Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Five reasons to be pessimistic about the Cooperative Program

When Southern Baptists, especially denominational leaders and employees, speak publicly about the Cooperative Program, what one hears or reads is all sweetness and light, apple pie and motherhood. When someone like me speaks realistically and frankly about the Cooperative Program, it is seen as negative, unhelpful, and disloyal.

Plodder is coping with the conclusion that he will never be elected or appointed to anything, candid speaking in the SBC not being the route to such things. I'll drown my disappointment at the lake while fishing instead of attending those scintillating trustee meetings.

I'm trying to be fair here and a balanced and realistic view of our signature denominational giving plan reveals reasons to be both optimistic (see my earlier article, Five reasons to be optimistic about the Cooperative Program) and pessimistic. Here are five reasons to be pessimistic about the CP:

1. The long term trend of declining percentages.

When I left for seminary to begin a ministry among SBC churches that is now 36 years in length, the average percentage of church offering plate undesignated monies that was given to the CP was well over ten percent. It is now about 5.4 percent. The trend for CP percentages is a slow, steady, relentless, depressing downward slope. This is the most important SBC statistic and it has not varied in its trajectory for decades. There has never been such a sure thing in the SBC from year to year than that the CP percentage would decline.

We like to keep up with baptisms in the SBC and the baptism numbers are also in a long term downward trend but baptisms show an upward lurch every few years. Not so the CP - down, down, down.

2. The Executive Committee is pessimistic about the Cooperative Program

In a recent SBC Life article, SBC Executive Committee staff member Roger S. Oldham has an article, The Changing Face of the Cooperative Program, Doing More with Less in which is given the history of CP giving and the clear acknowledgement about the reality of declining CP giving. I credit the XComm for being realistic. To be fair, the XComm promotes increased CP giving but recognizes that the days of ten percent giving, even seven or eight percent giving are gone and unlikely to return.

If the Executive Committee is pessimistic about the future of the CP in regard to an increase in percentages that is about as close to the heart of the matter that an SBCer can get.

3. The Cooperative Program is hopelessly rigid and unchanging.

If a legacy product or brand is stale, out-of-date, or out-of-touch with contemporary life businesses can attempt a rejuvenation, a relaunch, a redesign, a reformulation. Consumers might be persuaded that the product is indeed new, changed, and more desirable. There is very little evidence that the CP is capable of being changed so as to be more attractive to SBC churches. The CP of 2014 is virtually the same as the CP of 1984, just dividing a smaller pie. The CP of 2024 will be virtually the same as the CP of today, just dividing a still smaller pie.

The best evidence of this is the Great Commission Resurgence process. It changed very little - the CP allocations are essentially the same as before, IMB and NAMB receive about the same percentage, the seminaries protected their allocation, state conventions have been persuaded to move just a little.

The problem with a legacy program like the CP is that constituencies have long coalesced around their slices of this pie and are powerful enough to stave off any substantial change - sclerotic would be the word for it.

4. The example of leading pastors has not been highly supportive of the CP.

We might as well admit that we never met a megachurch pastor we were not willing to elect to the highest SBC office even if that pastor's church gave in the low single digits to the CP. The one time such a person was rejected was 2006 when a candidate's CP percentage was near zero. That candidate will be elected this year as SBC president after having elevated his church's CP percentage. It is still less than that of the average church. If we lionize leaders who exhibit such giving (and readily put them and their members on the various trustee boards which govern our entities) why shouldn't we be pessimistic about the CP that they value far less than the average SBC church and pastor?

5. Churches are not required to give to the CP.

Local church autonomy means that no SBC entity can lay claim to any portion of any church's offerings. No church is required to give to the CP. A church need not give a single dollar to the CP to be a Southern Baptist Church. What churches do is evaluate the options for their mission dollars. The result is that the CP is receiving less, Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon more, and a variety of other missions receive more.

I am perfectly willing to be persuaded away from any of these if any of my readers wish to make an attempt.


Anonymous said...

“. . . little evidence that the CP is capable of being changed so as to be more attractive … The best evidence of this is the Great Commission Resurgence process. It changed very little - the CP allocations are essentially the same as before . . . .”

That CP has changed little (i.e., efforts to increase centralized funding, which potentially removes some elements of environmental uncertainty, thereby enhancing planning’s potential for enhancing organizational capacity, have been far less than desired) is correct. As a way to enhance SBC operations, GCG was less about the institution and more about the power of some influential pastors to maintain power without having to appropriately commit to the institution.

Such likely will not cause the institution to fail, but it will attenuate its capacity; thus again supporting the notion that the best way to understand an organization is take a little bit of rationality and combine it with a whole bunch of ego. One need not spend time in the organization management literature for such; one can, instead, simply read scripture.

The irony is rich.

William said...

What? Egos in the SBC? Shocking! Shocking!

Anonymous said...


Of course, no surprise. Nor is there any surprise that leadership is unenlightened concerning its behaviors. History provides an inexhaustible supply of examples of dullness of perception. Disappointing is that messengers are just as unenlightened; for it is they that stand to gain the most by change. They feel the dysfunction, but are either unaware of factors that drive it that they can change or are afraid to do so for fear of being thought disloyal. Either way, it represents a deadening moment of spirit that repeated over time may result in no stirrings of responsibility.

History also teaches that some are unimpressed and usually lose. Most are forgotten, nonetheless providing the foundation for subsequent change.