faithful tithers the Lord placed in every church?
The under-employed who tithes. The single mother of three who tithes from her secretary's salary. The widow who tithes from her pension. The truck driver who tithes from his over-the-road hauls. The waitress who tithes from the tips she receives. The entrepreneur who tithes after reinvesting most of her profits to provide healthcare for her employees. And on we can go.
Small business owners, lawyers, educators, accountants, healthcare professionals. Homemakers with a side business in scrapbooking, photography, cosmetics, or house goods. Mechanics, auto-body specialists, plumbers, home builders, roofers. Coaches, counselors, paralegals. College students working part-time jobs to pay their way through school. High-schoolers working afternoon jobs for minimum wage. VBS kids whose parents don't even know the Lord!
One contributed the quarter he gripped tightly to make sure he didn't lose it. Another gave 121 pennies from her piggy bank. Still another contributed his $13 check as a tenth of his weekly wages. Still others gave larger sums — a tithe of $20K annual income, $50K income, even $100K income or more. In each instance, the gift was Corban, a "thing offered," an act of worship that reflects her trust in God, a sacrificial gift that reveals his obedience to the Spirit.
These dollars add up. Cumulatively, collectively, cooperatively, these small amounts began as a trickle, but soon became a swelling stream until our national and international ministries were able to flood the nations. The sidebar at the bottom of this page illustrates the power of the many. Not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice.
WOW! My few cents worth — my drop of rain — becomes part of a mighty torrent that floods the nations. My grain of corn is as significant as the granaries Joseph built to feed the nations. My thin red cent becomes part of a multi-million dollar enterprise that enables thousands of missionaries to serve far as part of a well-equipped Great Commission task force.
Unfortunately, the numbers outlined in the sidebar are not the norm. The average donor contributes 2.55 percent of his/her disposable income (not gross income, but disposable income) to his or her church. On average, our cooperating churches retain 94 cents out of every dollar to use in ways that seemed wise to them, forwarding, on average, just over six cents out of each dollar through the Cooperative Program. Our states, on average, also fall slightly under the 40 percent threshold.
In other words:
Believers who tithe – 10% — Members who give – 2.55%
Churches once contributed – 10% — Churches now contribute – 6.08%
States could forward – 40% — States currently forward – 37.74%
SBC priorities for IMB – 50% — SBC priorities for IMB – 50.00%
Some years ago I heard Tony Evans preach at a Promise Keepers conference in Indianapolis. He introduced his sermon with a powerful litany on the importance of reaching men if we hope to effect spiritual change. His premise was, "As goes the man, so goes the world." Too often we focus on the large institutions — the world, the government, the Convention. But heart change is never from the top down. Follow Evans' line of thought.
As goes the man, so goes the family.
As goes the family, so goes the church.
As goes the church, so goes the neighborhood.
As goes the neighborhood, so goes the community.
As goes the community, so goes the city.
As goes the city, so goes the county.
As goes the county, so goes the state.
As goes the state, so goes the nation.
As goes the nation, so goes the world.
So, he asked, how do we reach the world?
We change the world by reaching the nations.
We change the nations by reaching the states.
We change the states by reaching the counties.
We change the counties by reaching the cities.
We change the cities by reaching the communities.
We change the communities by reaching the neighborhoods.
We change the neighborhoods by reaching the churches.
We change the churches by reaching the families.
We change the families by reaching the men.
Lasting change always starts with the individual. This is true whether we are speaking of evangelism, revival, social change, or cooperative funding for our ministries. Giving begins with the individual church member, the single donor to God's work. It goes to the churches, to the states, to the Convention, to the ministries funded by the Convention, then to the world that is reached through all of our efforts along the way.
In 2008, the churches received more than $9 billion (yes, that's nine billion) in general budget receipts. But this was not a tithe. It represents about one-fourth of a tithe (if the tithe is calculated from the amount of one's disposable income). Always short of money, the churches retained 94 cents out of every dollar for use under local control. The states retained 3.814 cents of the six cents they received, forwarding 2.267 cents to the SBC. Of these few cents, the IMB received 1.134 cents of each dollar contributed to the churches.
But due to the collective power of millions of faithful donors, these 1.134 cents resulted in more than $102 million going to the IMB to help reach the nations. For each one percent in average gifts from the local church to the Cooperative Program, the IMB received $16,808,024. If our cooperating churches had forwarded a mere 7 percent (the amount they contributed in 2003), IMB would have received, not $102 million, but $117 million. At 8 percent (the amount they contributed in 2000), this would have amounted to $134 million, more than offsetting last year's $29 million shortfall in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
But, and this is so significant, at 8 percent giving from the churches, NAMB would also have received an additional $15 million for strategic church planting. The seminaries would have received an additional $14 million to expand their educational opportunities for pastors and other church workers. A rising tide really does raise all the boats. This is the power of cooperation.
A drop of rain. A seed of corn. A thin red cent. None, by itself, seems significant. But, collectively, the drops of rain become a deluge. The grains of corn feed an army. And the thin red cents fund a movement — all for the glory of God.
A Swelling Stream
• If each believer tithed at 10 percent, this yields a one dollar times 10 percent of his or her income.
• If each church gave at 10 percent, this yields one dime times the number of believers in the church times 10 percent of their collective income.
• If each state forwarded 40 percent, this yields four cents times the number of churches in the state times the number of believers in each church times 10 percent of their collective income.
• If the IMB received 50 percent of all national SBC contributions (which it does), this yields two cents times the number of cooperating state conventions, times the number of churches in each state, times the number of believers in each church, times 10 percent of their collective income.