SBC Life Articles

The Changing Face of The Cooperative Program: Doing More With Less

The Changing Face of the Cooperative Program

Click here to view or download this special section of photographs and charts as a PDF.



The Cooperative Program has always been about three things. It is about people—training ministers, planting churches, deploying missionaries, serving the needs of others.

It is about the Gospel—announcing the Good News of redemption through Jesus Christ to those in our neighborhoods and to the nations.

It is about cooperation—believing we can accomplish more by working together than any of us can accomplish alone . . . and building mutual trust to work together around our common tasks of evangelism, service, and missions.

These themes are captured in the Convention's purpose statement—"It is the purpose of the Convention to provide a general organization for Baptists in the United States and its territories for the promotion of Christian missions at home and abroad and any other objects such as Christian education, benevolent enterprises, and social services which it may deem proper and advisable for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God."

In this special spread, SBC LIFE presents a pictorial collage that shows the changing face of the Convention from 1925, when the Cooperative Program was instituted, to the present. All of the images have one thing in common—they are pictures of people. Hair styles and dress have changed dramatically; but so has the ethnic and racial diversity of the Convention. What has not changed is the overarching purpose—the CP is and always has been about people sharing the Gospel, preparing for ministry, baptizing believers, planting churches, serving others, and evangelizing the world.

Each page also has a chart showing some of the challenges we face. Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, is fond of saying "facts are our friends." These charts are intended to be diagnostic tools to show us where we are in order to encourage us to return to our first love of cooperating for the Gospel. Through cooperation, Southern Baptists built two bold, vibrant missions sending agencies and six cutting-edge seminaries spread across the continent.

These charts show that our state Baptist conventions are doing more with less. Our missions organizations are doing more with less. Our seminaries are doing more with less.

The CP Allocation Budget report below reveals that our other entities are also doing more with less, whether GuideStone, ERLC, or the SBC Executive Committee in its management of the SBC operating budget. It also demonstrates that more than 95 cents out of every dollar received by the SBC through CP goes directly to help fund overseas missions, North American evangelism and church planting, and ministerial training and preparation.

State Baptist Conventions

Since the Cooperative Program was established in 1925 as a parternship between the states and the SBC, state conventions have forwarded between 35 percent and 38 percent of the contributions they received from the churches. At the turn of the century, that number had edged down to 34.75 percent; but since then, it has grown steadily to last year's 38.77 percent.

During the same period, church contributions through the CP decreased from an average of 7.68 percent of undesignated gifts in 2000 to last year's 5.41 percent. Our state conventions have been responsive to the Great Commission Task Force recommendations to begin moving toward a 50/50 split between state and national ministries; our churches have not kept pace with the states.

International Missions

The backbone of our overseas missions efforts has always been—and most likely will always be—individuals who relocate from American soil to plant their lives in the harvest fields of the world. They serve as the points of contact for the vast majority of local church overseas ministry ventures and are kept on the field through Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering gifts for international missions.

As the combined "buying power" of these two funding streams has decreased, the number of personnel IMB has been able to keep on the field has also declined. If every church were to raise its CP contributions by one percentage point, IMB would receive an immediate infusion of more than $18 million, enough to keep its current force on the field and deploy hundreds of others who are ready to go.

North American Evangelism

With more than eight hundred churches closing their doors each year, NAMB's church planting initiative is an essential part of its overall evangelism strategy. Though we have seen a slow increase in the number of churches that cooperate with the Convention, many of these churches report no baptisms year after year. As a result our ratio of baptisms per church has been in a steady decline for several decades.

Working in partnership with churches, associations, and state conventions, NAMB is focused on planting healthy, reproducing churches in the urban centers of America, assisting rural church planting initiatives, and revitalizing churches that are plateaued or declining.

Seminary Training

Last year, our seminaries enrolled more than 17,700 students for ministerial training. As adult higher education has changed, our seminaries have kept pace with cutting edge educational delivery methods, tailoring their programs to students' needs without compromising the quality of theological education provided.

Southern Baptists churches need pastors with minimal debt upon graduation. Support for these institutions is provided through Cooperative Program funding.


    About the Author

  • Roger S. Oldham