My humble conjectures about the decline of the once mighty Cooperative Program. Every Southern Baptist is a denominational pundit. Plodder's punditry, not in order of magnitude or importance:
1. It’s the moderates’ fault. Sure, SBC moderates were generally very strong givers to the cooperative program and were incessant promoters of it, so much so that they were willing to overlook almost anything so long as the CP was revered. Moderates made the CP into an end unto itself, rather than to means to the end. What pastor who wants to see souls saved, churches planted, and believers growing in Christ wants to subsume all this to support of a denominational giving plan?
Two words: Sacred Cow, only once the mods lost control of the cow, it suddenly became profane and they quickly deserted it. The dollars they once gave to the CP went elsewhere. Once it wasn’t their Sacred Cow, they acted like conservatives and eschewed it.
2. It’s the conservatives’ fault. This one is quite simple. Most of the high profile conservative, megachurch pastors gave only token support to the Cooperative Program and were not willing to give their money to SBC moderates who were in control of the convention’s machinery. Well, we fixed the latter but without fixing the former. Over three decades later, the SBC CP average is headed towards the giving pattern of those early Conservative Resurgence mega-pastors. Conservatives never got on board of the CP.
It’s also the conservatives fault in that there is no reward for very high CP givers anymore. Give 15% and get waxed in an election by a pastor of a church who gives less than 4%. Want to be a trustee? Don’t worry about giving 10% or more, just give 5%, maybe less, and you’ll be OK.
3. It’s the megachurch pastors’ fault. Megachurches are a denomination unto themselves, so, they think, ‘Why give much to a state convention, seminaries, and mission boards through the CP when we can do it all alone?’ Too many micro-pastors think the megas walk on water and should be emulated; hence, lower CP percentages. Good enough for Rogers, Stanley, Smith, et al…good enough for Joe Schmoe pastor of Crossroads MicroBaptist Church.
4. It’s the boomers, baby busters, Xers, and millenials fault. Less denominational loyalty, more personal debt. Not impressed with big institutions. More hands-on, etc. General demographic trends...stuff we've been fed by the experts for years. I’d speculate that this factor, which has nothing to do with SBC politics, should be heavily weighted in this list.
5. It’s the fault of various parachurches. AWANA, independent mission sending organizations, et al sucked up local church dollars and diluted the SBC brand in a church.
6. It’s the fault of Bold Mission Thrust. Huh? I mean by this that a component BMT was volunteer missions and that was one of the few goals of BMT that was far exceeded. Churches felt like if they had their own people who needed help in going overseas, why give to nameless, faceless missionaries through the CP?
7. It’s the fault of the denominational culture of secrecy and opaqueness. Want to see one of NAMB’s Cooperative Agreements with your state convention? Sorry, you can’t. Want to know how much CP funds were paid in severance to a leader forced to resign? Sorry, it may be your money but you don’t get to see this. If CP spending is hidden, SBCers are less likely to want to keep shoveling money into that dark hole. “Trust the Lord and tell the people” we used to say. Now it is “Take the money and tell the people to shut up.”
8. NAMB's recent history of magnificent debacles. No further explanation needed for this one.
Almost every Southern Baptist who reads this, pastor or layperson, will be in a church whose CP percentage has dropped over the past 30 years. I would be curious as to which of these (or others that I haven’t thought about) would you say is the cause.
Part Two tomorrow.