The following is adapted from a sermon delivered by Dr. David E. Hankins, Vice President for Cooperative Program for the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. The entire sermon is available for download at www.cpmissions.net/presskit.
Let me give you four characteristics that make the Cooperative Program a superior system for reaching the world with the gospel. It doesn't mean that it is the only way to do it, but let me tell you why I believe it is a gift from God. It may be the most effective, efficient, far-reaching, consistent, missionary funding enterprise in the history of Christian denominations. If you think that is an overstatement, I challenge you to compare what's done through this method versus other methods of missions support.
First, Cooperative Program (CP) Missions is coherent rather than chaotic. There is a plan. We are approaching missions purposefully. We are not just running out into the harvest fields and whacking away with a sickle in so many disconnected forays into the world. There is a plan. There is a strategy behind this. It's thought out. It's prayed through. We're intending to reach people every way and everywhere that we can.
When my youngest son was 5, he was on a soccer team. His games basically consisted of one player for each team sitting in the opposite goals while the other twenty players from both teams moved in a little mass of arms and legs wherever the ball was. It wasn't very artful or effective, although it was quite energetic and cute.
As the children grew older they were taught a more successful strategy for playing soccer, which covered the whole field and involved a thoughtful plan for actually getting the ball into the goal. The Cooperative Program undergirds a thoughtful, coherent strategy for systematically reaching the goal.
Secondly, it's constant rather than spasmodic. For decades, farmers in the southwestern United States had serious problems with water. The Colorado River, their primary water source, was unpredictable. Sometimes it overflowed its banks, rushing through and sending water everywhere. At other times it dried up to a trickle. The farmers couldn't depend on it. They would have a drought, then they would have a flood. There was nothing they could do. They knew there was great potential, but it couldn't be harnessed.
Eventually people got together, cut through all the red tape, survived the intergovernmental fighting, secured the financing, and finally started building. In 1935 they dedicated the Boulder Dam (changed back later to the Hoover Dam), a magnificent feat of ingenuity, effort, and cooperation. Lake Mead contains enough water to cover the state of Connecticut to a depth of eight feet, and for almost seventy years it has been providing water in a systematic way that has built the agricultural industry in the southwest United States. It has supplied the water and hydroelectric power for Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and look at how that whole area has been developed since. Within fifty years of its opening it paid for itself — the entire $108 million cost — simply by selling power to those growing cities.
The Cooperative Program is the Hoover Dam of Southern Baptists. Almost 160 years ago when the Southern Baptist Convention was founded, the dream was that it would elicit, combine, and direct the energies of the Baptist denomination in America to reach the world with the gospel. It was a great dream, but our founders didn't have any mechanism to make it a reality. So all the various organizations and missionaries did their own thing. When a school needed money, it would send a fundraiser around to the churches. Then foreign missionaries would come asking for money for foreign missions. Then the home missionaries would come asking for money for domestic missions. Then the people from the orphanage would come. Then the Baptist colleges would come. On and on and on it went. Our funding mechanism was spasmodic at best.
The distribution of money was uneven, and up to half of the proceeds given for the denomination's work was used to support the fundraisers. It was a system that was not working – and it was driving the churches crazy. Sunday after Sunday there would be another guy in a dark suit with his hand out. The pastors were being limited in their own pulpit time. Finally, the churches decided there had to be a better way — and they found a better way for constant support for all the work — the Cooperative Program.
Dr. Jerry Rankin, president of our International Mission Board says that he sits with his peers in evangelical missions groups about once a year in meetings in which they pray for each other and share what is going on. He says other groups often bemoan the fact that swings in the economy are forcing their missionaries to come home because they do not have the stream of support they need. They have to come home and stay a year or so to try to get people to increase their commitment. They must raise new financial support, and then maybe they are able to go back. Many times they cannot. Their missionary forces are shrinking at a time when the population is burgeoning.
Dr. Rankin says he tries not to say much because he doesn't want to appear to be bragging, but he thanks God for the Cooperative Program because it is a constant stream of support. It's not the flood and then the drought. Year in, year out, the mission boards and missionaries are supported. They don't have to come home and spend half of their time trying to get you to make a commitment. Southern Baptists, as a group, partner together and have that strength, that constant support for missions.
Next, the Cooperative Program is comprehensive rather than isolated. We reach out to the entire globe. We have missiologists who have the task of strategizing on how we reach into the parts of the world that have not yet been reached. They are leading us to it. You ought to thank God for them and pray for them. They are doing great work. They really intend to follow the Great Commission. Dr. Rankin says, "The Lord didn't say, 'Go into all the world where they will let you come.' He said, 'Go into all the world' and that is what we are intending to do." We have a comprehensive approach, reaching everywhere.
Let me say something about the great popularity of mission trips. Overseas mission trips are great things. I have been on half a dozen myself and hope the Lord will let me go on more. I like going, getting right out there with the people, meeting them, and sharing the gospel. I come back blessed and inspired. They have a great benefit, and I urge those who have gone, and who are planning to go, to continue. But remember, the local church mission trip is not a substitute for the Cooperative Program. It's a supplement to it. It is built on the foundation of it. Don't let mission trips replace the Cooperative Program in your aim, in your methodology, and in your resources.
Finally, it is cooperative rather than competitive. The Cooperative Program lets us work together. It reminds us that we can do more together than we can do separately. It generates synergy. We get more done when we work together than when we work independently or competitively and try to do it by ourselves.
There has been a wave of robberies in the past few years since the advent of the automatic teller machines. Certain crooks have realized that they can hijack a car, force the passengers to go to an ATM, and make them withdraw money from their account for the thief. I read about a would-be crook in Illinois who didn't seem to get it right. He hijacked a person, got in the car, and forced the driver to take him to two different ATMs where the crook proceeded to withdraw money from his own account.
Let me tell you something. When Southern Baptists neglect the Cooperative Program, they are stealing from their own account. It is robbing you from doing exactly what God has called you to do. Don't cripple yourself. The Cooperative Program keeps Southern Baptists from being crippled in our missionary enterprise. It is that which keeps us focused on the Great Commission.
CP Missions Fast Facts
• It unites all Southern Baptists into a missions team fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
• It supports the missions and ministries of your state convention.
• The work of 5,380 international missionaries engages more than 1,400 people groups around the world through the International Mission Board.
• Over 1,788 new churches were planted through the efforts of more than 5,204 North American missionaries, whose efforts are coordinated through your North American Mission Board and individual state conventions.
• Thanks in part to your participation in Cooperative Program (CP) Missions, 816,436 people were baptized worldwide.
Note: All statistics are from the 2003 SBC Book of Reports and are subject to change.