Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's time for Southern Baptists to get serious on the allocation of Cooperative Program dollars

LifeWay Research recently studied attitudes toward the Cooperative Program (CP)--the ingenious giving plan that allows Southern Baptist churches to fund international missions, church planting and theological education, among other things. I actually was one of the 3500 pastors who participated in the study (in addition to 285 other ministers and 5245 lay persons). Mark Kelly summarizes one of the more interesting dimensions of the study:
A larger majority of pastors (62 percent) strongly agree that it is important for the Cooperative Program to allocate contributions appropriately among state, national and global ministries, missions and entities. Only 38 percent strongly agree the current allocation is appropriate among state, national and global ministries, missions and entities.
As the chart indicates, only 34% of the pastors surveyed believe that the entities that the CP supports "use the contributions efficiently" and only 32% think that "the state convention entities" that the CP supports "use the contributions efficiently" (more charts are available here).

Three years ago I wrote about the way CP monies are allocated and suggested that if the truth becomes widely known (of how much money stays in state conventions and how little actually makes it to support international missions--especially compared to the way the CP is promoted) then we could expect churches to start giving around the CP. This current LifeWay study suggests that I am not alone in my concerns.

It is time for Southern Baptists to change the way that Cooperative Program dollars are allocated. The simple truth is that far too many of those dollars stay in state conventions (for example, in Florida 60% stays in the state and that is "one of the best" percentage splits of any state convention).

Recently, International Mission Board trustees "approve[d] a budget for 2009 that includes no room to exceed the total number of missionaries currently under appointment" due to a lack of funds to do more. If every state convention would merely allocate 50% of the CP funds given by churches the IMB would not have to plan for no increase in the missionary force for 2009.

The Executive Committee of the SBC requested this LifeWay Research study on the CP. Now that the results are in, the Executive Committee should lead the way in calling for a serious, detailed study that leads to significant proposals for revamping the way that CP monies are allocated. In addition, pastors should become more involved in learning how the excessive amounts of CP dollars that stay in state conventions are spent and begin making proposals to get higher percentages of CP gifts to support international missions. After all, it is international missions that is used to promote the Cooperative Program and I am confident that most Southern Baptists would appreciate a higher percentage of their CP gifts actually making it to support the spread of the Gospel to the nations.


Brent Hobbs said...

Can I shout AMEN any louder than all caps?

Concerned people in every state need to get the ball rolling on this. State conventions need to move up 1% each year the amount they forward to the national level (i.e. this year 60/40, next year 59/41, etc...) until we are at 50/50.

Where can I sign up?

B Nettles said...

Like you said, pastors are going to have to lead the way on this. That means not paying attention to the pleas of their former-pastor or former-staff friends who now work at the state convention office.

Justin Nale said...

I know many older Southern Baptists seem to treasure the Cooperative Program as something almost sacred. I think many younger pastors like myself, however, would prefer our churches to pick and choose which ministries and programs of the SBC to support. Supporting them all wholesale through the CP just doesn't seem acceptable - especially when we very much want to support international missions but have conscientious disagreements with other things that the money is being used for (in both the SBC and our state conventions). If churches could pick and choose which entities or programs of the SBC to support, perhaps those ineffective or less biblically sound entities and programs would die out a bit faster and our monies would accomplish more for the kingdom of Christ.

T.J. Milam said...

The CP is at one and the same time the best known and least known ministry of the SBC. Best known from the point of view of what it actually supports after dollars reach Nashville. Least known in how many of those dollars actually stay in state. I believe this web address tells what each state convention keeps in state and gives to the national budget:

My state convention, the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, currently has a 64.5/35.5 split (64.5 staying in state). Our goal, however, is to decrease the state allocation by 1% each year until we reach a 50/50 split, which I believe is a noble goal. Prayerfully, we can give more in time.


Tom said...


We have to humbly yet firmly make our views on this known to those whose salaries we pay through the CP while doing what we can to educate churches on where the money actually goes. I think your incremental proposal is a good step.

Tom said...


Exactly. A bureaucratic mindset has taken hold of too many at various levels of SBC life. We need to revamp into a leaner, more efficient convention.

Tom said...


The loyalty that some folks have to the CP seems to be like that. It is, however, an ingenious plan and I would hate to see it crumble. But, it must be revamped, along with a serious restructuring of the convention organization.

Your thoughts prove my point about the younger generation of pastors in the convention.

Tom said...


Great points. One of the keys in addressing the problems is straightforward declaration of where the monies go once they are sent from churches to the state convention.

Terrell Academy Chapel said...


I've often thought that if some shrewd soul could have unfettered access to Convention spending in general, it would make an absolutely shocking documentary which would forever change the way the Convention operates.

I am NOT trying to be conspiratorial with this and I am NOT suggesting widespread malfeasance. I believe that the vast majority of our denominational entities and servants want very much to do Kingdom work. Nor, might I add, am I suggesting that the same charges couldn't be brought, oftentimes, against local churches and pastors. I'm just suggesting that over time as the material holdings of state conventions accumulate and beauracracies get more and more bloated, you end up in some strange places.

I routinely run into deep and unsettling skepticism among the pastors I talk to about the Convention and money in general.

I wonder if there is now a climate of distrust in the SBC? Things like the Reccord fiasco at NAMB probably linger much, much longer than people realize. Also, I'm always intrigued when I hear pastors speak about the buildings that house our entities. Rightly or wrongly (depending on the case) there is a general feeling of uneasiness among lots and lots of Baptist folk.

I appreciate this post.

Wyman Richardson

irreverend fox said...

I honestly would like to know what the state convention is for.

Why do we have them? Ministries such as disaster relief need to be state wide in scope...but other than that I just don't get it.

Why can't local associations deal directly with the CP and cut the state conventions out?

I love the men and women in our state convention but I honestly see no need for them at all. Local associations ought to be able to directly deal with the CP...I say we ought to cut out the massive middle man.

Russell Taylor said...

I'm with Fox. I think absorbing the state conventions into NAMB, to keep the vital functions from state to state and eliminate the wasted spending by streamlining the two entities into one. Let local associations, who work closest to the field, work with NAMB to allocate funds to local missions.

J. K. Jones said...

Good post on a grave issue.

I've used Google Reader to e-mail it to several of my friends.

pastorharold said...

I'm 33 and I don't think it is young ignorance but fresh eyes. Throw me in with Justin, Fox and Russell on this one, change must come.
I do like the idea of a line item list to choose from (of SBC ministries). There is alot of stuff today that I have hard time going along with. Maybe like a 401k plan high risk, moderate and conservative?

irreverend fox said...

I can tell everyone one thing...the crowd who would howl the loudest against any kind of line-item CP giving (allowing the local church to directly allocate of much of their CP dollars go where) will be the not-so-much-fun-fundamentalists. which is odd considering they speak for such a large portion of real Southern Baptists.

Greg Alford said...


“only 32% think that "the state convention entities" that the CP supports "use the contributions efficiently"

Tom, what do you think they are basing their opinions on? In all my years of ministry I have never once seen a detailed expense report from the State Convention of Florida, or for that matter even a summary report that gave me any real notion of where the money was being spent. (see J.T. above)

Perhaps the State Board gets this kind of information, for accountability purposes I certainly hope so, but we Pastors never get a glimpse of the real financial working of the Convention. It might prove a boost to our confidence in the State Conventions if they would be more forthcoming and trust the Pastors and Churches with this information.

You know... “Tell the truth and trust the People”.

Grace Always,

Tom said...


I think you are right. The only way that trust will be restored is by greater transparency, accountability and a willingness to reevaluate and restructure.

Tom said...

Fox, Russell and Harold:

I think that younger pastors are more willing, generally, than older ones to ask the kind of questions that need to be raised about these matters.


If you have not listened to the talk Mike Day (DOM of Mid-South Baptist Association) gave at the Baptist Identity II conference a couple of years ago, please do so. He speaks about the redundancy of state conventions and provides a model for the kind of thinking that we need today. You can find his talk here:

DoGLover said...

Justin said: "I think many younger pastors like myself, however, would prefer our churches to pick and choose which ministries and programs of the SBC to support."

Flexibility in giving is certainly positive, but the alternative to a unified program of support would be for every ministry to solicit churches directly for support. That, in fact, was how Southern Baptists used to do things before the CP was developed. Problems with that approach included agencies having to take funds from ministry to raise support, churches being overwhelmed with all the solicitations, inconsistencies in where the money went, etc.

The need for reform within the SBC is apparent; but I'd rather fix it than abandon it.

Something to consider.

By grace,

Jim Duncan said...

In November of 2000, the Illinois Baptist State Convention voted down a motion to adopt the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as it's Confession of Faith. The opponents of the motion cried out against the sections that dealt with Family and The Scriptures. I was sickened over the whole discussion. When I got back to Second Baptist Church I proposed that we simply could not in good conscience financially support a convention that does not agree with (and even made fun of) the teaching on the Family and the Scriptures which the BF&M 2000 affirms. So, the church decided to keep our CP percentage (7%) the same and send it all to Nashville, thereby bypassing the IBSA. In my humble opinion I think every SBC church in Illinois should follow our lead.

Jim Duncan

irreverend fox said...


I believe a local church can do that...but not an association.

Darby Livingston said...

"I honestly would like to know what the state convention is for."

I think we all know the answer to that question. The state convention is so we have a one on one analogy with "Judea" in our brilliant but erroneous exposition of Acts 1:8. :)

Russell Taylor said...

Dear brother Tom,

As a 41 year old with 12 years of pastoral ministry, I'm neither young nor old or filled with either wisdom or foolishness. In the current age I feel like my generation is spewed out of the mouth, by modernist and postmodernist for being lukewarm:) I love John Owen and Bunyan, A Mighty Fortress and And Can It Be, and preach 45 minute expositional sermons. I also own a MAC, like Mark Driscoll, believe that most preaching today is irrelevant to our culture and my favorite praise song is by a band called the Parachute Band. Maybe that explains why my favorite dead guy to read is Francis Schaeffer. When I was born in 1967, he was introducing my parents to my children. Gene Getz, an older guy who has mentored alot of younger guys, explains in a couple of his books that the traditionalists will only break from their ways when crisis forces them to reevaluate their methods. Denominational life is in a crisis. Traditional churches and organizations are not going to recover or make a comeback and trying to save or preserve them is a waste of time. Luther and Calvin were wild eyed radicals in there day and I believe that it will be their kind of leaders who will build the models for the next generation. It is time for leaders to rise up in the SBC and begin building the new models that will replace the old ones before they die. I know that Founders Ministries have not been interested in forming a denomination and I agree with their reasoning, but without abandoning your mission, if a parallel ministry began that focused on being missional and planting churches, I think there would be a great deal of interest. Would Founders be interested in endorsing or partnering with a missional organization that was consistent with your ministry? What say you?


Tom said...


There may be such a report, but, like you, I haven't seen it. I base my suspicions on the fact that the lion's share of CP monies are kept in state when the lion's share of "publicized good" is carried out by ministries beyond state conventions. Take a listen to Mike Day's message that I mentioned above. He documents how the Mid-South Association was already doing things that the state decided to do anyway, thus creating wasteful redundancy.

Tom said...


Your point is excellent. The old society method has its drawbacks and I would not want to return to it. I mean it when I describe the CP as ingenious. That does not mean, however, that it is beyond restructuring. Actually, I believe that the denominational structures that are presently in place need to be reconstructed. If we retool and set our sights clearly and positively on what we need to be cooperating on in good faith, then the CP will be strengthened as a result.

Tom said...


Great comment. I am tempted to write more but let me simply answer your question with: "YES," and "stay tuned." Plans are in the works for just such an effort.

Goodie said...

On the subject of state conventions, I wonder how many of the people serving in "posiitons" faithfully attend, serve and give in a local church? Hopefully, most if not all do.

Tom said...


All that I know are faithful in their churches. I would be very surprised if that were not the case. My concerns with our current denominational organization are structural, not personal. I assume that every denominational servant is a faithful follower of Christ. Any reassessment should avoid evaluations of personnel and focus on the organization itself.

Morris Brooks said...

I agree with Russell for the most part and am encouraged by your response, Tom.

The change that is needed in the SBC will be slow in coming because of the resistance by the entrenched buearacricies. So to be effective now there must be some viable alternatives to participate in and with. Especially for those who hold to the sovereignty of God in salvation and therefore do not hold to decisional regeneration as it is practiced in most SBC churches and missions.


Tony said...


I pastor a SB church in MS and I can't help but wonder if both the State convention and the local associations are needed.

It seems like many of the ministries over lap and state officials are not as in touch with smaller church needs as are the local associations.

In a state like MS where SB churches are plentiful, a state convention is not as helpful as other states that are not well established. If MS could do away with either the local associations or the state convention millions of CP dollars could be applied to CP entities (like the IMB) that need more and more funding.

Just my thoughts for what ever they are worth.


Kerygma said...

We no longer fund our state convention or the SBC. We remain actively involved with our local association, and partner with other Baptist and Christian groups to support mission projects beyond our county. The CP helped to build a vast and unwieldy bureaucracy, which is no longer effective in a world requiring more nimble structures.

J.D. Rector said...


Great posts and comments that you have given to this topic. But, so that no one can be mislead, many of our theological professors at our seminaries are not well paid in my opinion while the "executive staff" at many of our state conventions are paid extremely well.

I am all for the re-allocation of the disportionate amount of money that is kept at the state level. Consequently, I fully realize that some of the smaller SBC state conventions up north do not operate at the same level as many of the big ones here in the south. We need more money to going directly to the IMB and our strategic missionaries from our larger state conventions!

Merry Christmas!

Ivan said...

--Jim Duncan wrote:

"When I got back to Second Baptist Church I proposed that we simply could not in good conscience financially support a convention that does not agree with (and even made fun of) the teaching on the Family and the Scriptures which the BF&M 2000 affirms."

It is my understanding that IBSA does now adhere to the BFM 2000.

Brian Hamrick said...


There was some comment about this at the Florida Baptist Convention, I believe. Wish I could say who, or even the context, but I am remembering the % distributions being discussed between national and state entities, and I believe it was reported that there was no significant group of people they knew of in Fla. that wanted 50/50. I was stunned. I should have gotten to a microphone, but didn't. I'd love to try to find the audio on this, and see if I understood it correctly. It seems like we missed an opportunity to raise this conversation.

Tom said...


I heard about that.
Here is a report of the Florida Convention that includes the Executive Committee's report that John Sullivan found "no voice to split CP funds in a 50/50 distribution" from his "listening sessions" with 43 of the state's 49 associations. I don't recall such a session being announced in our association. I wish I had not missed it.

Thomas Clay said...


I posted this same info over at Ed's blog but let me say it here, too.

We have one young man who has chosen to partner with our church's church planting efforts in large part due to the CP's negative input on his planting plan and distinctives. They told him that they were "too God-centered" and were out of touch with people.

I don't know if this is the norm for other reformed church planters who are trying to work through the IMB or NAMB but I pray that it is not. This is only one example and may not be the norm.

I do, however, see a definite shift in mindsets to work though churches who plant churches than working with the CP. It seems to be similar to the shift in music. In the old days, a musician had to work through national recording labels to get his music to the masses. With the internet, all that has changed. Much the same with church planting. We now have many churches rising up to handle their own church planting efforts, with much of its advancement occurring through the internet.

Merry Christmas!

Brad Williams said...

I am pastoring a 'church plant' in Alabama, and I have heard conflicting reports on this. If I give only and directly to the IMB, are we considered "Southern Baptists"? Can we seat messengers if that is the only entity we give to?

Tom said...


Here is what the charter of the SBC says about membership:

Article III. Membership: The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of missionary Baptist churches cooperating with the Convention as follows:

1. One (1) messenger from each church which: (1) Is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior. And, (2) Has been a bona fide contributor to the Convention's work during the fiscal year preceding.

2. One (1) additional messenger from each such church for every two hundred and fifty (250) members; or for each $250.00 paid to the work of the Convention during the fiscal year preceding the annual meeting.

3. The messengers shall be appointed and certified by the churches to the Convention, but no church may appoint more than ten (10).

4. Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he is appointed.

Notice that not a word is said about the CP--because the CP did not come into existence for another 80 years! Keep this and show it to the next fellow who tries to tell you otherwise.

mingo said...

I remember reading a report from the previous SBC Convention that only money given through the local or state conventions could be considered giving to the CP. This makes it really hard for churches that have found working through the local or state level impossible.

Not that giving to the CP makes you a SB church as Tom pointed out, but it is interesting that the CP has become the gauge by which we measure SBC loyalty, as in the case of election of SBC Presidents.

Tom said...


I think you are correct. However, Johnny Hunt's election as our President this year suggests that the "how much do you give to the CP" question may be more important to those whose salaries are paid from the CP than to the average pastor and messenger from the churches. Hunt's church gives large amounts to Southern Baptist causes, and much of that is given around the CP--directly to entities like the IMB. More and more churches are following suit.

No doubt, having a low "CP giving record" will get you blacklisted in some folks' eyes and inevitably cause you to be judged as unfit for appointment to serve on any board or committee in the SBC. But my response to that is, "so what?"

Shamgar said...

I appreciate your continuing to keep this matter in the minds of SBC membership. As I looked over the graph however, something else jumped out at me -- only ~60% of those surveyed think the allocation of funds is important.

Now, from the graph it looks like there was probably a category for 'agree' that isn't included here, and including it might boost the numbers a good bit, but it's hard to say w/out seeing more of the results.

I'm concerned even so, that the proper stewardship of the money given doesn't rank higher than it apparently does in the minds of ~40% of those surveyed.

Gordan said...

42 year old pastor here. I was all in favor of increased CP giving by our church until I started to see some of this sort of information. Now, my plan is to try and send money directly to a missionary organization I can get fully on-board with, like Paul Washer's group, for instance.

As a former Presbyterian, and a guy with 20 years working for the gummint, please note this well as you hope for reform in this area:

It is simply the nature of beuracracies to grow, to expand, to justify their own existence by arbitrary power-grabs, etc. That's what they do. Now, God can do as He pleases, but I'm saying that waiting around for a beuracracy to exercise self-discipline is the classic case of waiting for the leopard to change his spots. That's just not what they do.

Lisa said...

This is one reason our family is looking for a church outside the SBC. No denomination is perfect, but the SBC is loosing touch. There are too many 'sacred cows' that no one is willing to deal with.

Lisa Q

Eric said...

It is fun from time to time to be the lone dissenting voice.

I am a layman her in the Great State of Texas, in a BGCT church. while the BGCT had a rather major issue with some funds being misappropriated in the Rio Grand Valley (church plants that were not), the BGCT funds some great ministries and tells us where and how much they spend. We have several Baptist colleges, the baylor hospital system, Buckner Benovolence, disaster work, Texas Baptist Men (building etc).

There is much good that happens with the State SBC funds that would never happen if it all went to Nashville.

If a TX Baptist does not want to support the many and varied ministries that the BGCT supports they can align with the split off SBTC. They give 50% to the SBC but have a very limited in state mission


Brent Hobbs said...

Eric, no one is saying that many of the things you mention here are not good things. Its important to continue our work with those things that are effective. However, I'm sure if you looked close enough, there are some things that could be reduced and eliminated.

When there's no budgetary pressure, the non-essential continues along with the essential. Nothing but a cut in funding will cause the BGTC (or any other state convention) to seriously evaluate the difference between the two.

Eric said...


The BHCT has been under enormous budget pressure - much of it their own doing.

Im not sure sending more money to Nashville is going to solve any problems however. Look at the the mess in atlanta. The extravagance by some in the seminaries etc.

I am not real keen on the VPS at SWBTS having seminary provided cars.

In the coming years all ministries are going to have to get lean and mean. I think all should start their budget process from scratch and prove to the convention that they are worth keeping. Until the SBC entities become transparent I dont see any reason to cut state budgets just to send more to Nashville

Eric said...


See Wade Burleson's post today