The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ unified plan of giving through which cooperating Southern Baptist churches give a percentage of their undesignated receipts in support of their respective state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries.
Since its inception in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has always had one mission: the Great Commission. Originally, to fulfill its assigned part of this divine mandate, each SBC entity made special offering appeals to the churches. This method was referred to as the “societal” approach to missions and resulted in severe financial deficits, competition among entities, overlapping pledge campaigns, and frequent emergency appeals which greatly hampered the expanding ministry opportunities God was giving Southern Baptists. Some entities took out loans to cover operating costs until pledges or special offerings were received.
In 1919, the leaders of the SBC proposed the 75 Million Campaign, a five-year pledge campaign that, for the first time, included everything—the missions and ministries of all the state conventions as well as that of the Southern Baptist Convention. Though falling short of its goals, a God-given partnership of missions support was conceived—the Cooperative Program. Since its launch in 1925, the effectiveness of the Cooperative Program has been dependent upon individuals, churches, state conventions and SBC entities cooperating, working toward a common goal of sharing the gospel with every person on the planet.
The Cooperative Program begins when individual believers in local churches give themselves first to God. Then, out of gratitude and obedience to God for what He has done for them, they commit to give back to Him, through their local church, a portion of what He provides. This is commonly called a tithe and represents 10 percent of each person’s income.
Local churches decide the next step. Every year each local church congregation prayerfully decides how much of its undesignated gifts it will commit to reaching people in its state and around the world through the Cooperative Program. This amount is then forwarded to the church’s state Baptist convention.
Messengers at state convention annual meetings, elected from local churches across the state, decide what percentage of Cooperative Program gifts contributed by local congregations stay in their state to support local and statewide missions and ministries. At the same time, they also decide on the percentage that their state convention will forward to the SBC for North American and international missions and ministries.
Messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, gathered from local churches across the country, decide how the gifts received from the states will be distributed among SBC entities. These gifts are used by SBC entities to send and support missionaries, train pastors and other ministry leaders; provide relief for retired ministers and widows; and address social, moral and ethical concerns relating to our faith and families.
The bottom line goal of the Cooperative Program is that people around the world hear the gospel and receive Christ!
Southern Baptists embrace the Cooperative Program because it presents a unified and comprehensive budget, throwing a funding blanket over statewide, national and international missions and ministries. It provides long-term sustainability for our entities. When a church makes their missions giving as a percentage of their church budgets, it provides consistency and stability.
The Cooperative Program adheres to our long term Baptist principle that “we can do more together than alone.” It also mitigates competition between entities thereby allowing a balanced Acts 1:8 strategy. Last, it levels the playing field, and makes a place at the table for small and ethnic churches. Every church can stand hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, on level ground, as partners in the gospel (large churches, small churches, new churches, growing churches, graying churches and ethnic churches).
Adapted from Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee (sbc.net/cp).