As a young pastor, I heard older colleagues refer to the "co (long o) – operative" program, pronouncing "cooperative" as if it were really two words. For someone who always said "kwopertive," this sounded strange. I concluded that it must be a colloquialism. The answer, however, is that "Co-Operative Program" was its original name. The report that created the Cooperative Program in 1925 read in part: "Your Committee would further recommend that from the adoption of this report by the Convention our co-operative work be known as 'The Co-Operative Program of Southern Baptists.'" (SBC Annual, 1925, p. 31).
Even though the contemporary spelling and pronunciation of "cooperate" do not change its original meaning, I find something instructive in the old hyphenated rendering. The dictionary notes that the word comes from the Latin words "co" meaning together and "operari" meaning to work; thus, to work together.
Everyone knows Southern Baptists believe in working for the Lord. We have been practicing the modern admonition to "just do it" for a long time. Soul winning, Sunday School, church building, missions – just do it! But the key to the growth of our far-flung, multifaceted enterprises is not just that we were willing, under God's leadership, to work, but to work together. The genius of the Cooperative Program is in the "co." As the 1925 report said, "We must believe that we find ourselves with a real capacity for co-operation which we have not known before and a recognition of the necessity of such co-operation." (SBC Annual, 1925, p. 27).
Prior to the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists supported various institutions and enterprises through the societal method whereby each entity appealed directly to the churches for support. This system was manifestly inefficient, inequitable, and cumbersome for the churches and the agencies. The money raised was woefully inadequate and the expense of raising it was unconscionably high. Though the idea of a single program of securing funds from the churches for all Southern Baptist work was slow and gradual in its formation, it produced a growth era that is one of the greatest success stories in Christian history. After eighty years, the dream of one sacred effort envisioned in the 1845 SBC Constitution became a reality. Another seventy-five years later, we look back with thankfulness and amazement at what the Cooperative Program has accomplished. As we celebrate, reflect, and plan for the future, remember, the operative word is "co."