Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Eye-to-eye with J. D. Greear on the Cooperative Program

Sixtysomething retired micropastor Plodder and thirtysomething megapastor J. D. Greear see the Cooperative Program in remarkably, or frighteningly, similar terms.

Greear, something of a rock star among younger SBCers has a blog article up
on Southeastern seminary’s blog site Between The Times: Our Church, The SBC, and the Cooperative Program

Greear states plainly that he appreciates the Cooperative Program but identifies the main problem with it as being the reality that “so much of what is given to the CP stays right here in the states.” He uses his state convention, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, as an example. The BSCNC keeps about 65% of CP gifts in state.

This causes, he writes, a “disturbingly small fraction” of the total to actually make it to the “mission fields,” a phrase he sets out with quotation marks, presumably meaning our two mission boards.

He declares his appreciation for SBC leaders, his BSCNC leaders, the good things they do, and the difficulty of significant change in mature organizations; however, he notes “that it will be a long journey to get our [CP] dollar allocations back to the right levels.”

I’m a full generation older than Greear but would say almost exactly the same things. I have no quarrel with our leadership, state or national. I appreciate the work done here in Georgia through the Georgia Baptist Convention. It is good work. But giving a dollar to the CP and watching it whittled down to about thirty cents for our two mission boards leads me to ponder methods that give greater efficiency to my mission dollars.

I would however, point out for Greear that states have for decades kept a little under two-thirds of a CP dollar, so changing this wouldn’t be getting back to anything. It would be a completely new direction and a proper one, both he and I would say.

Greear also intriguingly writes, "I don’t think there’s any question that some of the institutions must cease to function, at least at their current levels" leaving one to ask, "OK, J.D., which ones?"

Greear declares his intent to increase CP giving with the caveat that “[w]hile we are doing that, however, we will continue to give directly to institutions we are particularly excited about, bypassing some of the unnecessary bureaucracy. As the system gets leaner, our giving will increase.”

It seem to me that this statement can be generalized and should be seen as what lies ahead for the SBC, her institutions, the Cooperative Program, and mission support. The Cooperative Program will continue to be our main giving program but direct giving will become more and more attractive and will increase proportionately to the CP.

I see state conventions getting "leaner" because the money is not coming in through the CP, not because they choose to keep less of it. And, I don't see the SBC getting any leaner in the sense of significant institutional change.

Has anyone forgotten that we went through a high profile self-study process called the Great Commission Resurgence that, for all the noise it made, changed very little?

As a result of the GCR process and report, many state conventions have voluntarily made commitments to begin adjusting downward what they keep of the CP with a goal of an equal split.

While that is good, I have noted that 50/50 probably means, at best, 55/45 and in some cases even 60/40, hardly the kind of change that will move Greear and likeminded pastors to conclude that the CP is a more efficient method for distribution of their mission dollars.

One would have to conclude, either disparingly or dispassionately, that the kind of "getting back" to the “right” levels Greear envisions will never happen.

Which leaves both Greear and his older colleague, me, to conclude that while the Cooperative Program is a wonderful giving plan, and while we appreciate our state and SBC leaders, we desire to get more in mission from our dollar than the CP permits. In my case that meant most of my church’s mission dollars went to the Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon offerings. In Greear’s case it means that those plus, presumably, other direct giving consume most of his mission dollars.

I see nothing that will change our common view on this.


Howell Scott said...


Thanks for your perspective. Of course, I view things differently than you and Greear. I am glad that we do not have to submit to outside authorities like Greear who know the "right" levels of CP giving that should stay in state and go to the mission field.

There is one principle that I will agree with him on -- our church and state convention will likewise give to those missions causes we see as a priority and designate around others that we believe are not as great a priority. And, in NM, where 90+% of the population is lost, we believe that the Great Commission (see Acts 1:8) begins at home and then spreads outwardly. Others may differ, as J.D. Greear does. But, I'm glad he was so clear on his church's approach to missions. The giving trend that he illustrates is one mega-church trend I can fully support :-) Hope all is well with you. Thanks and God bless,


Bob Hadley said...

Here is a problem as I see it. When folks like Greear with his larger budgets can decide for himself that his money is not best spend with the CP that is of course fine. He has the right to do so. What if everyone decided to do that? we would have entities competing for funds to survive and the whole house would come crumbling down.

Here is an interesting question I have not had anyone answer. What if some of the major individual contributors in his or anyone's church did what Greear is suggesting? Lets say they believe too much money is spent on salaries and buildings and productions and so on and so forth.

It might also be said that Greear is a product of all the "misappropriated funds" from his education if it was from SB institutions to the heritage he enjoys today as a SB and his church as well. Maybe they are where they are in spite of it all, I do not know.

Just my thoughts.


William Thornton said...

Howell, I didn't quote him on it but if you read Greear's article you will have noted that he referenced NC where there is an abundance of churches. There is a difference in state convention needs for your state and my state (GA) or another of the heavily churched states of the Deep South.

William Thornton said...

Bob, I appreciate your comment but I've never accepted the comparison of a member's giving to their church to the church's giving to denominational enterprises. There is no equivalence there. Neither is there any Biblical stricture for a certain channel of giving to the association, state convention, or national convention, or mission boards, or seminaries.

The fact that churches have dropped from over 11% to the CP to under 6% is pretty good evidence that churches of all sizes have looked at the CP and found it unworthy of being sustained at those earlier high rates.

Don't fail to note, and I didn't quote him on this, that Greear gave very strong support for the CP concept and indicated his church would be increasing its CP giving.

Denominational leaders have tended to have the expectation that churches would, and should, give strong support to the CP simply because it was there. Obviously, that's not working and hasn't in more than a generation.

sorry for the long response

Howell Scott said...


I did read Pastor Greear's article but, he did use his own state as he fleshed out a much broader principle. When he said "that some of the institutions must cease to function, at least at their current levels," he was not just limiting that to the BSCNC. I don't think that Greear is writing for an audience limited to NC. If NC, KY, FL, GA and other state conventions want to radically restructure, then they have the autonomy to do so.

What bothers me is the apparent implication that all state conventions must follow the national leadership, which of course is contrary to the principle of autonomy. Thankfully in NM, we listen to NM pastors and leaders far more than we do to folks back east who have no clue as to the spiritual needs of our state. Thanks and God bless,


William Thornton said...

You're seeing too many implications, Howell. Churches are giving less to the CP, have been for decades. Many are chosing direct giving, as evidenced by a greater proportion of church mission gifts being given outside of the CP.

This is grassroots stuff and absolutely not national leadership driven.

Howell Scott said...


You maybe right that this is "grassroots" stuff. After all, you've been a part of the grassroots longer than I have ;-) That being said, I still believe that, as the CP goes (and for whatever reason it goes), so goes the SBC (at least as we now know it). What replaces it maybe better. I personally don't think so, but that's why we are having these discussions.

There are at least two competing visions for the future of the SBC. If I didn't think it would matter which vision was implemented, I wouldn't be vocal. If the establishment didn't think it would matter, they wouldn't try to radically reform the Convention. I don't think this is some sinister plot or conspiracy, but it does come down to competing visions and the future health (and existence) of our Convention. Thanks again for the dialogue. God bless,


William Thornton said...

If the two visions are pro-CP and anti-CP, that's a false analogy. Greear and I are both pro-CP, just not to the level that some others might be and just not to the exclusion of other channels of missions giving. We're not going back to the days of 10+% CP giving and find me the SBCer who believes that there is some plan, some program, some promotion that includes that.

I've always thought you were too strident and overreached in the pronouncement of the existence of the SBC being in question. The CP is still a huge funding engine, hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Although it is shrinking somewhat, it's not going away.

Frank Gantz said...

The reality of CP disbursements probably doesn't equate to what is perceived by most Southern Baptists. I don't have any hard data on this, but feel confident that most who give think more of their money is going to international missions.

I would love to see splits more in line with what people actually think is happening.

Bob Hadley said...


You are without question absolutely right. For a long time I thought CP giving went to the SBC and I really thought associational and state convention funds went separately to those entities. I had no idea the state recieved all funds and then budgeted funds to the SBC to be distributed from there to the various entities.

Let me also say, I do not believe this is an intentional deceptive move on anyone's part. Thinking back on this issue, I do remember seeing the pie charts showing state percentages and then SBC percentages; I just did not pay that much attention to them. My bad. Also, if the state were to advertise its argument for justification of church funds and then the SBC its argument, i do not believe that would be the answer so in looking back, I really do believe the system we have has worked relatively well. Could it work better, absolutely. Is there some "fat" in the entities, I would say probably so. But with that being said, there is no system that will perfectly please everyone.