There was a crisis brewing in the 1920s. Resources were needed to get the work done. An inadequate collection and distribution system was impeding progress. Projects that had great potential were started, only to fail because supply could not keep pace with demand. People began to look for a solution. A visionary plan was suggested.
For sure, the plan was complicated and risky. It would involve setting aside regional differences. It would require a willingness to work together. Intensive strategic planning, financial sacrifice and years of hard work would be necessary. But the struggle was worth it. It was a resounding success.
The crisis was a problem of inadequate support for critical endeavors. A people called Southern Baptists were seeking to fulfill the dream they had articulated 80 years before at the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1845, they had created their convention for the purpose of “organizing a plan for eliciting, combining and directing the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort, for the propagation of the Gospel.” Yet their effort was being hampered by lack of resources.
The number of denominational enterprises and institutions was growing. Each needed support. Each went about seeking the contributions of the congregations. Sunday by Sunday, fundraisers from seminaries and colleges, orphanages and hospitals, mission boards and benevolent organizations fanned out among the churches asking the faithful for help. Some fared better than others. Some years were better than others. The gifts were distributed unevenly. The more popular, or perhaps the swifter, received a disproportionate share of the offerings. Other important ministries went begging.
Furthermore, the costs of raising the money sometimes approached 50 percent of the proceeds. The churches were beleaguered by an endless stream of denominational representatives needing “pulpit time” to make their appeals. On the whole, the results were discouraging. No one was being adequately supported. The convention had a dream of “eliciting, combining and directing the energies of the whole denomination,” but they had no mechanism to make the dream come true.
Until 1925. Then the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Memphis, Tenn., adopted a recommendation from its Future Program Commission chaired by Louisiana pastor M.E. Dodd creating the “Co-Operative Program of Southern Baptists.”
There were ambitious expectations when the Cooperative Program (CP) was first envisioned, and today it has grown into one of the largest and most effective voluntary funding programs for advancing the work of the Great Commission.
As hoped, Southern Baptists’ unified plan has overcome the unreliability of societal giving. Last year, Southern Baptists contributed more than $530 million through the CP, with more than $200 million forwarded to SBC national entities, the third year in a row gifts through this primary funding channel have exceeded this threshold. Moreover, the dependability of the CP has proven its value, especially now. Although other sources of funding have been severely stricken during the current economic crisis (endowments have dropped in value and interest earned on investments has fallen), faithful giving has kept SBC entities within one percent of expected distributions of CP gifts.
This consistency ensures the fulltime deployment of about 5,500 missionaries overseas and the support in whole or in partnership with states of another 5,600 missionaries in the U.S. and its territories, Puerto Rico as well as Canada. It is the primary funding source for cooperative ministries among Southern Baptists at the national level and is supplemented by special offerings such as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering to expand ministry efforts at home and abroad.
The very name helps define Southern Baptists as a people, and as a funding channel for Kingdom enterprise, the CP ensures we can minister to those in need and carry the good news of the Gospel to the lost, at home and around the globe. But the Cooperative Program is the more than just the lifeblood of New Testament cooperation among Southern Baptists. The Cooperative Program is the heart of Southern Baptist missions and ministries to the world.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is adapted in part from the introduction of One Sacred Effort, The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists by Chad Owen Brand and David E. Hankins. Sunday, April 26 is designated Cooperative Program Sunday across the SBC.