Posted on : Wednesday April 1, 2009

By Sharon Mager, Staff Correspondent

COLUMBIA, Md.—In the February “Baptist Digest,” the Leadership News Journal of the Kansas-Nebraska Southern Baptist Convention, Editor Timothy Boyd wrote an intriguing column about the Cooperative Program (CP).

Here is a portion of that article with Boyd’s permission:

“Recently, I was wondering what the Southern Baptist Convention would look like in a post Cooperative Program world. The thought was scary. I could imagine two or three of our seminaries going out of business. I could imagine the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board combining to make the best use of severely decreased resources.

What would a Southern Baptist Convention without the Cooperative Program be? One thing is for sure. It would be much weaker. Some might ask, “How do you know?” I know because that is what the Convention was like before the Cooperative Program. All of our agencies struggled. Churches were constantly harassed by agents seeking funds. All in all, it just did not work well.

There are days when I believe that we are heading toward the end of the Cooperative Program. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I know that the trends show a continuing decrease of support by churches. It may not happen while I am still active in ministry, but those who are just beginning their ministries may have to face that reality.”

Imagine a pastor getting really sleepy at a church business meeting and stepping out for a few minutes to take a walk in the woods behind the church. He falls asleep in a remote area and no one can find him. He does a Rip Van Winkle sleep for 20 years. His congregation has moved on, calling another pastor. When Pastor Rip wakes up, amazingly the church is without a pastor again so he steps back in. The church is amazed and thrilled.

What Rip doesn’t realize is that a lot has happened since he fell asleep. While counseling a youth who feels called to the ministry, Rip enthusiastically encourages him to attend Rip’s alma mater, a Southern Baptist seminary near and dear to his heart. But when he calls, he finds that it closed many years ago. In fact, he finds there is only one seminary operating and the tuition is very high. He makes a call to the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to realize it’s now NAIMB—that NAMB and the International Mission Board (IMB) joined together to send out a fraction of the missionaries they once did. Rip frantically seeks information on Centrifuge, disaster relief, and the RA and GA curriculum—it’s all gone! The state newspaper is gone. He reads Baptist Press and realizes the reason for the sad shrinking of resources is due to a drastic reduction in CP giving. In fact, the reports say CP is dying. Missionaries have had to leave the mission field; baptisms are at an all time low. The energy of new church planting has gone. Rip wants to go back to sleep.
Rip realizes we don’t know what we have until it’s gone.

While looking at all of the incredible resources CP provides, imagine an SBC world without those resources.
The reality is that CP giving is down. Tom Stolle, BCM/D chief financial officer and missionary for ministers’ compensation, church treasurers and stewardship, believes, as Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders across the country do, that there are many reasons. The economy is certainly one, he concedes, but there’s more to it. Young pastors and planters aren’t always aware of the benefits of CP giving—not just the benefits to the SBC but to the givers. They may not be seeing the faces of those being changed as a result of CP giving. Often, it’s just a lack of education on what CP does and how it blesses.

Stolle said many churches are taking mission trips and that’s wonderful, but without CP there may not be a steady missionary presence. How much greater is the impact of someone who is staying in the field making an ongoing impact on a people group?

Because of CP there are 5,363 missionaries engaging 1,170 people groups in 184 nations; there are 836,898 worldwide baptisms annually, SBC has the third largest disaster relief program in the country. Children of AIDS victims and kids with the disease are rocked every day and cared for by missionaries, supported by CP money.

While we can’t always go, our CP dollars continue to be used 24 hours a day 365 days a year to reach the lost.

And everyone Southern Baptist can be part of that.

“The great thing about CP is everybody can be on mission, through giving,” Stolle said.