SBC Life Articles

A Looming Financial Crisis?

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 in September by the Convention's Executive Committee.

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 thirty 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.

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.'"

In order to address the problem of reduced giving, 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."

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust