Task force calls for changes in CP focus, strategy, cooperation
The report, plainspoken and candid, was released Sept. 17 in Nashville, Tenn., where more than 30 entity heads and state executives gathered to discuss its content. It has 13 recommendations and is the fruit of more than five years of work by The Task Force on Cooperation, an eight-member group composed of four entity heads and four state executives. The task force was set up in 2000 by the Great Commission Council and state executives to study ways to boost stagnant Cooperative Program growth as well as ways to improve relations between the national body and state conventions.
According to the report, over the last 40 years the Cooperative Program -- Southern Baptists' mode of funding missions, seminaries and other ministries since 1925 -- has "gradually begun to vaporize as a high priority" in the hearts and minds of "many pastors, their people, and even denominational leaders."
"Now scores of Southern Baptists in the pulpits and the pews virtually ignore the plight of the Cooperative Program," the report says. "As a result, we all have consciously or unconsciously hurt the real growth of the Cooperative Program."
The Cooperative Program supports both state and national ministries. The process begins when churches forward a percentage of their offerings to the state (or regional) convention, which then forwards a percentage of the monies it receives to the national body. From there, the funds are distributed among Southern Baptists' two mission boards, six seminaries and other ministries. The portion retained by state and region conventions supports ministries in their respective areas.
Although giving to the Cooperative Program generally increases each year, it has struggled to keep up with inflation. The results have impacted the entities. For instance, in 2003, the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board -- both of which receive CP funds -- were forced to cut their respective budgets, preventing new missionaries from being assigned to the field.
Members of the task force were: Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board; William Crews, past president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary; Robert Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board; Morris Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee; J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention; Carlisle Driggers, executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention; O. Wyndell Jones, retired executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa; and Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
In 1984, the report says, churches forwarded an average of 10.6 percent of their offerings to the Cooperative Program through their state convention, although today, that number is only 6.64 percent. Leaders within the convention must head the effort to reverse the trend, the report asserts.
"[T]oo many top Southern Baptist Convention leaders and officials for too many years gave scant attention or support to the Cooperative Program as they discharged their responsibilities," the report says. "It is well known that a number of our leaders in the past generation hardly ever spoke about the Cooperative Program or promoted it in one way or another. For the most part, their churches were poor models of Cooperative Program support. As a result, it has been projected that thousands of pastors and churches reduced their Cooperative Program percentage of undesignated monies as they followed the example of those who led them.
"For sure, this reality has hurt the Cooperative Program as much as anything and has been discouraging and regrettable. About that point, there yet remains a huge amount of disappointment, mistrust and even raw emotions which need to be recognized, addressed, and reconciled all across the Southern Baptist Convention."
The task force made more than a dozen recommendations:
-- People "elected to Southern Baptist Convention positions of leadership" should come from "strong Cooperative Program churches" and should be "well-known advocates themselves of Cooperative Program commitment."
-- Every elected SBC and state convention leader "should promote the Cooperative Program" with "vigor and intentionality on a consistent basis."
-- The Cooperative Program should "be placed at the top of every agenda" during SBC annual meetings and state convention meetings. CP also should be a top priority for "various state and national entities that receive Cooperative Program funds."
-- The International Mission Board and North American Mission Board should promote the Cooperative Program "as vigorously" as they promote, respectively, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
-- "Every effort" must be made to "incorporate a renewed call to biblical stewardship and the Cooperative Program" as a "vital link in support of the invitation of Jesus to live out His Kingdom principles."
-- The state conventions and the SBC Executive Committee must join together to provide leadership for "Cooperative Program promotions and expansion." "We simply must come together for these uncertain times and for the years ahead"
-- Southern Baptists should be taught "to practice the biblical standard" of tithing.
-- Southern Baptist churches should send "at least a tithe of undesignated receipts" to mission causes through the Cooperative Program.
-- "Every avenue" must "be explored" to education Southern Baptists -- particularly those 40 and younger -- about the Cooperative Program.
-- SBC and state convention leaders must agree upon "a single-focused, simple to understand" strategy for Cooperative Program advancement. "[T]hat strategy must be built on identifying the strengths of the Cooperative Program and adding to those strengths while not giving so much time and attention to what is wrong with the Cooperative Program."
-- SBC entities must not pursue "financial mission support in a societal approach" -- that is, by seeking donations directly from churches outside of the Cooperative Program framework. "This practice is the polar opposite to the Cooperative Program and will mean the death of Southern Baptists as we have existed, especially since 1925."
-- As CP giving increases in churches, state conventions "must be challenged" to move toward a 50/50 distribution of Cooperative Program funds -- that is, keeping 50 percent of CP funds while forwarding 50 percent to the national body.
-- SBC leaders must help the state conventions "encourage the churches, especially high profile churches, to give greater support" to the Cooperative Program.
The report concluded that while the Cooperative Program has been resilient through the years -- surviving economic depressions and wars -- its future is murky without a boost in cooperation and funds.
"The truth of the matter is ... that when it comes to Southern Baptist cooperation for the sake of the Kingdom of God and when it comes to an all-out commitment to the Cooperative Program, we are in a situation that only promises to get worse unless we improve our relationships with each other in the Spirit of Christ," the report says. "God shall not bless us and we shall never reach the world one person at a time by doing any less."