Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Seventeen reasons the Cooperative Program has been dropping like a rock - Part One

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.


Justin said...

I especially like number 7, it's the main problem many people I know have with the CP.

Anonymous said...

Why not post a blog post about the good things in the SBC? It seems you are always finding things wrong with the SBC and their leadership instead of working to build it up. There are still a lot of good people in the SBC and a lot of good, Godly people in leadership. Its the best thing going to be sure.

Jonathan said...

I don't know if this one would make it into your Part Two and maybe this is an extension of #3,4,5: there is just not the dependency on the SBC (or state conventions or local associations) that there used to be.

Remember when the old Baptist Sunday School Board was considered among the largest publishing houses on the planet? This was due, in no small part to the largest captive audience in publishing history.

Remember when study books published under one of the various BSSB or ExCom segments were considered the primary resource for church use and non-SBC texts had to be handled carefully? Of course we used SBC VBS literature...we're Southern Baptists!

Of course, this mostly took place in the smaller churches in the era before the internet.

Now, non-SBC writers, preachers, theologians are among the (if not THE) most influential folks to the last 10-15 years of SBC seminary grads. I get the same sense looking at the line up for the 2011 Pastor's Conference.

William Thornton said...

Anon, NAMB, IMB, & CP make up the largest segments of my topics. I admit to being critical of NAMB but I didn't manufacture their recent history, nor did I put the CP on its decades long downward trajectory.

Identifying the reasons why the CP has been declining would seem to me to be an absolute prerequisite for any improvement.

I'm not "always finding things wrong with the SBC" these things fairly well find me and any other loyal SBC pastor. They cannot be ignored. I'd like to see something done about them.

Thanks for the comment, though, and I would admit to a modicum of cynicism.

William Thornton said...

Jonathan, no question that we have become more like the semi-independent sbc megachurches. They introduced us to AWANA, independent missions etc.

Jonathan said...

Another thought:

The Pastor/Preacher/Professionally trained Theologian is no longer seen as THE go to guy or authority in most matters that impact the layman's daily walk with Christ.

This one comes with no small amount of danger but it also might be ushering in an uneasy but welcome era of revival.

Do a survey of the various blogs by the high profile SBC leader types. Even when you get past the bobble headed comment section (filled by current and former seminary students doing their best impersonation of the class suck up), you're not likely to find many laypersons engaged (you know, the folks who make up 99.999% of the membership and offerings) in the discussions. I am still amused at the tweet, retweet, re-retweet, re-re-retweet cycle that one can see on twitter or facebook where, essentially, members at the top or near the top of the SBC leadership corps have developed a self-congratulatory machine.

Similar to how the internet and social media diluted the perceived value of professional journalism and exposed the reality of the political class to the masses, these same tools are shattering the myth that 4 years in Louisville and having the "right" friends in Ft. Worth is the path to enlightenment.

How does this impact the CP? Well, now the rest of us are seeing the problems with transparency, inefficiency, and kingdom making that SBC Plodders have been dealing with for decades...and it appears that we're sacrificing accordingly.

Bob Allen said...

I would like to see some more discussion of No. 7. When he was on the Executive Committee Roger Moran objected to the fact that only the officers, and not the entire committee, were entitled to information about Morris Chapman's compensation. He pretty much stood alone, but they did adopt a compromise allowing an individual member to see the figures by request, but requiring that they sign a pledge not to share the information with anyone.

Jonathan said...

To Anonymous: The number of places you can go to find SBC backslapping and cheer-leading are almost legion. If you've read this blog for more than a week or so, you've found plenty that this blogger loves and promotes within the SBC.

And despite the seemingly genetic predisposition against it in many leadership circles, criticism is one step on the path toward strengthening the convention.

Consider that your comment could have been written by pro-moderate/liberal SBC leadership in the early 1980s. Ironic? Perhaps.

Perhaps what is happening here

William Thornton said...

On compensation and transparency in the SBC, megachurches-are-us these days, I'm afraid. This is their practice.

Les Puryear said...


I vote for #2, 3, and 7. Others play a part but I think these are the main reasons of those you have shared.

I agree with others that the secrecy in the SBC is a negative. The keeping of secrets of basic information such as salary is indicative of having something to hide, being ashamed of something. This, too, seems to be megachurch mentality. Most small churches see the total budget with all the details about salaries.


Anonymous said...

The keeping of secrets is a major issue of the continuing decline of agencies like NAMB. Just because they have a new president means it will and has changed. Since they are a 501c3 non profit organization they have to open the books at any time you request it.

John Notestein said...

I'm actually surprised that the CP giving hasn't dropped even further. It this day and age of multiple outlets for giving, combined with the fact that other organizations are far more open and transparent with where the dollars actually go, we shouldn't be surprised that giving to CP is less. Most churches I've been involved with would rather support specific mission projects that they can see rather that send a pool of money to a perceived bureaucratic black hole.

Tom Parker said...

For so many people the CR was going to cure all of the ills of the SBC, but it just did not do it. It trained people quite well in how to takeover, that is get the necessary votes to get your way, but not how to work with other believers. CP receipts declining is one of the casualties of the Great CR.