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.