Many churches have chosen to reduce or forego traditional missions giving in order to do missions themselves or to work with other organizations that they see as more effective in the current climate. This has drastically affected the Cooperative Program (CP). While recent years may have seen a small uptick in CP giving across the board, there has been much talk over the last decade about the decline of the CP, and there have been some who argue that we are seeing its slow death.
With these realities, it is interesting to be asked the question, “How relevant is the CP?” My answer to that question is very relevant, and I think that for at least three reasons.
- The CP still fuels more than anything else.
With the flatness of the world, the ease of travel, and the upspring of every kind of mission organization under the sun, the local church has many options to choose from when it comes to their missions dollars. Local churches can select to partner with and resource a variety of good missions organizations, church planting networks, and theological training programs in order to do more than the local church can do by itself. Yes, there may be individual mission organizations, or individual planting networks, or individual theological training programs that do better than the SBC at certain things, but none of them can do all three of those combined on the level that we do through the CP.
The CP fuels the sending of thousands of international missionaries, the planting of thousands of North American churches, and the training of thousands of seminary students! Add to that things like disaster relief where national new agencies say on air, “If you are waiting for the government, you’ll be waiting a long time, but the Baptist men will get the job done tomorrow.” The CP is still very relevant because it fuels more mission in a one-stop offering than anywhere else! If the CP is to remain relevant, it can’t rely on “churches have always done it,” but rather must continue to prove to churches that it is the best place to invest in order to fuel mission.
- There are positive CP signs in places that make dramatic changes.
CP giving is increasing in some places, and one place where CP giving seems to increase is in state conventions that decide to keep fewer resources in state and send more to the nation/nations. For example, the Baptist Convention of Iowa decided to move to a 50/50 split in their CP dollars, and from October 1 to April 30, CP giving in Iowa is up 71% from the same period the prior year. Younger Baptists want to see more money go to the nations and less money be kept in the state, especially states that seem to have a church on every corner. The issue for these younger Baptists isn’t that state conventions aren’t doing good work (they are), and the issue isn’t that people in America aren’t as lost as those in unreached nations (they are). The issue is that there are plenty of churches and Christians in America who can share the gospel with the lost, so these younger Baptists want resources going to places where people have little access to gospel witness. As long as leaders keep casting that vision, I think we will see positive signs in CP giving, and it will remain relevant.
- As long as we talk more about cooperative missions than cooperative funding, the CP will remain relevant.
The problem is when folks want to equate CP giving with being “missions minded.” They act like if we don’t save the CP, then the Great Commission will fail. Giving to the CP is not the same thing as engaging in the Great Commission, and the Great Commission will not fail even if the CP does. As long as Southern Baptists are passionately committed in their hearts to cooperative mission (propagating the gospel among the lost) and are actively engaged in that task, then the funding for that task will be there, and cooperative giving will remain extremely relevant!