Saturday, March 7, 2015

Best Cooperative Program article in decades

I have followed the Cooperative Program for almost forty years - thirty years as a pastor, a few years on both ends of that as a seminarian and retiree, respectively.

The article below by Roger S. Oldham, SBC Executive Committee Vice President for Convention Communications and Relations, is the best I have seen in all these years in its reporting on and explanation of our venerable Cooperative Program.

National CP Shows Signs of Rebounding

The article is the headline for the most recent SBCLife: Journal of the Southern Baptist Convention that the Executive Committee of the SBC publishes five times each year.

The SBC Executive Committee is one of the most forthright of our SBC entities. There hasn't been much good news in a long time on the CP but the Executive Committee has monthly press releases that accurately tell Southern Baptists what is transpiring in regard to CP receipts from the state conventions.

"Big deal," you say?

It is a big deal to have accurate reporting. Declining metrics are like poison to SBC pastors, churches, state conventions, and entities. All of these commonly and routinely finesse or spin bad news. I once knew of a church that, after years of stellar growth in their Sunday School, saw attendance figures level off and then begin declining. Solution to that? Stop reporting attendance numbers in the church bulletin and newsletter. Problem solved. Other churches in similar situations start rationalizing padding the numbers so that the decline is not readily noticed by members.

One thing every SBC pastor and layperson learns to understand is that at times it has been extremely difficult to get straightforward numbers and straight talk from state convention executives and entity leaders. I am not asserting that any individual is dishonest, but rather that executives regularly and routinely spin their numbers to the point where reality is disguised to the average SBC pastor or layperson.

The reason this piece by Sing Oldham is a great article is that it is honest, straightforward, and educational. In the article one finds,

  • The latest encouraging news on CP giving, receipts are slightly but notably up for this fiscal year, is offered with the accurate backdrop of the last five years of declining membership, per capita CP giving, total CP giving, national CP receipts, and national per capita CP gifts.
  • More important than the last five years of numbers is the splendid explanation of CP history. Seldom do state conventions take time to explain some of the arcana regarding state/national CP splits much less the history of how the states came to gobble up well beyond half of CP receipts.
  • Recent important decisions by the various state conventions are noted, tabulated, and explained. More about this in a subsequent.
I was one ignorant pastor for about the first half of my pastoral ministry. I knew the basics about the CP but I knew little about the intricacies of  the state/national relationships and nothing about how the states handled the accounting. As a result, when I would attend forums where state executives talked about how the CP was such a great shared revenue program, I didn't know enough to recognize when state leaders would deflect or finesse questions by pastors about the state/national division of the monies.  

Ten minutes of reading this is worth ten years of press releases, cheerleading, and the relentless CP spin that pastors usually hear.

Future articles:
  • How state conventions managed to avoid the goal of an ideal 50/50 state/national CP split for the entire life of the Cooperative Program
  • How many state conventions are dispensing with the fuzzy accounting presentation techniques and moving to the ideal goal with straight up accounting.

No comments: