SBC Life Articles

The Baptist 75 Million Campaign

While the Cooperative Program is now well-known and well-established among Southern Baptist churches, there was a day when cooperative giving was a bold, new idea.

From 1919 to 1924, Southern Baptists participated in an unprecedented giving campaign that became the foundation for today's ongoing Cooperative Program. Prior to that time, special fund drives were common twice a year, one for Southern Baptist Convention causes and the other for needs in the states.

But by 1918, the pressing physical and spiritual needs of post-World War I Europe, as well as other missions, education, and benevolence causes led the Convention to look for new models of cooperative funding. In the face of worsening financial difficulties, SBC President J.B. Gambrell challenged Southern Baptists at the 1919 Convention "to adopt a program of work commensurate with reasonable demands upon us." (SBC Annual, 1919). The 4,200 messengers voted, without dissent, the undertaking of the Baptist 75 Million Campaign, where members in every church were asked to sign pledge cards and give over a five-year period.

Leaders such as George W. Truett, pastor of FBC Dallas and L.R. Scarborough, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary played key roles. WMU accepted $15 million as its campaign quota, and appointed Mrs. W.J. Neel of Georgia as its campaign director. The eighteen State Conventions each accepted goals ranging from $250,000 in New Mexico to $16,000,000 in Texas. When the pledges were totaled, an amazing $92,630,923 had been committed.

Due to economic problems (cotton dropped from 40 cents a pound to 10 cents a pound) and controversies, actual receipts from the campaign totaled only $58,591,713. But that amount given over a five-year period represented between 80 percent and 90 percent as much as Baptists had given in their first seventy-four years of existence since 1845! In addition, October services for "calling out the called" resulted in more than 20,000 volunteers for ministry and mission service. About 3,000 new churches were organized, and eight new foreign mission fields were entered.

Because Southern Baptist agencies had begun planning and spending according to the amount pledged in the campaign rather than actual receipts, leaders were soon forced to consider a successor plan to the Baptist 75 Million Campaign. They had reason to do so with optimism. The unprecedented cooperative giving from 1919 to 1924 had raised the sights of Southern Baptists, giving them a vision of what autonomous churches could do together for the cause of Christ. They had experienced the spiritual blessing that sacrificial giving brings and developed a pattern for ongoing cooperation.

When Southern Baptists met in Memphis in 1925 and formally began the Cooperative Program, it was in effect a way of continuing the ongoing benefits they had experienced during the Baptist 75 Million Campaign.



A Year of Celebration

Next year, Southern Baptists will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Cooperative Program focusing on the theme Partners in the Harvest. The Cooperative Program's official birthday day was May 13, 1925.

Begin plans to involve your congregation in the Cooperative Program year 2000 celebration. Together we will rejoice over God's blessings in the past and accept His challenge for the future.

    About the Author

  • Nate Adams