A 2007 survey yielded the unlikely statistic that 87% of SBC pastors were "generally satisfied" with the Cooperative Program.
Come on, 87% of SBC pastors will not agree that the sun rises in the east...but there you have it - SBC pastors happy with the CP.
So, why is it dropping like a rock, a trend over three decades long?
We may have more mental angst over baptism statistics but Ed Stetzer says that the trend line for baptisms over the past 60 years shows no “discernable pattern.” While baptisms may be the figure we love to tout or, lately, the one that is the subject of our jeremiads, it isn't the most serious trend.
What’s dropping like a rock is the percentage of undesignated church offerings that is given through our venerable Cooperative Program. Check these figures (source):
Cooperative Program as a Percentage of Undesignated Church Offerings
From the lusty 11.13% the year I was called in to the Christian ministry to the 5.868% for the last year for which I have statistics there is a staggering 47.3% decline. Here in 2011 we may already be at or past the 50% point.
Any way you slice this churches are sending about half of what they did thirty years ago through the Cooperative Program. If the CP were cereal, a corporation would declare it to be a dying brand and manage it accordingly, maybe putting the boxes on a lower shelf and moving on to newer and fresher products that catch the buying public’s interest.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a better plan or product than the Cooperative Program. Even though it has declined, it is still a huge funding engine and will surely continue to be the major denominational funding plan. No other plan makes as much sense.
So, how low can it go? I dunno. While I am certain that there has to be a floor to this drop, I don't know what it is.
Two salient questions:
1. Why the steep drop?
2. What can be done to arrest or reverse it?
I'd guess, I'd hope, that Frank Page, every state convention CEO, all the seminary presidents, Kevin Ezell and Tom Elliff arrive at work thinking about the Cooperative Program decline and what they can do about it. They cannot afford not to.
I read that Frank Page and the Executive Committee have retained an image consultant to see if the CP can be "rebranded." I can't pin it down but the idea of "rebranding" makes me recoil a bit. Regardless (alas, they didn't check with me about this), we've now got this consultant and also a "consortium" of state convention stewardship specialists aggregated into something called the Stewardship Development Association (and I have a blog article on that).
The image consultant is a funky-haired, goateed forty-something hot shot who may have some new ideas that will help but I'd bet good Georgia dollars that every one of the state convention CP people are over fifty with most over sixty who probably don't have many new ideas beyond, "Hey, how about you churches sending us more money." Sorry to be so blunt but I've paid attention over the past 30 years to this stuff.
I do think that it is important that the SBC arrive at some equilibrium on churches giving to the Cooperative Program and hope some fresh, new thoughts come to the surface.
What is behind the steep drop and what will arrest and reverse it, I don't know but will speculate in subsequent blog articles.
By way of full disclosure my first two churches gave around 7 to 10 percent to the CP, though in my present church we have some rather serious financial challenges and will do well to give 1% this year. After evaluating what we can do, the church made a decision to give sacrificially to the IMB (we will end up with a Lottie Moon offering of about 3-4% of our budget) and maintain support as best we can to the association, state convention, NAMB and several local ministries. Plodder recognizes that he will not be in line for any denominational jobs or appointments with that low percentage but has accommodated himself to that reality.