One of the hallmarks of any SBC gathering is the constant mentioning of the Cooperative Program. I think it's in the SBC constitution somewhere to mention it at least 964 times during a gathering. But the CP is one of the greatest things about being Southern Baptist. And its missions and ministry effectiveness is no less than a miracle. Our previous stop was in Murray KY and outside First Baptist is a historical marker for the beginnings of the CP.
The Cooperative Program is a voluntary, collaborative effort of over 46,000 SBC churches to partner together for missions, ministry, and evangelism. Each church sends a portion of its weekly offering to its State Convention, who keep part of it for ministry in the state (church planting, collegiate ministry, church revitalization, disaster relief, etc.) and forwards the rest to Nashville where the money is distributed to six seminaries, two mission boards, our Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, historical archives, all for the purpose of reaching the world for Christ. It's a lot of numbers. But those numbers represent faithful people giving faithfully and a faithful God using those monies in incredible ways.
So why should we love the CP? I think there's at least 10 reasons.
1. It allows churches of all sizes to impact the world - The church I pastor runs 200 on a full Sunday. We can only do so much. Other churches are 10x our size, and they can do more on their own. But through the CP we're able to support missionaries around the world.
2. It brings churches together - When you put 46,000 churches together you learn that none of them are alike. They're in urban or rural settings. They're ethnic or anglo. They're contemporary or traditional. They're single-pastor or elder-led. They're Reformed or "Traditional." But despite all those differences, one common thread remains, cooperating together for the sake of the Gospel.
3. It's voluntary - Some churches choose to be extra generous with their CP giving, and others have to be more careful because they have a limited budget. Each church has the freedom to give as they see fit, and trust God with the results. We're not forced into giving or threatened with expulsion (the minimum in Florida is $250 a year!).
4. It's accountable - Every year trustees are elected to serve as Convention representatives over each of our entities. Their work is to ensure theological fidelity, and also to ensure that the CP funds are used wisely and effectively. When we give in our churches, we can know that our monies will be used well.
5. It's global - The interconnectedness of our world today means that our missions impact is global even when it's in our backyard. Our seminaries are filled with international students committed to being trained for ministry and then returning home to lead churches and ministries there. Our college campuses attract global students, who are reached with the Gospel. Our church planters are strategically placed in cities around the US and Canada with a global emphasis (NYC, LA, Miami). So a church in Possum Trot, Kentucky (yes it's a real town) can support a church planter in Seattle leading a Chinese church who sends out a missionary to Beijing.
6. Our missionaries are supported - The church I pastor has a retired missionary couple who are our biggest champions for missions and the Cooperative Program. Because of the generosity of faithful churches, they never once had to write home for support, or come off the field for months to fundraise. When our mission board sends a family, they ensure they're taken care of, so all their effort can be on impacting their community for Christ.
7. Students prepare for ministry affordably - One way I've personally benefited from the CP has been the generosity extended to seminary students. Tuition is subsidized for SBC students by 50%, making a world-class theological education both affordable and accessible. Our six funded seminaries are churning out graduates committed to the Kingdom, and carrying on the great legacy left behind by the alumni before them.
8. We have a prophetic voice - In the last year no SBC entity has come under fire more than the ERLC, which is our public policy and ethics channel. But with the ERLC and its leadership under Dr. Moore, Southern Baptists have a trusted, authoritative, and respected voice on cultural issues. With shifting tides on gender identity, sexuality, marriage, abortion, religious freedom, and more, it's critical for us to have more than a seat at the table but a voice crying in the wilderness. Our CP giving allows for the ERLC to speak from a biblical worldview, to voice concerns to Congress and the Courts, and to proclaim the unchanging gospel message of salvation through Christ.
9. Churches get planted - The president of NAMB, Kevin Ezell, shared with us at the Florida Convention that their goal is to plant 1,200 churches every year. That means this Sunday over 20 churches will launch around North America alone. Each of those churches stands as a witness to the community around them for the love of Christ and the preaching of the Gospel. And where churches get planted, the Kingdom expands. Where the Kingdom expands, lives are changed.
10. It has endured - The way we give has changed. Millennials have no idea what a "pocketbook" is. Churches have had to tighten the belt in light of the 2009 recession. Ministries have had to streamline. State conventions have downsized facilities. Networks and digital communication have reduced the need for brick and mortar. But despite all the changes that have happened and have yet to, the process remains. As a testament not only to the work of God but the faithful labor of previous generations of Southern Baptists.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.