Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cooperative Program giving, Great Commission Giving, designated giving and old fashioned stupidity

The bugle is being sounded, again, to save the Cooperative Program from the perils and impending disaster of - gasp! – designated giving.

Alas and alack, designated giving under the new guise of Great Commission Giving will doom the venerable Cooperative Program. Seminaries will fold! Orphans will be back on the streets! Six-figure denominational bureaucrats will be jobless! People will starve! Homeless shelters will close!

Oh, please.

The SBC has always, always, always, always had a mixed approach to giving – both cooperative and societal. There has never been a time when this was not true. This is both by deliberate original design and by deliberate decisions of the various assembled Baptist bodies over the years.

But, if there are those who believe the Cooperative Program will be further harmed by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendation to put a new label on direct giving to SBC entities, they can make their case. I just haven’t seen a very persuasive one.

But, puhleeeeeze, it is just stupid to drag out the old saw that a church that designates its denominational giving is somehow equivalent to a church member designating their giving to their local church. Dumb. Capital “D” Dumb…and probably dishonest, foolhardy, unbiblical and a whole lot else.

But that doesn’t slow some of the Baptist brethren down. It is rather to be expected and it is just another wrinkle on how some believe that the Cooperative Program will somehow be reinvigorated by shaming churches that choose to designate. The moderates and liberals tried that for years – it didn’t work. It will not work now no matter how many squeaky voices attempt the same.



Norm said...

William: The moderates and liberals tried that for years – it didn’t work.

Norm: The ground is different under the current SBC than that when led by moderates, thus the current figure has a different dynamic. When it was understood that the whole was greater than the sum of its part the societal method was replaced by a cooperative process that could at least theoretically facilitate greater levels of interagency integration and transfers of technology. Societal giving that remained did not threaten the whole given the strength of the cooperative process, which was widely accepted and supported. Current day leadership states that it desires a cooperative process but doesn’t value the behaviors that will sustain it. The dollars-not-percentage argument that is often touted will not sustain SBC and is not working, thus the task force, and at the heart of said perspective is one’s notion of equity, which itself is founded upon the tenets of distributive justice. Put simply, the dollars-not-percentage argument is driving out the needed support to sustain the SBC at the level that it desires to operate. When people perceive an inequity, they, if with degrees of freedom, make adjustments in their behavior to restore perceived equity. Given the current inequity is in the favor of the megas, it is not surprising that they would reconceptualize the situation and reject what is expected of the other, less complex churches. We are different, they assert. They, too, desire less cognitive dissonance, but their myopic peace comes at a cost, and that cost is less support from the thousands of churches that is needed to sustain SBC. Turns out they really are not different, that is, the others are giving less than they are capable, too. Thus while each is doing what it needs to do to ensure its vision of an equitable relationship, the SBC continues to flounder. If the SBC, as an institution is to thrive, each of its member churches must be equitably committed to it, and the first place to start in developing a viable institution is a rejection of the failed dollars-not-percentage argument and a demonstrated commitment not to place any more people in positions of leadership that practice said philosophy. Otherwise accept the decline is by design.

William Thornton said...

I don't accept that the dollars-not-percentage argument has failed. There is a threshold for Cooperative Program support by a church that makes its members and pastor acceptable for elective or appointed denominational office.

No one has argued, to my knowledge, that the decades long trend of declining CP percentages by churches can be traced statistically to megachurches. It seems to be across the board. One contributing factor would certainly be the removal of CP support from moderate churches that felt disenfranchised by the Conservative Resurgence.

All that is a valid subject for discussion and research but I don't see that anyone can equate a member's giving to their local church with a church's giving to the Cooperative Program, no matter how loudly it is shouted.

Norm said...

Norm: Granted, SBC needs dollars and the goodly amounts given by the large churches do help, but as you can see, the giving dynamic around such an arrangement is not working. That other churches are not giving a reasonable percentage is not disputed, but what is their incentive to increase their giving if such does not come remotely close to the cumulative dollars of those gushed over and rewarded, and especially when those dollars represent a percentage of budget below the giving levels of those that are mostly ignored? Again, what is the advantage of most churches giving sacrificially to CP if their needs and people are hardly considered in the design of SBC programs or tapped for SBC leadership, as are those that give less after the field has been made reasonably level? It makes little sense to speak of a common vision and commitment to it when the responsibility for such is not equitable. So the sons of thunder want a prime seat in the heavenly court? Fine. But, given the outcome in the gospel of Mark, it is evident they did not want the sacrifice that would justify such. Either SBC leadership and reasonable support of CP means something or it does not and no amount of denial that the dollars-not-percentage argument is oft-putting is going to erase a body of findings supporting the notion that people are highly attuned to the inputs and outcomes of their comparison others. All the SBC needs to do is continue its present trajectory of electing leadership from churches that are disproportionately reaping the benefits of SBC and it will continue its downward slide.

It was the moderate churches, of many sizes, that gave a higher percentage of budget to CP, which made it easier for SBC to fund its operation. Said funds do not flow as they once did. And the lesson of the moderates, notwithstanding their faults, too, has not been learned. When will SBC learn that if it wants a wider range of churches to buy into the organization, a good deal more equity needs to me manifested. This is not rocket science, and people would do well to realize the dollars-not-percentages argument is as cold as the man who first touted it.

Individuals are not members of SBC, churches are members, alone. Individuals represent the church, thus it is not unreasonable to select on the performance of the church.

What the level of giving needs to be is a legitimate question and from time-to-time churches will vary from this level for legitimate reasons, but most of the megas and the churches that have provided the highest leadership in SBC don’t show a pattern of occasionally missing a reasonable level of giving, they have a stable history of such.

Dollars do pay the bills, but a dollars-not-percentage organizational orientation will not sustain SBC, at least not at the level that it desires to function. If you think that it will, then why even have this discussion? Everything is fine.