If you are a Southern Baptist you have heard of the Cooperative Program. At the very least you have seen the advertisements with pictures of third world countries and missionaries on foreign fields. If you don’t know anything about the Cooperative Program, here is a brief history.
In 1845 the Southern Baptist Convention was formed with two cooperative ministries and one agenda. The two ministries were the Foreign Mission Board (Now the IMB) and the Domestic Mission Board (Now NAMB). The agenda of the Convention was simple, to combine the efforts of autonomous churches for “one sacred effort”, the propagation of the gospel.
In 1919 denominational leaders proposed a pledge campaign that would allow Baptist churches to collectively fund missions and various ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention. Out of this campaign a larger vision for cooperation was born, and in 1925 the Cooperative Program became the uniform Southern Baptist conduit of funds for mission work.
Baptists have always been mission minded, and when it was first instituted in the early 1900’s the Cooperative Program offered an efficient way for Baptist churches to pool their resources together for funding missions’ efforts around the world. At that point in the convention’s history the decision was made that state conventions would be the collecting agent of those funds.
Just so you know, State conventions are autonomous organizations that adopt their own governing documents, guide their own ministries, approve their own budgets, and manage their own employees.
From the outset in the early 1900’s the ideal was a 50/50 split between the state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. Yet, this 50/50 allocation has rarely been achieved.
Over the last quarter of a century the average percentage of funds that proceed through the state conventions and go on to the Southern Baptist Convention is around 35%. From the outset, “on average”, the state conventions keep 65% of all Cooperative Program gifts. The 35% left is divided at the national level – a very small portion going to the seminaries, some going to the International Mission Board, and some going to the North American Mission Board. What some people don’t realize is that NAMB has cooperative agreements with many of the State Conventions – which means that some state conventions receive money back from NAMB beyond and over their initial 65%.
Because the money that filters through the Cooperative Program originates with the undesignated gift of individuals to their local church, Southern Baptist’s have the right and responsibility to know where their money is actually going. Furthermore, Southern Baptists should always consider whether or not the ministry endeavors they support are contextually effective, resource efficient, and theologically sound.
It would seem to me that the Cooperative Program is broken. We are pouring the majority of our money into areas of our country that already have plenty of churches. Those churches need to plant other churches. Plus, we are not providing enough resources for foreign missions. We should be able to properly train and send out workers into the foreign mission fields with no excuse.
Our current system does not make sense in my opinion. What’s even funnier is that many Southern Baptists use the Cooperative Program as “the measure” of loyalty in our convention.