Our Church, The SBC, and the Cooperative Program

I have written on this blog before on our church’s relationship to the Southern Baptist Convention, why we believe it is a valuable network/denomination, why we are a committed part of it and plan to be so for many years to come. If it’s of any interest to you, I did not grow up Southern Baptist, and thus I have no nostalgic loyalty to it. I am in the SBC by choice and conviction. I believe strategic partnership and networking is key for the progress of the Great Commission.

In recent years, the rubbing point for many younger pastors has been how much to give to the “Cooperative Program” (CP), the joint “”pot” of SBC churches. The CP finances the Southern Baptist seminaries, the North American Mission Board, the International Mission Board, and other Southern Baptist mission efforts. The CP has enabled the SBC to do unparalleled things–for example, Southern Baptists have put more missionaries on the field (5000+, currently) and provided a more affordable, higher quality theological education than any other denomination. That’s what happens when 42,000+ churches contribute to a collective pot.

The problem (famously now) is that so much of what is given to the CP stays right here in the states, particularly in those states where there are already a great number of churches. The Baptist State Convention of NC keeps something like 65 cents of every dollar given to the CP. That means of every dollar given, only 35 cents makes it out of the state! From there it is further divided between seminaries and national agencies. A disturbingly small fraction makes it to the actual “mission field.” Can it really be considered a wise investment of the money that God, and our church, has entrusted to us to get to the field?

A couple of thoughts.

First,I don’t mind paying for some “bureaucracy.” “Bureaucracy” is just a fancy word for “organization,” and organization is necessary for effective cooperative networks. So, I have no problem paying for an organizing, administrating group.

Second, I want to be a team player. I really like the current leadership of our SBC, both on the national and state levels. The leaders of the IMB, NAMB, our seminaries and our state have an aggressive, and in my view, properly prioritized view of mission. They are about as good as you could ask for. And most really want to turn the system around so that more money gets to the field.

It’s just that the institutions are so big, and have suffered from mission drift for so long, that even with the right leaders now in place, it will be a long journey to get our dollar allocations back to the right levels. It’s not fair to say to an organization, “Hey, re-organize 70% of your budget and give most of it away!” and expect that they can do that overnight. For example, Milton Holifield, the executive director of our state convention, is a very mission-minded man, and committed to increasing the amount they get to the field by half a percent a year–which, when you think about it, is quite significant. In order to do that, they’ve had to make some painful cutbacks. And for that I am very grateful. I want to support their efforts, and believe they are headed in the right direction.

So I feel caught in a dilemma: I believe in the SBC and I want to support it, particularly the good work I see happening in it. But I also have to be a wise steward of the money entrusted by our church to me for the sake of missions. There are a lot of good things the NC Baptist State Convention is doing, but there are also a lot of churches already here in NC. We (the local churches) can and should be leading in mission efforts in our own state. It’s not that there is no role for a state convention in that–there are certainly some things we could use a central office to help us with–but we want to see most of our money, all but a fraction, going to places where there is no church.

So what then do we do? Here’s where we, the Summit Church, currently are: We plan to increase our giving to the CP in the years to come, especially as we see the Convention going in such positive directions. Admittedly, we have let our direct giving to the CP get too low. It’s not that we quit giving to missions–in fact, that’s at an all time high for us. Last year, we gave nearly 20% of our income away to missions, and 900K of that went to specifically Southern Baptist mission efforts and institutions (for example, the IMB, Southern Baptist church plants, the seminaries, etc)–but the amount we gave to the CP itself was too low.

While we are doing that, however, we will continue to give directly to institutions we are particularly excited about, bypassing some of the unnecessary bureaucracy. As the system gets leaner, our giving will increase.

I don’t think there’s any question that some of the institutions must cease to function, at least at their current levels. The flatness of the world and cultural shifts in our country have made some of the institutions less necessary today than they once were. Don’t expect those institutions to go away quietly–institutions have a tendency to fight for their survival. This is understandable. Most see themselves as pursuing genuinely good works, and for the most part, they are. The question is not, however, whether their works are good, but whether they are the best investment of kingdom dollars.

I hope the process of change can be expedited. I pray God raises up leaders who act courageously. We need there to be a future for the SBC. We need our seminaries to continue to provide excellent and affordable theological education. Otherwise, how will we stem the rising tide of secularism? We need educated, biblically-grounded and philosophically-aware pulpits. We need organization and support for church planting, both domestic and international. We need organizations to help us serve the poor and the orphan around the world.

Bottom line: At the Summit Church, we plan to increase our CP giving, and pray that the institutions of the SBC increase the speed of their restructuring as well.

P.S. On a related note, I thought Jack Graham’s and Mark Driscoll’s recent discussion about the value of networks/denominations was intriguing and helpful.

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  1. Matt Svoboda   •  


    Thank you for this post. I think it resonates with a lot of SBC churches and pastors. It is a tough tension and I think The Summit Church is handling it well.

  2. Matt Svoboda   •  

    Oh yeah… I forgot to mention that the church staff I am on is currently reading your book “Gospel” and enjoying very much! Thanks for the good resource.

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