Monday, May 24, 2010

Most SBC pastors are dissatisfied with the Cooperative Program

This is my provocative headline: “Most pastors are dissatisfied with the Cooperative Program.”

You don’t say?

No. Some don’t say.

In fact, the main point of a recent Baptist Press article by Bob Rogers, Vice President for Cooperative Program and Stewardship of the SBC Executive Committee,(“ANALYSIS: What Southern Baptists really think about the Cooperative Program”) says just the opposite: “Most pastors are satisfied with the Cooperative Program.”

Who is right? Pastors cannot be satisfied and dissatisfied with the Cooperative Program at the same time, can they?

Sure they can. SBC pastors can do many contradictory things.

Bob Rogers is correct when he makes his statement that pastors are “generally satisfied” with the CP. They were asked exactly that question and 87% of them answered in the affirmative. It’s hard to argue with that.

But additional questions showed that most pastors would reduce the allocation to the seminaries and to the Executive Committee and most pastors would increase the allocation to the North American Mission Board. Moreover, the vast majority of pastors do not believe that state conventions and SBC entities use CP money efficiently. Only about one-third of pastors have a view of the CP that is “overwhelmingly positive.”

The Cooperative Program, even to critics, is about as apple pie as anything gets in SBC life and there is no way that most pastors would ever say that they are dissatisfied with the CP. The CP makes sense. It does great things. It helps churches avoid sifting through innumerable funding pitches for good causes. It’s a good package.

Ah, but there is one statistic, arguably the most salient one concerning the Cooperative Program and SBC churches, that Bob Rogers said nothing about. That statistic is the percentage of offering plate dollars that churches sent through the Cooperative Program and that figure has been falling steadily and sometimes precipitously for decades.

In the 1970s the percentage churches sent through the CP was 8.9% of their total gifts (meaning that in the early 1970s, a time for which I did not see annual statistics, the average was likely well above 9%). The figure for 2009 was less than half of that, 4.4%.


Over 9% and now heading rapidly towards the threes. Bryant Wright, SBC presidential candidate is bring critized right now for his church's CP percentage, one will probably be about average for all SBC churches in a few years.

Call it what you will. Blame it on whom you wish. Ignore it if you dare. This is a dramatic, staggering decline.

Why? I dunno. I don't hear much of anyone in denominational life talking about that.

Is it the Conservative Resurgence? Was it because Moderates flew the CP coop once they lost control? Are the many high profile megachurches pulling the rest of the convention down? Perhaps, but the decline was well established prior to the first hints of any Conservative Resurgence, before there were hardly any megachurches, and before Moderates deserted the CP ship. And the trend has continued long, long after the SBC and all of its entities came to be governed by theological conservatives.

And yet 9 out of 10 pastors say that they are satisfied with the Cooperative Program.

One has to muse that pastors and churches certainly have a strange way of expressing their satisfaction: sending less and less of their offering plate dollars through the program.

The SBC’s chief statistician, Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research has said, “Facts are our friends.” These are decidedly and denominationally unfriendly facts. Ignoring them doesn’t change them. Maybe we can find a way make them our friends.


Bruce Gourley said...

Good analysis and questions, William.

For the record, if memory of the statistics serves correctly, local church CP giving (average across the Convention, that is) historically topped out at about 10%, not much above the 8.9% you quote at the beginning of the "Conservative Resurgence." In other words, the vast portion of the historical decline has been since the CR began.

Also, I would add post-denominationalism as part of the reason for the CP decline of the past 30 years.

Anonymous said...

The people that sit in the pew are the people Co Op dollars come from. Not the pastors. They need to ask church members, not pastors. A lot of money goes for SBC and state convention retirement plans,salaries that are never disclosed, even in general ranges. A complete lack of disclourse about how a lot of dollars are spent because of a lack of using GAAP accounting practices etc. Meetings of top leaders held in resort areas, even outside the US. The list could go on and on. Talk to the pew.
If you are going to fix a problem, it has to be identified at the source.

Tim said...


I found this to be a good reflection piece. I think that declining CP dollars have to do wit many reasons. Partially, this is because of a change in attitude in Institutions as a whole among the people. Also, with churches in decline, there is less money to go around. I'm sure there are more factors. Things have to change, if we want different results, imo.

Tim Dahl