Published June 8, 2006
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Two of nine recommendations to strengthen the Cooperative Program will be revised when they are presented to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, N.C., according to a May 26 announcement by the president and officers of the SBC Executive Committee.
One of the recommendations now will encourage churches to increase their giving through the Cooperative Program but no longer will specify a 10-percent goal for supporting the missions and ministries of state Baptist conventions and the SBC. Another now will encourage the election of leaders whose churches “are committed to increasing systematically and enthusiastically the percentage of undesignated receipts given through the Cooperative Program,” again without mention of a 10 percent target.
“These recommendations never were intended to create controversy,” the May 26 statement reads. “Messengers will have a number of decisions to make about a host of issues. We hope the revised recommendations will make it possible for messengers to wholeheartedly embrace our initiative to increase support for the Cooperative Program.”
Morris H. Chapman, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, said the changes were needed because the mention of a goal was being misperceived as a mandate or litmus test, instead of the intended spirit of the report to encourage greater support of SBC causes through the Cooperative Program.
Recommending a vision
“The mention of a specific percentage in the recommendations has generated so much discussion from a variety of perspectives that we felt a revision would allow all Southern Baptists, from churches large and small, to enthusiastically approve the report, including the nine recommendations,” Chapman said. “The officers of the Executive Committee and I feel we are recommending a revision that will make the acceptance of the report universal among Southern Baptists while remaining a challenge to every church and every pastor.
“The members of both the Executive Committee and the [Ad Hoc] CP Committee strongly believe in the autonomy of the local church and fully understand that only a local church can decide what portion of their tithes and offerings will be given through the Cooperative Program,” he added. “The language of the recommendations keyed on the word, ‘encourage.’ Nevertheless, if we can dispel misunderstandings about the report, we are obligated for the sake of God’s Kingdom and the convention to do so.”
A number of reports have been issued in recent years, drawing attention to the dwindling number of tithers among Southern Baptists and the continuing decrease in giving through the Cooperative Program as a percentage of undesignated receipts. Citing data from a report by Empty Tomb, Inc., a Christian research and service organization, the fourth report of the SBC Funding Study Committee, issued in March 2006, noted that the average church member in America gave just 2.6 percent of income to their church.
Hot button issue
In his statement Chapman noted, “In 1984, the average percentage of undesignated receipts Southern Baptist churches gave through the Cooperative Program was 10.6 percent. In 2005, the last year of record, the average percentage Southern Baptist churches gave through the Cooperative Program was 6.66 percent.” Cooperative Program support has emerged as a hot button issue in the SBC presidential election.
Media coverage of Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springfield, Ark., has highlighted the percentage of his church’s giving through CP, that includes both state and national causes, 0.27 percent ($32,000) of undesignated receipts of $11,952,137. His church gave another 1.58 percent ($189,000) to SBC causes distributed through the SBC allocation budget (national causes only).
The church’s chief administrative officer noted that FBCS gave $489,000 to SBC causes and spent about $2,648,000 in total support of missions and evangelism during the budget year, Oct. 1, 2004 through Sept. 30, 2005.
The other candidate for SBC president is Frank Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. In 2005, the Taylors congregation gave $534,683, or 12.4 percent, through the Cooperative Program from total undesignated receipts of $4,297,861. The church’s total mission expenditures were $1,461,950.
Never intended to be law
The recommendations came to the Executive Committee after approval by state executive directors who met in February in Canada. The report is the result of almost three years of work by the Ad Hoc CP Committee, chaired by Anthony L. Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
Jordan expressed disappointment with the proposed revisions but also confirmed the leadership role of the SBC EC president and officers in making the decision.
“The report’s recommendations were made in an effort to challenge Southern Baptists to reach the world with the Gospel in a manner consistent with our history as a denomination,” Jordan said. “Calling for the election of officers who demonstrate in word and deed a commitment to cooperative missions giving and recommending that our churches give at least 10 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program were never intended to be law.
“The revisions made by the Executive Committee do not change the reality that we can do more together than we can alone. The Cooperative Program is our chosen way of mission support. It deserves our best.”
Jordan’s description of the spirit of the report and recommendations was echoed by Rob Zinn, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif. and chairman of the SBC Executive Committee. “When we voted on this in February, there was no intention that we’re telling any church what to give.
“We as officers of the Executive Committee have been listening to pastors around us – it is coming from large churches, megachurches and even small churches – the feeling was that we’re telling people what to give,” Zinn said. “That’s not true. So, we’re simply changing the wording to make sure our churches understand that what we’re pushing is an enthusiastic response to the Cooperative Program.”
Everybody doing their part
“Everybody knows nobody tells a Baptist what to give,” Zinn added. “We’re just encouraging our churches, that if we believe in missions, we believe in evangelism and we believe in the Cooperative Program.”
In summarizing the significance of the issue of Cooperative Program giving, Chapman noted the monumental task of spreading the Gospel and the cooperation needed among Southern Baptists to do their part.
“Convention leaders can encourage, but only the churches can decide how much to invest in Southern Baptist missions and how far to go with the Gospel.
“At this juncture of Southern Baptist history,” he emphasized, “we face one critical question, ‘Can we do any less than to seize the moment to stand side by side, working together cooperatively, for the sake of sending multitudes of Gospel preachers and missionaries to the ends of the earth?’”
The SBC annual meeting will be held in Greensboro, N.C., June 13-14.
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