When the offering plate is passed in a Southern Baptist church, the Cooperative Program gifts from those tithes and offerings support Southern Baptist missions from the front door of the local church to the ends of the earth.
Southern Baptists have become the largest evangelical mission-sending organization in history with more than ten thousand missionaries supported by more than forty-three thousand congregations.
The Cooperative Program is the financial foundation and backbone of Southern Baptist missions and ministries. Last year alone, Southern Baptists gave more than $500 million through the Cooperative Program.
But when funds from special offerings such as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and state missions offerings are included, the figure rises to more than $737 million. The work of Southern Baptists is a dually-funded endeavor.
Bob Shelton, stewardship and Cooperative Program specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, believes the Cooperative Program and special offerings are wonderful partners working together and are equally important when it comes to reaching the world for Christ. "In essence, the Cooperative Program is the church's channel of giving, while special offerings give individuals an opportunity to give sacrificially above and beyond the tithe," Shelton said. "A dual system is required in order to fund all that God is accomplishing."
From 1925 until the mid-1980s, Southern Baptist churches gave 10.5 percent on average through the Cooperative Program. However, since 1984 this average has continually declined to an all time low of 6.4 percent last year. "Over all, we've lost a third of our Cooperative Program giving. If churches were giving at the same rate they gave in the mid-1980s, we would be putting another quarter of a billion dollars a year into reaching the world for Christ!" Shelton stated.
Oklahoma is one state that is doing much better than the national average. It is Shelton's job to make sure it stays that way. For the past ten years Oklahoma Southern Baptist churches gave on average 8 percent through the Cooperative Program. Last year that average grew to 9.7 percent.
Why? Shelton believes Oklahoma Baptists understand they have global impact through the Cooperative Program and the special offerings. "Our churches realize that being an Acts 1:8 church is not just about local ministry, it's about reaching the world for Christ," Shelton said.
Studies indicate the average Christian gives 2.4 percent of his/her income to the local church. As a result churches often struggle financially because God's people are not tithing. "In Oklahoma, we've launched the 10 Again Challenge. We are challenging every member to tithe and every church to give 10 percent through the Cooperative Program," Shelton explained. "When our giving returns to 10 percent, churches and associations will grow, giving to the Cooperative Program will triple, and we will have no problem satisfying the request for three thousand more international missionaries. When the water rises, it rises for everyone. It is time for ten again."
To hear the complete interview with Bob Shelton visit www.messengerradio.com.