Friday, December 6, 2013

Cooperative Program continues to decline. Why the steep drop from Georgia?

The end of the SBC Executive Committee's fiscal year on September 31, 2013 saw another year where Cooperative Program receipts declined. The total received by the Executive Committee for distribution to the mission boards, seminaries, and other SBC entities was down about $2.7 million, about 1.9% from the previous year.

The Executive Committee's publication, SBCLife, has the data by state convention in its article The Changing Face of the Cooperative Program: Doing More With Less, by Roger S. Oldham.

It is not news that the CP is declining but the change in CP monies coming from individual state conventions is interesting.

Here's a chart of the top ten CP giving state convention. These states account for about 70% of all CP money received by the Executive Committee.

Notice there is one state that shows a healthy increase and one that shows a serious decrease (sorry about the poor quality bar graph).

The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma showed a 14.7% increase from 2012 to 2013, about $1.5 million. That's pretty good, although the timing of how money is forwarded to the Executive Committee may modify that figure.

The Georgia Baptist Convention is the big bar below the zero line. The GBC showed a 13.9% decrease in CP gifts forwarded to the Executive Committee. That's a pretty steep one year decline but, again, the timing of how checks are mailed to Nashville may modify that as well. No way to dress up the fact that here in Georgia the Cooperative Program is in serious decline.


The GBC has a solid leader, has made severe cuts in expenses over the last few years, has indicated a willingness to move towards sending a greater proportion of CP receipts to the Executive Committee, has no conservative/moderate controversy, is not particularly divided, does not have any great issues or conflict raging around the state.

I hear state convention leaders speak of churches sending less money. A few years ago the state convention did a study of the change in CP giving by the largest 100 or so CP giving churches and reported that they did not find any particular reason aside from the stress on our overall economy. When I asked to see the study, I was told it was an internal document. Seems to me that the GBC would want to inform interested pastors and laypeople about any aggregate data or surveys that concern the GBC and Cooperative Program giving trends.

Bloggers are nothing if not filled with a surfeit of opinion. So here are some possibilities for explaining why the GBC is showing a much steeper decline in CP giving:

1. Statistical variation in giving patterns. I've given this a cursory search and don't see it. Giving for the last three months from the GBC all show double digit percentage decreases.
2. Churches are feeling more economic stress. Stressed? Sure, but greater stress this year than last? I don't see this either.
3. GBC churches and pastors are unenthusiastic about the state convention program and ministry. I don't see anyone complaining about any specific budget items for the GBC. We have administrative expenses, support three colleges, and have a number of programs working. One might conclude that the state convention program and vision is simply not capturing the attention and interest of our churches.
4. Permit me a bit of wild conjecture but considerable numbers of younger GBC pastors have an affinity for Reformed theology. They may see the GBC as generally unfriendly to them. One of our GBC colleges, Truett-McConnell, is a leader in Traditionalist movement (others may drop the euphemism and call them anti-Calvinist). The editor of our state paper has made controversial remarks about some facets of Calvinism. I don't see this as being sufficient to explain multi-million dollar,  double digit percentage decreases in the CP, though.
5. GBC churches and pastors are looking closely at their own budgets and evaluating the opportunity cost of the various budgeting alternatives and the Cooperative Program is not comparing well with other uses of the church's money.

I suspect that the last possibility is the one to scrutinize.

Have you ever heard this, "We're cutting our Cooperative Program percentage because we think there is better use for the money"?

Painful as that may be to GBC leadership, I'd want to drill down and find out more. If we are all wonderful folks, doing good ministry, but aren't presenting a vision for the future that engages GBC pastors and churches, we should do the hard work of finding out why.  

Any way you look at it, the CP is not doing well in Georgia. I hate to see it.

Perhaps there are simple reasons that explain this CP decline here in Georgia. I'm all ears and would appreciated being set straight about it. (Perhaps someone in Oklahoma will stumble on my blog and tell mey why the outsized increase in CP giving there as well.)Comment or email me.


Kris said...

Could it be that some churches in Georgia are modeling what "larger" churches in Georgia have been doing for years? Many larger churches in Georgia give a smaller percentage to the CP, but instead invest funds in mission projects locally and globally. Several SBC presidential candidates from GA had to address their amount of CP giving - maybe smaller and medium size churches took note and followed their practices.

Lee said...

How many "megachurches" are there in the GBC? And how many of them are engaged in building bigger auditoriums at the present time? I would not be surprised, if someone dug into the issue, that the drop in CP gifts corresponds directly to the number of large churches engaged in building programs.

Anonymous said...

When building a bigger auditorium comes at the expense of financing ministry beyond the membership, might a review of the organization be in order?

If so, it is good that at least the question is asked ...

but still ...

one might wish to closely watch the make-up of the committee charged with the review. In many cases the end is known with the announcement of the committee members. The mean time is only for the sake of suggesting legitimacy.

Anonymous said...

In our local association we have had one church remove their SBC membership. Two others are struggling due to "Calvinism" in the pulpit. Why should I give money to plant churches which preach reformed theology when I consider it another gospel? My pastor says attending the convention is a waste of time. Something is "rotten in Denmark." Perhaps the SBC in general is trying to accommodate too many theologies under one umbrella. Calvinism is beginning to affect us "pew sitters" and most of us do not like funding it. I am responsible to give but I am also responsible for what I choose to support. The more Calvinism grows in the SBC, I predict the more the money will dry up.

William said...

Anonymous, how about emailing me and telling me where you are located? Calvinism is an issue, perhaps more by perception on church planting than reality.

Lee said...

So one church an association has left the SBC, ostensibly because it is reformed? And you have two others struggling with it? How is your CP money "funding reformed theology?"

Anonymous said...

I think the larger church issue and the Calvinism issue are both off base. Could it be churches no longer see how the State Convention brings value to the church as a resource and help. Also could the leadership of the local church be tried of paying for a monument of a State Convention building

William Thornton said...

It is obvious that churches see less value in state convention ministries. That is the opportunity cost factor I mentioned.

Anonymous said...

"... monument of a State Convention building."

I am reminded of Findly Edge, who often spoke of the process of man, movement, machine, and monument. Nothing like survival to cause an institution to define itself anew.