The Cooperative Program: The Genius of the SBC

This week is sort of my “Ode to the SBC” week with their annual gathering in Houston. Today, I want to focus on what I believe is the genius of the SBC that rarely isn’t talked about enough.

W.W. Barnes1 once wrote, “The Cooperative Program is the greatest step forward in Kingdom finance Southern Baptists have ever taken.”

The Southern Baptist Convention (also SBC) was founded in May of 1845 as a group of autonomous churches who voluntarily cooperated to do missions and spread the Gospel from their local communities to the ends of the World. For many years following its founding, the Convention used established forms of designated and undesignated giving, as well as a former society based model of giving to fund missions and denominational ventures. This society model proved ineffective and was part of the demise of early boards and agencies (Bible Study Board and first Sunday School Board are examples) along with some other logistical issues.

In 1917, the SBC initiated a program called the “Seventy-Five Million Campaign” that sought to fund  ministry initiatives and expand receipts. The Campaign was a mixed result, but also led to some financial challenges related to a debt burden it carried. So in 1925, the SBC adopted a Co-operative Program of giving that sought to provide a systematic framework to support and fund the denominational ministry.

JE Dillard was named the chair and the program moved forward. Since that time in 1925 the Cooperative Program has remained unchanged in its fundamental principles and operations. It is also the genius of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Cooperative Program provides the funding arm from each of the local churches (all 45,000 of

This is how the CP works out as percentage of giving.

This is how the CP works out as percentage of giving.

them) to missions and denominational agencies. As our chart shows, the process is fairly straightforward and funds move from the pew to the field with little hindrance.

Since the primary focus of the SBC has always been Gospel centered missions, the Cooperative Program has provided a stable funding source that scaled with the growth of the Convention itself. In keeping with the intent of the founders of the Convention, “The Cooperative Program brought the goal of the original constitution of 1845 closer to realization…”2 The Cooperative Program also provides a linking of the local church to the state conventions and the larger denominational programs and agencies that facilitates a growing unity and focused purpose.

Regardless of the challenges and controversies that have gone on within the Convention over the years, the steadfast commitment to the Cooperative Program has been a point of unity within the denominational work. It allows churches to see how their dollars go straight to funding the missions and ministries that they value.

This is the process of funding. Click for more detail.

This is the process of funding. Click for more detail.

Another aspect of the funding is that it has enabled Southern Baptists to create seminaries to train their pastors and missionaries at a reasonable cost. When I was considering seminary, it was an easy decision to choose an SBC seminary over other attractive options as I knew I would receive a qualified education at a cost that was reasonable and allowed me to graduate with no student loans. Most seminarians in the ATS system cannot say that; Southern Baptist should be reminded and be proud of this.

In the latest stats on the Cooperative Program, in 2011 the Cooperative Program received $500,410,514 in funds with $308 million going directly to Convention interests. That money is divided up according to an allocation budget (affirmed by the Convention meeting.) For the 2012-2013 year the proposed budget saw $94,376,000 go to International Missions and $42,845,200 go to North American Missions for a total of $137,221,200 dedicated to missions. I don’t know of a Protestant denomination that provides a more secure method of funding their missionaries. Along these lines, the seminaries (all six of them) received $41,209,600 for theological education.

These numbers, which are all public, aren’t meant to brag about size but absolutely meant to show how God’s people provide and remind us of the task before us. The Cooperative Program is a genius system that allows each member of our churches to directly fund the work of God at home and abroad. 

From a strategic vantage point (since that is a focus of this blog), the Cooperative Program provides a consistent and scalable funding arm to support and sustain prioritized ministry activities. Its simplicity (relatively speaking) is its genius. For the many new missions and church networks that are growing, mostly among free church ecclesiological models, this is the kind of funding program that would help them grow.

One of the many things that I am proud of as a Southern Baptist is how the Cooperative Program works. I remember to this day putting my $10 bill into the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering envelop, placing it in the offering plate, and knowing it went directly to funding missions across the world. That is a great thing for the Kingdom of God.

  1. 1. The Southern Baptist Convention 1845-1959, 1954 pg 230 

  2. 2. Robert Baker The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1974 pg 404 


Professional Conferences and Networking

Recently I attended my annual Metro Young Adult Minister’s Conference in Colorado Springs. This conference is for, generally, larger churches who have specific ministers or programs to reach young adults. There are a number of similar professional meetings like this for various levels of church programming (children’s, executive pastors, worship, communications, etc.) One of the purposes of these conferences allows ministers who are reaching a similar age segment, and who normally might not cross paths, to have some focused time of interaction, networking, and professional development.

Metro ConferenceDuring these meetings there is usually a focused topic with a presenter and then some follow up. For our meeting we have David Simpson from the Table Group (Patrick Lencioni’s Consulting Firm) come and lead a conversation about some of the central tenants of The Advantage and how we can apply them within our ministry framework. Simpson provided an excellent interaction where he took the business focused concepts within the text, drew them into a ministry environment, and drilled down on their implementation. Obviously for all the people in the room we each had different takeaways. Overall, I thought the conversation and topic went very well.

More to the point I am attempting to make here: these kinds of conferences are important for ministers (or ministry leaders) to attend. The best parts of the conferences are often the interaction and networking which occur off-site or outside the normal venues. For my involvement in these groups, this is really one of the two things I look forward to the most (the main topic being the other.)

Another point of the conference is how it allows ministers and ministry leaders to spend focused time discussing, thinking, and hearing about approaches and models for their specific ministry area. Too often we all have a tendency to sit in our offices, read a cloistered group of influencers, and attempt to do ministry in a specific paradigm. It isn’t that effective ministry can exist in this environment, but how much better is to hear where others are coming from. Usually, by the end of the meeting I’ll have a dozen or so ideas that I can take back to my church and think about implementing.

While I am a bit skeptical to the value of unguided groupthink, these kinds of events plunge into a different means of talking as a group to grow ourselves and ministries. It is also vital to be reminded that there are plenty of others out there doing ministry, like me, in a similar context who also face similar challenges. (Because ministry is challenging.)

Therefore, I would certainly recommend for anyone to seek out or attend these kinds of events. Perhaps even engaging with a regional group of leaders in a semi-annual or annual dialogue that will aid you as a leader.

Sharpening our skill set is hard to do in a vacuum. However, when you are placed alongside already sharp leaders there is a natural honing process that will leave you more ready and refreshed to confront the ins and outs of regular ministry life.

So, what kind of events like this do you participate in? How are you finding dialogue and networking with other similar minded leaders in your area?