Steady as a rock would aptly describe Ardmore, First’s Cooperative Program giving.
The southern Oklahoma church, consistently in the top five in total contributions to the Cooperative Program, has maintained its 18 percent CP giving record for years.
“That was here long before I became pastor in 1988, and has always been a priority for this church,” said Alton Fannin.
Fannin said the 18 percent mark has not been greatly negotiated or discussed.
“It has been an established pattern we have been able to follow, which is pretty amazing considering all the other things we have done,” Fannin noted.
Not only does the church give 18 percent to CP, but contributes 4 1/2 percent to Enon Association and funds local missions, projects done through Mission Ardmore, at a rate of 3 percent.
“So, 25 1/2 percent of our budget is set before we ever start to do our work,” Fannin said.
Fannin acknowledged he has always had a major commitment to the Cooperative Program. When he was pastor of Sentinel, First, back in the early 1980s during the oil boom, that church gave 25 percent to the Cooperative Program, mainly because they “had more money than we knew what to do with.”
But, Fannin said, every church he has served as pastor, which also includes Atwood, First and Okmulgee, First, has given at least 10 percent to the CP.
“Obviously the pastor has enormous impact on the decision-making process of the church in that direction,” said Fannin. He attributes his strong connection to the Cooperative Program to growing up in a Southern Baptist church with a Southern Baptist family, whose mother was a key leader in Woman’s Missionary Union.
“Just knowing about missions and the work of the Cooperative Program had a big impact on me,” Fannin said.
Fannin emphasized that he tries to keep members informed that the Cooperative Program is the lifeblood of all that Baptists do.
“We do ‘Missionary Moments’ in both our Sunday morning and Sunday evening services,” Fannin said. “Our people are pretty well acquainted with missionaries scattered around the world, who are supported by the Cooperative Program.”
He said sometimes he preaches a message on the Cooperative Program, and it is always emphasized with a two-to-three sermon series when proposing the next year’s budget.
Fannin stressed that once people understand how many missionaries are supported and how much work is done through the Cooperative Program, they can have a sense of excitement and pride in being a part of something this big.
As an example, he told of a group of people who came to Ardmore, First from an Independent Baptist background when their church dissolved. He said they had been misinformed and led to believe Southern Baptists were not really committed to missions. Once they began to hear about missions and understand what Southern Baptists do, one woman came to her son and said, “I think I’ve been misled all my life. Southern Baptists do more missions than we ever thought about doing.”
“That tells us that the educational emphasis is an important factor in the process,” noted Fannin. “It’s something, if the people are informed, that they become very proud of.”
Fannin said one problem is that so many individual ministries do project-type events that hit people in the emotional gut, and they are moved by their emotions for the project.
He explained that in the church’s contemporary worship setting, which started about three years ago, and is led by Todd Davidson, many of those in that service are inclined to support individual projects much more than collective projects.
“Often, when Todd asks if he can take an offering for this or that, I’m able to say to him, ‘Did you know Baptists already do that?’” Fannin remarked. “One of the biggest problems is that some don’t understand what the CP supports, and therefore, they are excited about these other ministries that are doing things we do all the time.”
Fannin noted that the genius of the Cooperative Program is its largeness, but it’s also the demise of CP, because how to you tell a story that big?
He said while his church tells the story in individual pieces through Missionary Moments, that is just a tiny snippet.
“I don’t understand why we don’t produce video missionary moments that can be used around the calendar,” he said. “If we could put together a one-minute commercial for the CP to be used in every service a church has, can you imagine the impact on education that would have?”
Fannin said his church is trying to grow new givers, especially in the contemporary service, where the focus is on lost and unreached people.
“We have always emphasized and taught good stewardship,” said Fannin. “It is something I’ve always had a real propensity to do, because I was taught stewardship as a child. We try to educate people that giving is a good thing—that God blesses giving, and collectively we can do more than we can individually.”
Fannin acknowledged that while Ardmore has not been set back by the nation’s economic situation as much as some places, the church has weathered a lot of things well because the members are faithful, first-fruit givers.
“They give to the Lord first, then work out the rest of it,” Fannin revealed. “When economic times get tough, people have a tendency to stop giving unless it is a true conviction in their lives. If they simply give out of emotion, the first thing they will quit doing is giving if they need to cut back.”
In addition to its CP giving, which is on track to propel the church to the number one spot in the state this year, Ardmore, First also promotes special mission offerings heavily, especially the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
“Our giving to Lottie Moon has grown in the last two years,” Fannin said. “In the last three years, we have given more than $300,000 to Lottie Moon.”
Fannin noted that giving is a learned experience.
“You can’t base it on the economic news of the world,” he emphasized. “That’s hard, because we are all influenced by what the world tells us. But giving is establishing a mind set that fits your particular setting.”
Fannin observed that from the early days of his pastoral experiences, stewardship has been a positive and easy thing for him to deal with and promote.
“It’s always been a big part of who I am,” he said. “The pastor does have a big influence, but you have to have a congregation that is willing to join you in that vision, and this congregation was already deeply committed before I got here.”