I carefully watch the giving trends of our Missouri Baptist churches. Since January, I am proud to say we have seen a marked increase in mission giving through the Cooperative Program (CP). I am grateful so many of our churches hold to the Acts 1:8 vision of reaching our state, nation and world through the cooperative ministries of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The trends are pointing up.
Someone may be tempted to say, “Well, the increased giving is just because of the uptick in the economy.” I disagree. One major factor for the increase is because of churches choosing to make sacrifice while the economy was still in the tank. I commend these church leaders for their cooperative vision. We really can do more together than we can do independently.
There are some other serious trends that we cannot tiptoe around. One has to do with the national trend that seems to indicate an erosion of cooperation. Will we continue to encourage our common-funding mechanism called the Cooperative Program that provides funding for international missionaries, universities and seminaries, disaster relief equipment and training, church planters, resources for helping churches become healthier, and the list goes on and on? Or, will we follow the siren call of societal/direct funding of limited mission work?
From the early 1930s until the mid 1980s, gifts to the Cooperative Program grew. The percentage of the churches’ undesignated receipts given through the CP was consistently in the 10.5 to 11 percent range. Faithful support of the CP was a nearly universal practice. The Southern Baptist Cooperative Program became the premier missions-funding methodology among all American denominations. Truth is, it remains the foremost method for multi-generational, multi-strategy missions when the church is serious about obeying the Acts 1:8 mandate of being witnesses simultaneously “in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.”
However, in 1984 a new trend emerged. There developed a marked change in support for the CP from the churches. Even though the amount of dollars grew, the percentages began a decline. The average percentage of undesignated receipts sent by the churches through the Cooperative Program from 1984 to 2004 declined from 10.6 to 6.99 (One Sacred Effort, p. 160-161). In 2010, the percentage continued to sag to a new low and in Missouri the figure was 6.2 percent. Gratefully, our churches are revealing a new heart for cooperative giving.
Why this national downward trend? It is attributable to a number of things—lack of education about cooperative ministries, leadership challenges, lack of trust, economic downturns, rise in the number of churches that baptize fewer people, cultural confusion about values, etc. You could accumulate a list as long as the average man is tall. But identifying problematic issues won’t help as much as determining a strategy for changing the trends.
How? Allow me to suggest three things:
1. Let’s take a fresh look at the scope of our cooperative ministries. Consider our international mission force. It is making a huge impact in the world today—far more than any one individual church could independently manage. What our Lord is doing through the missionaries we support is historical! We need to pray and give like never before because it makes a difference around the world.
Missouri Baptists have some of the best state missionaries in the entire SBC. These men and women have a heart to serve you and your church with resources to help your church be all that the Lord wants it to be. We have a seminary and Baptist universities to help train and equip the called for service in the Kingdom. We have ministries on the state campuses of Missouri. We have this great newsjournal, The Pathway, that works hard at giving you vital information that you can’t get anywhere else.
A comprehensive list of cooperative ministries would exceed the capacity of space available. But let me just say that the list of cooperative ministries that we do as cooperating Missouri Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program is huge and it is making a difference in the lives of real people for generations.
2. We must seize the opportunity to lead new people to Christ. This too is a cooperative work. Some pray, some preach, some invite, some cultivate relationships, some verbally witness. We are all involved. No one can just do one thing. It takes us all working together with our giftedness and callings to reach people for Christ here and there.
3. We need to “talk up” the impact of cooperative giving. It wasn’t long ago that convention heroes said things like, “I’m going all the way for the Program!” “The Cooperative Program is the horse we are riding to reach the ends of the earth with the gospel.” Today, we desperately need some new convention heroes who look beyond their own sphere of control and say something like, “We are changing the world by networking together with the CP!” You are potentially such a hero in the ministry assignment that the Lord has given you.
Perhaps it is time we once again celebrated those churches that are strong in their CP percentage giving. As Baptists, we believe that local churches are free to “do their own thing” with mission giving but let’s get to the place once again that our leaders lead us to see a new trend of growing Cooperative Program giving and increasing passion for penetrating lostness.