Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rebranding the Cooperative Program

The Cooperative Program, once our shining (and growing) funding jewel, is a declining brand and there is no sentient person anywhere in the Southern Baptist Convention, in any of the state conventions, and among any of the hundreds of Baptist associations who will dispute it.

So what?

So, our cooperative work cannot continue if the decline persists. Think of it. We have gone from an average of over ten percent of church undesignated receipts given to the Cooperative Program to a little over five percent - cut in half and that half represents hundreds of millions of dollars. Suppose we move from over five percent to around two percent? State conventions, the seminaries, the two mission boards will do without more hundreds of millions of dollars.

More important than the decline in money is this: how serious is a one or two percent CP church about cooperative ministry? How much thought and interest do they give to our common work? How much do they concern themselves about participating in our common work? At one or two percent my thinking is that they will just not give it a lot of thought.

The Cooperative Program needs to be rebranded. If the Executive Committee is serious about the CP, something more than the usual, tired proposals for bolstering the CP needs to be considered. If the state conventions, and they are the ones who have suffered the most from the decline, are serious about the CP, they need to do more than round up the usual promotion methods and ideas.

We are doing the same things we have always done in regard to Cooperative Program promotion:

  • Ask churches to give more. What could be more simple than that? "Just give us more of your budget," says the Executive Committee. I have no issue with Frank Page's One Percent Plan and commend him for it; however, it is a "Just give us more" plan. 
  • Lament, with accompanying grave expressions and handwringing, that Southern Baptists especially younger Southern Baptists,  just aren't familiar with the CP, else they would give more. I dispute that. Seems to me that the more that is known about the CP, particularly about the division of funds, the less it is liked. 
  • Brainstorm on how the CP can be made more personal. After all, the giving is to a program and only indirectly to missions personnel, church planters, seminary profs and all the other ultimate recipients. While this has to be done, I don't see a lot of enthusiasm here. 
If the Cooperative Program is to be considered a beloved legacy brand for Southern Baptists then let's get people who know how to best manage a declining brand and let them handle it while all the entities who receive CP funding plan for the years ahead with the expectation of continued declines in CP funding.

If the Cooperative Program is to be considered a vibrant, vital funding mechanism, then let's get people who have fresh ideas, bold ideas, and let them have a go at it. Their success rate cannot be any less than what we have had for the past several decades.

The CP is approaching the century mark. Next year will be its 90th birthday. It may be that it's halcyon days were in the 20th century and it is not just past its prime but is past its applicability and appropriateness for the Southern Baptist Convention of the 21st century. 

Do you like my clock above? Not for sale, thank you. It belonged to my grandmother and I suspect it is somewhat older than the Cooperative Program. It still keeps good time if anyone can stand the constant "tick tock" of the pendulum. It's nice to have around and is a treasured family item. It's not all that useful anymore.

The Cooperative Program...? What do you think?


Lee said...

Many of the one or two percent churches are the largest ones in the convention, and the ones from which much of the leadership has been drawn. The "dollars vs percentages" argument doesn't work well when the percentages are so low in some churches, that congregations a tenth their size actually wind up giving more dollars.

The other problem that is facing the SBC is occurring among the churches found in the heart of Dixieland itself, and that is the aging and declining of many of its traditional core supporting congregations. The membership is beginning to decline, not because people are going elsewhere, but because there are more funerals than baptisms.

Anonymous said...

There are a number of sociological factors at work making a tough economic context even tougher, and such is the case for all faith communities; but that coupled with a fairly rigid mindset, one would suggest a religious group that will remain in decline. As it grows smaller there will be talk of the committed few, which will be correct, but it will be a commitment to a very narrow perspective that will not generate enough support to sustain infrastructure. The SBC as a significant religious force in the south is a thing of the past. Given the increasing secularization of the US, it might do faith communities well to find common ground and work together, but such behavior is a difficult sell among many in SBC.

Anonymous said...

"If the Cooperative Program is to be considered a vibrant, vital funding mechanism, then let's get people who have fresh ideas, bold ideas, and let them have a go at it."

How can this be done when leadership like Bart Barber is allegedly on the side of using BFM to exclude churches for practicing faith in ways that the Convention has implicitly acknowledged and accepted (thus preferring cooperation, autonomy, and the benefits of time on discerning the leading of the Spirit), to its credit, for decades? Supplanting confession in favor of creed is a step too far and is out of step with religious movements that have an ability to capitalize on creative tensions. SBC has the tension, but it no longer has the creativity, and its programmatic creedal shift (which is denied regardless of evidence to the contrary) will not allow for the facilitation, development, and celebration of creative tensions, hence the now back and forth among SBC Calvinist and non-Calvinist and the resulting non-cooperative Cooperative Program Great Commission Giving Plan. If either had the power, or if either was not concerned with consequences, the other would be gone. The SBC is like a great live oak; it spends a good amount of time developing, a good amount of time in its glory, and a good amount of time dying. Social systems need not parallel biological systems, but in SBC’s case, it seems the latter is preferred; if not by thought, then surely by action.

Tom Parker said...

William: I have thought about this post for several days and IMO the major word is "Cooperative"--a word that is seemingly not in the vocabulary of many Southern Baptists.

Tom Parker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan McGuire said...

The CP is simply no longer relevant to a large majority of SBC church members. What this also means is that the SBC is no longer relevant to a majority of SBC church members.

Better advertising is not going to change this. The CP and the SBC has to be made more relevant.

This will require a massive restructuring of some agencies and the elimination of others. Our own history has shown that drastic measures only come when we're confronted with drastic situations. The decline in CP giving is just not at the right point to mandate reform.

There is another, more serious problem. The laity are no longer valued or engaged. As recently as 20 years ago, the SBC was a one stop shop for missions, information, education, etc... Today, we can network with like minded people around the world without having to work through an SBC agency.

Finally, there is the biggest, more serious hurdle to the CP is the pastorate. More precisely, the culture of leadership that we have fostered over the past few decades has taken all of the oxygen out of the room. There are a lot of complaints about the rise of the celebrity pastor but, if we're honest, a lot of this is just petty jealousy by pastors who want to be celebrities. It seems that every other pastor is writing a book that he hopes will make him the next David Platt. Those who are not writing books are trying to get a 2nd job as a seminary professor so that they can "impact the kingdom on a larger scale" along with their work as senior pastor of a local church. Until these leaders refocus on the actual Mission, nothing can change.

Anonymous said...

1. Own one physical structure for missions and executive director.

2. Keep SWBTS, SBTS, and one more seminary (TBD). Close the rest.

3. Sell all other existing properties.

4. Other than missions/ex dir/seminary spaces, all other physical locations are rentals. The message sent: office space is contingent on results (note: results are a bit more complex than simple-minded evangelism) and programs are funded for a fixed period, but may be renewed.

Yes, a bit of cooperation may be sacrificed for results, but then, again, SBC conservatives are not known for their cooperative nature.