Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Cooperative Program: genius of SBC missions

Part of an ongoing series on Southern Baptist history . . . 

Also at the 1925 Convention, the Cooperative Program was initiated, the greatest method of missions funding ever invented by the mind of man. Ironically, its success stems from the failure of the Seventy-Five Million Campaign of 1919-1924. The constant fundraising appeals to local churches for individual building projects, mission schools and hospitals, had become a burden to local churches.

After the First World War, Southern Baptists, like their Northern counterparts, launched a campaign to raise $75 million in five years to fund all areas of SBC work and end the individual appeals and competition for funding. Amazingly, churches pledged $92 million, and SBC missions and denominational entities wrote their budgets based on $75 million. Unfortunately, the price of cotton fell after the war from 24 cents/lb. to 11 cents/lb., and the administrative end of the collection proved confusing and scattered.

In the end, only $58 million was actually collected, but the mission boards and other entities had spent the pledged $75 million, putting the entire SBC in a major financial crisis. They were in debt by the end of 1926 to the tune of $6.5 million. The SBC borrowed in bonds, bank loans, and individual loans, all at high interest rates. Finally the SBC was not able to make its payments, some having to be renewed without any payment on principal. Southern Baptists were distressed and despondent while creditors threatened legal proceedings, and there was talk of bankruptcy.

In 1933 the Executive Committee, determined to pay off their debts, enlisted 100,000 people to give one dollar a month over and above their church contributions. Soon the debt began to roll off the Convention, but it would take until 1944 to pay is all completely off. The experience steeled a commitment in SBC leaders to find a simple and consistent method of generating missions funds with very low overhead.

With the commitment to fundraising came also an evangelistic fervor, the greatest growth time in SBC history since Shubal Stearns and the Separate Baptist revivals of the 18th century. From 350,000 Southern Baptists in 1840, there were over 5 million white Baptists in 1940, and 7 million in 1950.

Then the idea was conceived to receive one offering in all the churches where part stays with the state convention and part goes to SBC missions. In the beginning state conventions and the SBC split Cooperative Program funds 50/50. In 2010, in North Carolina, the state convention has increased its CP split with the SBC from around 35% in 2008 to almost 42%.

The state conventions funded their church planting, orphanages, hospitals, and colleges, and the rest went to the Executive Committee in Nashville, TN. An unwritten rule was that no less than 50% of the money received at Nashville would go to foreign missions. In 2010, 50% still goes to the International Mission Board, 22.79% to North American missions, 22.16% to six SBC seminaries, 3.4% to the Executive Committee administration, and 1.65% to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Today the Cooperative Program provides consistent funding of all its agencies including the entire Baptist State convention of North Carolina’s evangelism, church planting (100+ church planters planting 99 new churches in 2007), children’s homes, Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute, conference centers, counseling, partnership mission trips, ministries to the aged, families, women, multicultural groups, 37 campuses, $1M in scholarships, Sunday Schools, worship, special needs, and prayer, and on the national level, six seminaries with over 16,000 students, 5200 North American missionaries and just over 5000 international missionaries in 180 countries around the world which started over 25,000 new churches and led 600,000 people to Christ in 2009.  

The Cooperative Program is the envy of the evangelical world.