Gene Veith wrote a few weeks ago in WORLD Magazine that, on average, about $.02 of every dollar given in a Protestant church offering goes to overseas missions. Southern Baptists have done better than most in funding the spread of the Gospel overseas through the collaborative effort of the Cooperative Program. Veith's article, however, made me do a little analysis of how Southern Baptist missions giving typically works.
Many if not most Southern Baptists do not understand how money given to (or through) the Cooperative Program (CP) is actually allocated. This is partly due to the large number of agencies, efforts and ministries that are funded by such gifts and partly due to a lack of education about the CP. More and more churches and pastors--especially young pastors--are beginning to question the way the CP works. While their questions are sometimes misconstrued as a lack of loyalty, I have not perceived them that way at all. People simply want to know what they are paying for. Christians especially should be concerned about careful financial stewardship and part of such stewardship is knowing where your money is going.
In many respects the CP is an ingenuous tool that enables a large number of churches to stand together in supporting people and efforts that could not be well supported (if at all) by individual churches. Theological education, ethics and religious liberty concerns, missions efforts in North America and missions efforts beyond this continent are all supported by Southern Baptists via this mechanism. These causes are all administered through the national Southern Baptist Convention offices which are based in Nashville. Most moderately informed Southern Baptists have some awareness of this.
What is not so readily known, however, is the fact that the bulk of money that is given to the CP by local churches goes to support Baptist state convention work and ministries. These efforts often include colleges, children's homes, church planting and other such concerns.
For example, in my own state the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC) keeps 60% of money that local FBC congregations give to the CP (If you want to see the percentages of other state conventions, click here). That means that 40% makes its way to Nashville, to be disbursed by the Executive Committee according to budget allocations adopted annually by Southern Baptist messengers. The 2005-2006 allocations stipulate that 50% of all money that does finally make it to Nashville via CP gifts go to the International Mission Board. The North American Mission Board receives 22.79% Most of the remaining money (21.64%) goes to "Theological Education Ministries" (primarily, the 6 Southern Baptist Seminaries).
Here is what that means: if Bob puts $100 in the offering plate at Happy Southern Baptist Church (HSBC) in Punta Gorda, Florida and if HSBC has allocated 10% of their undesignated receipts for the "Cooperative Program missions," then 10 of Bob's dollars gets sent to the Florida Baptist Convention offices in Jacksonville. Of that, $6 of his money stays in the state for various concerns like those mentioned above and $4 gets sent to Nashville, Tennessee. Once there, $2 gets allocated to the International Mission Board for overseas mission work. A little less than $1 goes to mission work in North America and a little less than that goes to support theological education. In other words, of every dollar that Bob gives, about $.o2 goes to overseas missions (assuming HSBC has no other avenue for contributions to missions efforts).
Most Southern Baptists do not realize that this is the way it works because the Cooperative Program is typically promoted as a great way to fund international missions. According to the cpmission website, however, only 36% of the money given to the CP actually made it to Nashville and only 18% of all the money given went to support overseas missions. The lion's share of the money--about 63% on average--is used by state conventions.
As a younger generation of Southern Baptists begin to understand how this works, expect to see a shift in how local churches allocate their money that is set aside for mission work. Some will diminish CP giving in order to increase their giving to support international missions.