Is CP Dying?
Is the Cooperative Program dying? In case you are not aware, the Cooperative Program (CP) is the method by which Southern Baptists fund all of our mission enterprises and seminaries. I became a Southern Baptist in 1971. One of the first things that I learned about was the CP. I came to understand that one of the major reasons that Southern Baptists led all other denominations in mission work was that we had the CP.
I went to Southwestern Seminary in the fall of 1972. In almost every class, at some point, professors would mention how significant CP was in the life of the SBC. I was taught to appreciate and support CP. I came to believe that I could not think of myself as a Southern Baptist apart from a connection to the CP
I have pastored and/or taught at SBC churches/schools for 30+ years. I have always promoted and supported CP. I can’t imagine the SBC without the CP. Thirty-five years ago, the very thought of the demise of the CP would have been tantamount to heretical thinking. However, the CP, if not dying, is definitely declining.
In the last forty years, there have only been seven years in which there have been net declines in total CP. All seven have occurred since 1991. If giving had increased at the same rate as the 1970s, CP giving in 2004 would have been $1.7 billion. If it had increased at the 1980s’ rate, the amount would have been $1.2 billion. Instead actual giving for 2004 was only $500 million.
Interestingly, during this time of declining growth of CP giving, the number of SBC churches and the giving to SBC churches has been increasing. Since 1984, there has been a net gain of 6,725 churches. Since 1984 CP giving has lost 26% in relationship to the consumer price index, while giving to SBC churches has beat the consumer price index by 14%. The bottom line is that our churches have more money, but less money is flowing to the CP.
What has happened? According to Morris Chapman, president of the Executive Committee of the SBC (BP: 5-15-2005), “Twenty years ago the average church was giving 10.6 percent through CP. That percentage coming out of the local church has slipped to 6.99%. If that trend continues, obviously our missions enterprise around the world is going to be in a desperate condition.”
What is the future? If present trends continue, in 2024 CP giving will lose 123% versus the consumer price index. What will the practical outcome be? In 20 years the SBC will see much of its current ministry disappear. The number of missionaries will decline. Some of our seminaries may have to close. Mission support at every level of SBC life will decline. Ministries such as church planting, student work, etc. will be severely curtailed.
We already see continuing declines in the baptism rates in spite of the effort of Bobby Welch (President of the SBC) to motivate Southern Baptists to baptize one million in one year.
We have also seen financial cutbacks at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). The International Mission Board (IMB) has had to delay the sending of Journeymen missionaries because of funding issues. Will there be more cuts in mission finances and personnel in the future? If current trends continue, it will be inevitable.
Can we turn the corner? I really don’t know. Why has this decline happened? A number of problems have been suggested by various sources. We know that denominational loyalty has declined alongside this decline in CP. We have gone through a 20+ years struggle to assure that our institutions support a doctrine of inerrancy of the Bible. This has led to a loss of trust within the convention from which we have yet to emerge. We have seen major restructuring of our denominational organizations the creation of the North American Mission Board. These changes have left an uncertainty about what our national agencies are intended to do. These factors and others can be pointed to as sources of the decline of CP.
I personally believe that if we don’t find a way to re-energize CP giving, we will see the SBC decline and many of our mission efforts fall by the way. I believe that this will not only be a tragedy for the SBC but for the Kingdom as well.
What can you do?
- Be aware of what your church gives.
- Encourage greater giving, especially if your church has dropped its giving in recent years.
- Become an advocate for missions giving in your church. Don’t just promote CP, but also our state, home and international mission offerings.
- Encourage your church to be involved in mission trips so they can see what CP is doing here and around the world.
- Educate your younger leaders and children about CP and what the SBC does in the area of missions.
- Invite your associational missionary, a state worker, NAMB missionary, or IMB missionary to speak in your church about how CP impacts their work.
Is CP dying? No, CP is not dead. It is not yet on the respirator, but it definitely is ill.
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