Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The inherent flaw in the Cooperative Program

As noted yesterday, the percentage of church offering plate receipts given to our primary denominational funding mechanism, the venerable and emminently sensible Cooperative Program, has been dropping consistently, relentlessly, and depressingly for decades - from the the dizzying level above 11% in 1978 to less than 6% in 2009.

If Coca-Cola lost about half of its market share, shareholders would force the CEO out. Executive heads would roll, advertising agencies would be fired. The corporation would do just about anything that would restore market share.

Not so the SBC. We just keep rolling along. Market share down? Let's wring our hands, wail loudly, and lament that fact but then why don't we just create a new metric, Great Commission Giving, that acknowledges that churches are eschewing the CP for direct funding? If we do that we can have a number that might actually increase.

Can you see the future Baptist Press headline? "Cooperative Program funding down but Great Commission Giving is up!"

The SBC and the states have a dozens of intelligent, skilled, resourceful, committed, and knowledgable employees whose responsibility includes the promotion of the CP. The SBC has had numerous high profile, blue ribbon commissions and task forces who were charged with studying the Cooperative Program, its promotion, and its allocation formula. The stewardship brain trust meets, studies, laments, decides, and acts...and the percentages continue to decline.

So I ask: Is there an inherent problem, a flaw, in the Cooperative Program that contributes to its sad march downward?

I think that there is such a flaw and it is the most obvious and self-evident characteristic of our grand giving scheme:
It is virtually impossible to significantly change the formulas for distributing Cooperative Program receipts from the churches.

I offer as evidence the following:

1. In the past half-century the percent of Cooperative Program monies that state conventions have kept has moved within the extremely narrow range of between 61 and 67 percent. When all Southern Baptists were happy and harmonious, states kept around two-thirds. When Baptist were feuding and fussing, states kept around two-thirds. When times were good states kept around two-thirds. In times of recession, states kept around two-thirds.

Some state conventions are declaring a move to a 50/50 split. Good, but let's be honest here. First, 50/50 doesn't mean they keep only half. Second, we've heard this before and there are a thousand caveats and loopholes in that commitment. States may move to three-fifths but I'm not optimistic about seeing them make it to 50/50. There is simply too much self interest.

2. The SBC Allocation Budget is virtually unassailable: The International Mission Board will get about half; the North American Mission Board will get a little under a fourth; and the seminaries will get a little over one-fifth. That's the way it is. That's the way it has been. That's the way it is going to be, forevermore.

We recently went through the most significant upheaval since the Conservative Resurgence and wrested a magnificent additional...zero point two percent...for the IMB.

Any questions?

The billions of lost people outside North America notwithstanding, does any sentient Southern Baptist think that NAMB will get less than 22%?

The most visible SBC leaders are seminary presidents (Patterson, Akin, Mohler). Does anyone think that the six seminaries will bear any percentage cuts? Does anyone think we will close a seminary? Merge two or three of them? Even if we did, good Southern Baptist money says that the presidents and trustees will still want the same percentages.

And when heaven and earth fade away, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention will release the next year's CP Allocation Budget. It will look essentially like the previous year.

The inherent flaw in the Cooperative Program makes it simple: Southern Baptists options are limited to tweaking the CP allocation formula and trying to increase the entire CP pie. So, we tweak and hope.

But here's a tip for those tweaking and hoping: Churches have power. They get to choose. They are choosing to give less to the CP.

Too bad.


Anonymous said...

The churches are choosing to give less because that is what these churches have always done. Now they get to do it with an official blessing of the Convention. Cooperation requires a certain level of tolerance not typically given to people that place such a high value on "doctrinal purity." Thus, talk about the decline of CP giving, even allowing for economic stress, is not about identifying a gap between SBC beliefs and practice that should be filled with greater cooperative commitment, rather the decline is evidence of the historical beliefs of the churches and talk to the contrary is dismissed as meaningless. The question is "how do we develop a highly integrated religious organization with a funding mechanism that is not designed with integration in mind?" The short answer is: "we can't." And in time, the inefficiencies and failed strategic initiatives will only reinforce what many already know: "it is not in our DNA to cooperate at such a high level to ensure a healthy functioning global organization."

Jon L. Estes said...

William -

For us, to raise our CP giving would mean we would have to reduce somewhere else. We have new people coming in but we do not harp on giving. We do share with our new members, a a new members class, how we operate financially. I do preach on it when it is in the passage we are dealing with. I don't go looking for giving scripture just to preach on the subject.

I am not willing to ask our people to take a pay cut or for someone to step aside and be without a job so the convention can have a little more. I am trying to create ministry and mission opportunities for our people, not reduce them.

It's time for the convention to be honest and work with what they have not try and guilt others for more (I am glad they can't raise our percentage like congress can raise our taxes) so they can accomplish their agenda.

We love being Southern Baptists and hope for many great years to come but we plan on remaining a vibrant people even if the convention fails.

William Thornton said...

Anon, the CP will have some level of support from the churches, meaning that there is some degree of cooperation for our common work. It's just not as high as it has been and no one knows how low it will finally settle at.

I grant your implied point that our mod/lib friends, many who have exited the SBC and others who are unengaged in the SBC, agreed with the concept and funded it at much higher levels than we now have.

Jon, would you be more inclined to increase the CP if there were substantial changes in the allocations?

William Thornton said...

And congratulations to Frank Page and the SBC as a whole for the infintesimal increase in CP for the fiscal year just ended. Any increase is good in this climate.

I appreciate the way FP handles things.

Anonymous said...

Time to revive the WMU.

Anonymous said...

Please spare us from more of the WMU.

Here's a great article on the increased giving.


Dave Miller said...

Maybe someone will devise a 1% solution?

Jon L. Estes said...

William -

I may be willing to champion for more CP dollars to be given if we knew where it was going and transparency was present.

Anonymous said...

"It is virtually impossible to significantly change the formulas for distributing Cooperative Program receipts from the churches."

Ok, so I think you said that it is really hard to change what the state conventions give forward to the CP program, AND the % allocations are nigh impossible to change.

Am I right?

Assuming so, what would you do differently if you had free reign?

How much would you have each state convention pass thru? What are the allocations % split between the SBC full time staff in Nashville(?), Seminaries, IMB, NAMB, and any others I've forgotten?

More importantly, why do you think that changing these factors will actually increase individual giving within the churches?

Is the problem that state conventions keep too much, and the national allocations aren't what people would want? Or something else?

It seems that giving is down across the board. Could it be possible that part of the problemis beyond that as mentioned?

Tim Dahl

Anonymous said...

Tim, CP giving is up this year. Percentage hasn't been released. I suspect it may be slightly up if churches received less offerings and kept the same dollar cp amounts.

The next few years will reveal whether or not the state conventions are serious about keeping less. Several states are saying that they are on a path to do so. We will see. With the accounting methods used by the states we're talking about a maximum change of moving from about 62% to 55%. I don't think they will ever get there (and see my previous attempt at explaining how my state accounts for CP money).

The SBC allocation are roughly 50-23-22 and fractions; to IMB, NAMB, seminaries respectively. I don't see that changing much at all.

If the CP isn't capturing the enthusiasm of churches it's because they see greater value elsewhere in their expenditures.

Will keeping things essentially the same change that attitude? I don't see how it can.