Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Is there a realistic "Third Way" Cooperative Program alternative?

Here are the two main choices SBC churches have in regard to the Cooperative Program: Give to it through the regular state convention channel or not give to it.

Almost all churches give to the Cooperative Program. In fact, and despite the incessant lamentation over the declining percentages given to the CP, the average church gives 5.5% of its undesignated offerings to the CP. While this may be about half of the percentage of a generation ago, it still is a mammoth common funding plan that generates almost half a billion dollars to our ministries. If we stop griping about what it used to be thirty years ago and consider that any church that chooses not to give to the CP is a very rare Baptist bird, we might have a better perspective for the future.

Churches have always had the option of designated giving and almost all churches give in this manner, chiefly through the two mission offerings, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. Many churches are diverting dollars formerly given through the CP to either or both of these offerings or to other SBC and non-SBC mission causes. By the end of the decade the two mission offerings will total more than the SBC part of the CP.

But, suppose for example that a church wants to keep their 5% Cooperative Program amount and that they don't want to designate any of that percentage. Is there an alternative? Jon Akin at B21 says that there is and offers one in a recent article, CP: Another Way.

Akin rehearses the difficulty and slowness of state conventions moving to forward more of the CP dollar to the two mission boards and seminaries and smaller SBC entities. The fact is and the fact will remain that most of a CP dollar is kept within the state conventions, meaning that the legacy southern states that are so heavily populated by Southern Baptist churches also keep most of the mission money, about 61%. This is nothing new. State conventions have always kept most of the money. That's the system.

The Great Commission Resurgence created a lot of noise and a little movement towards adjusting this 61% downwards toward a 50/50 Cooperative Program split. This has had incremental results partly because state convention insiders and executives consider that 50/50 really means 55/45 or even 60/40 (nothing much has changed since 2011 when I wrote the piece linked).

Here's where Akin sees another way,
But, what if there was an alternative? What if a church genuinely values what the state convention is doing, wants to be a part of the process, wants to support its missions and ministries, but wants to move more quickly to 50/50 so more money gets to the nations? Is there an option for them? What if churches could give their CP dollars straight to the national convention and tell them to send 50% of my dollars to my state convention to help fund their mission efforts?  
This alternative is possible and some churches already do this. The Executive Committee receives some funds directly from individuals and churches (in the low single digit percentages) and, presumably, they are able to direct these funds as the donor wishes.

I don't think this to be a realistic alternative.

Forgive my pessimism but this, (a) it requires too much of an irregular process, and (b) there are more comfortable and less demanding alternatives. There's nothing wrong with Akin's suggestion but churches, I speculate, would feel a bit hesitant to send their checks around their state convention even if the state convention ended up with half of the church's giving after it was first routed through Nashville. Add to that the ease and long habit of churches taking the two mission offerings. The easier alternative, one that has been practiced for decades and one that churches are inherently more comfortable with is for a church to decrease their CP percentage or amount by an amount that then is budgeted to Annie Armstrong, Lottie Moon, or other causes. The state convention will still keep their 60% or 65% but the church has effectively reduced the percentage by giving less.

What the Akin proposal clearly shows, though, is that there are many Southern Baptists who are loyal, who love the Cooperative Program, who love and support their state convention, but who feel that the CP process and allocation formulas do not reflect their priorities, nor the reality of the world's Gospel needs in the 21st Century.

I get this general conclusion when I ask younger pastors about the Cooperative Program and their mission priorities. I've never had a thirtysomething pastor who said they believe that our state, Georgia, has a greater need for CP dollars that places in North America and the world beyond the Chattahoochee and Savannah rivers. Not once. Maybe I'm talking to the wrong thirtysomethings.

We could do the same thing Akin suggests in an easier fashion if state conventions would offer churches alternative giving plans. My state could offer two alternatives, a "traditional" plan that maintained the current split (about 60/40, the state keeping the 60%) but also a straight "50/50" plan where that CP dollar is divided equally between the Georgia Baptist Convention and SBC causes (and the 50/50 would be straight, without any accounting funny business where money kept in Georgia is called "shared" ministries or other fuzzy labels). I think that this alternative would have an immediate market among churches and pastors and that many churches would adopt the 50/50 plan, thereby fully supporting the official CP while giving in better accord with their mission priorities.

I wouldn't look for this, though, since the only result would be a decrease in state convention revenues. State convention decision makers would prefer to have the ability to dangle tiny, fractional percentage movements towards 50/50, since they are better in control of those decisions. The idea of giving a church a straight choice removes the state convention from being in control and is therefore an idea that is DOA...

...Unless there is a grassroots movement to storm the Baptist Bastille and demand liberte from the legacy keepers of the Cooperative Program.


Anonymous said...

Too complicated. All of it.

Give directly to national. Give directly to state. Local associations: why?

Appeals to give more are easy, a strategy of a tired mind.

The people, holding the economy constant, are not ready to give more. They do not have the experience or language for such. Asking for the yield long before the ground is made fertile, tilled, and seeds planted, is a bit premature.

Decouple the systems and allow creativity to flourish, or at least create some skunk works as experiments. Neither will happen, however, given the re-arrangements of power that will be required and the contingent, inter-agency relations that will need to be forged, not to mention the requisite lessening of dogmatism that will be fought at every turn.

Anonymous said...

A concern was raised at Voices about states providing support to liberal college institutions. How much money is at stake for these situations?

In Georgia, Brewton-Parker, decidedly not a liberal college, has a bit of an accreditation problem, due mainly to financial issues. Perhaps the current academic year (2013-14) was a really good year for the institution, but if so, it still may be too little too late. More recent years prior to the current year suggest a real struggle.

Not impossible, but it is difficult to rebound from probation in the manner B-P is now on such, and should B-P lose SACS-COC accreditation status, it probably would be wise to close the doors and focus funds elsewhere (e.g., Shorter).

Anonymous said...

Why give anything to CP when at a Court Hearing June 19, 2014 SBC lawyers stated Messengers only have a voice at SBC during the 2 days of convention. Meanwhile Lifeway flushed $150 million down the drain at Glorieta so non Baptist can create a theme park. Trustees and messengers might wake up to how they vote at entity meetings!