Sunday, December 11, 2005

Cooperative Program Allocation

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.


Tony K. said...

I have heard of churches cutting out the state level - mostly in Texas. From the pew it sounds like all CP goes to missions, you have shown this is not true.

My concern is the quality of the state level ministries. A recent Indiana Baptist sponsored training conference was lacking.

David B. Hewitt said...

..which conference are you referring to, Tony? I know that Crossroads Academy went on recently, and I enjoyed that for the most part....are you referring to something else? :)

I live in the Indianapolis area.

RefBaptDude said...

The Cooperative Program may be an ingenuous tool but is it biblical? Is this the model supplied in the NT Scriptures?

Grace to all,

G. Alford said...


Thanks you for having the courage to speak honestly about the SBC "Sacred Milk Cow".

I have been outright disgusted by the endless appeals for more CP support and giving by the SBC and State leaders as of lately… You can hardly read a state paper, national publication, or attend any conference where greater support for the CP is not forced down your throat…

After discovering that the State in which I pastor (Florida) skims off 60% of the Cooperative Program cream for themselves (over 22 MILLION last year alone)…

And after having one of our SBC missionaries come to our church and confess that it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep one missionary family on the field each year (I do not know the exact amount so if anyone knows for sure please post it)…

And having personally supported many non SBC missionaries, who must raise their own support, who have spent their lives on the mission field with only a fraction of what our SBC missionary said it took to keep him in Mexico…

And having a close friend who is a missionary tell me that the SBC turned him down because he did not have a degree from one of our Seminaries (He and his wife have now been in Central America for over 15 years and have planted 50 plus churches)…

After all this my church finally decided unanimously to end it’s long standing support for the CP and take direct responsibility for where our mission giving is spent.

Let me quickly say that we still support the SBC whole heartily, just not the CP… we now give directly to the SBC and the entities where we see the greatest needs.

By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Greg

Brian Hamrick said...


Thanks. I'm a younger pastor (28), and it sounds like you've got us figured out!

Baptists grew much faster in the era before the CP. I know it's not as simple as that, but it is food for thought.

From what I understand, I love the Triennial Convention's original model of only supporting international missions. Churches need to take the responsibility of training pastors and reproducing rather than outsourcing these responsibilities to others. Giving money is only a fraction of supporting the work of the gospel and being faithful to the Lord.

It just seems like a big bureaucracy has formed around the gospel.

RefBaptDude said...


Our church had the same conviction and withdrew our monies from the CP. We now directly support our missionaries, know what they believe and the work that is taking place.

I have been told that the salaries of the leadership of convention entities are quite large. Is this true, does anyone have the figures?


J Keith Johnson said...

Good article. This information needs to be made more readily available to SBC churches. I knew the figures were low, but not THAT low.

And, as Refbaptdude pointed out, there may be an issue of how well the CP fits the biblical model. Food for thought.


Sean said...

A question from a "clueless" young pastor whose church gives 8% to CP and 2.75% to our local association. Can we by-pass the state convention and give directly to Nashville?

This concerns me and I don't want to be alienated in our state convention. But just this past week at our State Executive Board meeting, a pastor called for increased CP giving and it does seem to be getting more attention. In our world of "grassroots" movements and people wanting to see "tangible" results to their giving, the CP is becoming a harder sell. I whole-heartedly agree with it in principle, but if the majority goes to fund the salaries of denominational employees at the state level, then I would rather send my money to the missionary or church planter directly on the field. How can we go about finding out who needs the money on the International fields and what is the best way to get them the funds they need? By the way, I am in the Colorado Baptist General Convention.

Scripture Searcher said...

Thomas, you have rendered all SBC churches (pastors and members) a great service by your condensed explanation.

From all the state (and the national) denominational headquarters you deserve a hearty and sincere note of thanks.

See how many bother to express their appreciation.

Please do not hold your breath until they write or call.

BlindBeggar said...

Good recap, but you made a fundamental logic error. Your premise is that “many if not most Southern Baptists do not understand how money given to (or through) the Cooperative Program (CP) is actually allocated” overseas missions (which I’m sure is absolutely correct). The focus is on CP allocations.

But you start your example with Bob giving $100 HSBC. The logic error is that this $100 was not given to the CP. The proper starting point is the amount allocated by HSBC to the CP, which in your example is $10. This is Bob’s contribution to the CP. In other words, of every dollar that Bob gives to the CP, about $.20 goes to overseas missions.

RefBaptDude said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
K. Morse said...

My brother and I were actually discussing this very thing Saturday night, and I'm beginning to feel like the CP has stopped being a resource for the benefit of the local churches in the convention. Rather, we have become a resource for the CP. The roles have been reversed, and the local church has lost much of the control over its use of that resource. Moreover, as your post shows, the local church has lost much of its awareness of the workings of the CP.
The CP should be an excellent resource for the churches to use in furthering the work of the Gospel, and is still. however, their should be clarity about exactly how that takes place in the convention. I agree that our churches have a need to be aware of where they are putting their money.

Tony K. said...

I went to Crossroads Academy South. The low point was the creative worship. The high point was Dr. Land speaking on cultural engagement. The sessions I went to mostly focused on Children’s ministry. The main theme was: BE DEVOTED TO SUNDAY SCHOOL (and by extension LifeWay curriculum).

Their was an alter call at the worship service. We were urged to come forward to make a commitment to take the Cross to the Crossroads (Indiana). We signified this commitment by taking a magnet from a metal cross.

Much of the conference was aimed at lay people. The focus was on practical ministry. This is fine - if lack of practical training is the root of the weakness in our churches. I do not think the state leadership sees the real issues of the churches. Christ is loved. The Gospel is subverted. The Bible is mocked. Children are spoon fed moralism. And half our so called members are lost (both physically and spiritually).

But I learned how LifeWay curriculum integrates the Multiple Intelligence Theory of Learning. Your CP dollars at work (in Indiana at least).

David B. Hewitt said...

Hey, Tony.

I went to Crossroads Academy Central. There were some good points (Bill Fay for one), but I also went to the Creative Worship seminar... and it was lacking to say the least. Whatever happened to getting what do in worship from Scripture?

I also think you have a good point in the source of the majority of the problems in our churches -- we ignore how the Bible tells us to do church. We do not delight in God or His Word...and no amount of creative practicalities are going to solve that problem.

This is not to say I didn't appreciate any of it of course, but there is room for improvement.

GeneMBridges said...


You asked, "Can we by-pass the state convention and give directly to Nashville? This concerns me and I don't want to be alienated in our state convention."

The answer is: Yes. But, as your next sentence implies, there is often a cost to this that must be calculated, depending on the way your state convention defines a "cooperating" church. This involves the politics of the Convention to contextualize this for you. Historically, "moderate" churches redirected their giving from the SBC to the CBF or other groups but kept it in their state conventions when they tended to run the state conventions. Alternatively, "conservative" churches would direct their money to the SBC but avoid their state conventions. In NC, we have 4 different giving programs for the churches that reflect these realities.

Regarding the way people spin the CP, listen for the equivocation on "missions." The people are told that the CP money goes to "missions," not "international missions." Most of our folks think of the IMB and the NAMB when they think about "missions." They may or may not realize that the seminaires and ethics commissions get a cut too. They may not realize that their state conventions receive a cut, unless they really pay close attention to their church budgets and know their state's funding formula.

Thus, when they hear, "the CP funds 'missions'," they are hearing one thing when there is a much larger picture in view. They generally think SBC, specifically the IMB and NAMB, not their state conventions, seminaries, state Baptist colleges, etc, all because those who promote it from the denomination simply say "missions," without defining what they mean.

Tony K. said...

As a Southern student I have been told to respect, cherish and even praise God for the cooperative program. The alternative would be various Baptist causes competing for the same funds - guest speakers calling every day asking for the Sunday night pulpit. What about excessive fund raising costs? What about having to open to the congregation exactly what they are supporting? Someone in Nashville just said, “If it an’t broke, don’t fix it. ”

Jim Shaver said...

Old John Taylor, the backwoods Kentucky Baptist prophet, nailed it in the early 1800's when he said that the churches would never be able to give enough money to satisfy the Mission Societies.

The reality is that more and more SBC churches are realizing that giving 10% to the CP is optional.

Listen to what Morris Chapman said in Feb. of 2005. "Churches are forwarding less of their offerings through the Cooperative Program than they were two decades ago. In 1984, he said, the average church forwarded 10.6% of its undesignated receipts through CP. In the 2003-04 fiscal year, that percentage fell to 6.99%."

Dr. Chapman labeled that a "dangerous trend."

Dangerous to the CP perhaps but maybe not so dangerous to Missions since the churches kept the 3.8% and used it locally.

Robin said...

Tony K
How about cutting out all the middle men and have individual churches send missionaries. For example, Happy Southern Baptist Church identifies a man gifted to the work of missions ... lets say his name is Joe Blog. They call him and his family to go to France. Happy Baptist Church is responsible to meet Mr Blog's finantial and prayer needs ... they may call other like-minded churches for assistance if needed.

As an added blessing, Joe Blog is held accountable by his local (supporting) church and has individual people in that church praying for him in specific ways.

Now we have no competition between churches nor do we have any fund raising expenses. Everyone in the local church knows what (who) they are supporting.

I have to agree with refbaptdude when he asks, "is it biblical? Is this the model supplied in the NT scriptures?"

Bart said...


I don't think there is anything wrong with churches supporting individual missionaries. I think this can be extremely beneficial in a number of ways (as you suggested in your post).

But we should remember that foreign missions isn't the only avenue of ministry funded by the CP. As a graduate and current student at one of our SBC seminaries, I am eternally grateful for the education I received. In truth, I don't know how I would have afforded an education at a private institution funded without CP dollars.

Also, ministries performed by NAMB are made possible by the CP. I think the recent response to Katrina by NAMB was exceptional. I am glad to see my money used in this kind of ministry.

Furthermore, the argument that the CP is unbiblical or, at least, extra-biblical is true on the face of it. But of course we do many things that have no explicit biblical precedent. We cooperate together to provide women's shelters and children's homes, for example. These are clearly extra-biblcal in reality but supremely biblical in spirit and intent, at least in my judgment.

Having said all those things, I don't think we should throw more money at the CP just because denominational leaders say so. I am greatly disturbed by the amount of money that is retained by state conventions in the process (as Tom rightly pointed out). I think that a vast bureaucracy exists (especially at the state level) that demands to be fed more and more. In just the last month or so I have been giving serious thought to the idea of bypassing our state convention or drastically reducing the money sent there. The balance would then be sent directly to the IMB, NAMB, and the seminaries. At the time, however, these are just thoughts.

My prayer is that churches and the SBC would give very serious thought to how our resources could best be used. The solution echoed loudly from the national and state level, "Give more, more, more," has not worked, is not going to work, and, indeed, should not work.

Randy Williams said...

I have mixed feelings on this issue. The direct support sounds good on paper but I know from personal experience in another Baptist denomination that your missionaries are often abused in that system. The Missionary has to sweat it out not knowing if some of the supporting churches are either going to cut support or drop it all together. Under the CP his salary is guaranteed. Under the Direct support his salary is not. The CP did great work in the recent Hurricane that hit here in Louisiana that could not have been done under the direct support system.

There is great waste in the CP. One of the solutions is to cut the salaries of Seminary Presidents and Denominational employees. Some of these make $250,000 or more. The gravy train salaries of Seminary presidents and Denominational employees is ridiculous. Another solution is end support for Baptist liberal arts colleges and universities. Giving money to support Baptist liberal arts colleges and universities is a waste of money that is not mission work. Private support should be used for liberal arts colleges not CP money.

Shepherd's Walk said...

In regard to the CP being Biblical or not, I believe we see the principle of a cooperative mission effort played out by the Corinthian believers. The account is in 2 Cor. 9:1-14. Paul has encourged a collection that 'seed' might be made available to 'the sower.' This "... service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God," (v. 12). Isn't this what we do through the CP every day?

Second, in regard to problems with or criticisms of the CP that some have voiced - isn't that why we send messengers to associational, state and annual meetings? If ya don't like it, seek to change it.

G. Alford said...

Shepherd's Walk said...

" regard to problems with or criticisms of the CP that some have voiced - isn't that why we send messengers to associational, state and annual meetings? If ya don't like it, seek to change it."

You’re kidding right? I'm not trying to be unkind here, but when is the last time anyone can remember a lowly messenger bringing something that made a true change in the way the convention operates or allocates funds to the floor of the convention and getting it passed? It’s simply not going to happen.

This is part of the bigger problem, the bureaucracy that is the SBC and the CP is not, to any real extent, answerable to the local Churches.

His By Grace Alone,
Pastor Greg

Scott said...


It's amazing that we talk about the regulative principle but totally miss it when we talk about missions and seminaries. Robin has put it right: There is no structure for a convention missions structure. The local church is ordained to do so. Also, there is no structure for seminary. However, the Elders should be giving seminary training to the younger called pastors in their church. I know some will say this is really out there: Is it! We are so blind to these two things when it comes to the regulative principle. Yes, I'm a SBC pastor and am guilty as charged. This has been on my mind lately. Local church, Local church, and Local church. Now, thats where we start and thats what we got to get back to.

LawyerDad said...

The timing of this post raises some questions - Isn't the "Lottie Moon" offering used exculsively for world missions? That's the impression I've gotten.

Tom said...

Lawyer Dad:

The Lottie Moon offering goes completely to the IMB. It is my understanding that none of it is even used for the normal administrative, overhead kind of expenses that go with any kind of organization. I am under the impression that money given to this offering all goes directly to the actual work being done internationally.

Ashlee said...

Please Read This for more information on the CP. I think many of you are not seeing the whole big picture on this issue.

G. Alford said...


I think you miss the point…

For many who are posting on this subject (and I do not presume to speak for everyone else) I think the issue is one of a loss of trust. You march out a long list of ministries that are supported by the CP yet you fail to mention the one greatest shortcoming of the CP and that is one of direct accountability unto the churches which fund it. The CP will not answer unto God for any waist or mismanagement of funds, the individuals who put their offerings into the plate each Sunday morning and the local church leadership which send them to the CP will.

If the IMB requires $100,000 of CP funding a year (and I do not know the actual amount) to keep a missionary family on the field when many independent missionary families stay on the mission field for half that amount or less each year… I have a hard time convincing my people to support the CP.

If the Leadership of the State Convention where I pastor has an openly hostile bias against the theological position (Reformed Theology) of my congregation and refuses to fund any Church Planting efforts that we sponsor then… I have a hard time convincing my people to support the CP.

It is not that those of us who no longer support the CP think that each and every ministry that is funded through the CP is bad… not at all… many of them are very worthy. It is just that we have become increasingly aware that not all of our CP funds are being spent wisely or in accordance to our best interest, and therefore we have decided to send our missions offerings directly to those ministries which we have a far greater level of confidence in. In this manner we can assure our members that their offerings are not being wasted and are not supporting those who are hostile to our theological positions.

On a separate note -- It is clear from your article that you have mistaken the SBC to be an ecclesiastic church along the same lines as the Presbyterian or Lutheran Church. It is not. The SBC is a Convention (a non prophet organization) not a Church. And as such has no more right to demand, or even expect, a “Tithe” from the many autonomous Baptist Churches that choose to affiliate with it -- than say the United Way has a right to expect a “Tithe” from our autonomous Baptist Churches.

No where in Scripture do we find any command or mention of the Church paying a “Tithe” to anyone… so please rethink the notion of the SBC as our “Mother Church” and having a right to our “Tithe”. The SBC did not give birth unto the Local Baptist Churches… and it has no claim to a “Tithe” from any of them.

His By Grace,
Pastor Greg

Geary Burch said...

I started to become suspicious of the CP when a administrator from our state came to our church to speak on evangelism then took our church to lunch (good thing we're not a mega-church) paying for it, he confessed, from CP

Robert R said...

Good discussion. I am a big supporter of our international missions work. I came to Christ myself through the witness of a wonderful Baptist missionary on the island of Okinawa.

On the issue of CP spending in the U.S. though, please remember that America is far from evangelized. The North American Mission Board estimates that as many as 224 million of North America’s 316 million population do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I think CP dollars spent in the states by NAMB and the state conventions are integral to our carrying out the Acts 1:8 mandate to simultaneously reach people locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

Cooperative Program dollars that stay at home are also used to offset the tuition costs for future church leaders at Baptist colleges and seminaries, support children’s homes and many other vital ministries.

These dollars also get used extensively in activities that are geared toward strengthening the local church. This is crucial because without strong, growing churches here at home providing prayer and financial report, the international work will slowly decline.

None of this is to say that churches, state conventions and our national agencies can’t make improvements or be more efficient. Certainly, all can. I just see CP, while imperfect, as one of the best tools we have for reaching our world (both here at home and abroad).