Some may wonder how the Southern Baptist Convention is different from other denominations. There are many ways, but one of the most obvious is our basic structure and our funding system. From the early days of the convention, Southern Baptists looked for a structure that supported our belief in the importance of the local church while also enabling the churches to fulfill the Great Commission through many different ministries. The Cooperative Program is the result. Over the years, the details and complexity of the convention have changed, but this program has served as a key tool for our growth.
The beauty of our Cooperative Program outshines the motto: “We can do more together than we can do alone.” There is no question that the Cooperative Program has allowed Southern Baptists to achieve a lot. It is the financial driving force—some might even say, the lifeline—for the expanse and success of the SBC. The creation of a unified budget, along with the expectations of regular contributions, allows our boards to plan their work without being encumbered by the constant need to raise all of their support.
“There is no question that the Cooperative Program has allowed Southern Baptists to achieve a lot.”
However, the real beauty of the Cooperative Program is that it enables local churches to participate in God’s mission. The Cooperative Program should not be viewed as a project we support, rather it is the pipeline through which thousands of local churches “make disciples of all nations.” The vision of the Southern Baptist Convention staggers the mind and stirs the soul.
According to the original charter, the SBC was established in 1845 for the purpose of “eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the Baptist denomination of Christians, for the propagation of the gospel.” As recently as 2010, we reaffirmed this vision by adopting a new mission statement: “As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.” The Cooperative Program is the tool Southern Baptist churches use to pursue this One Sacred Effort. It might be helpful to provide a brief explanation of the tool.
The Cooperative Program: A Biblical and Theological Basis
Southern Baptists are by nature activity oriented—going, sharing, loving, giving, reaching. Our activism causes some to doubt our theological commitments and abilities. This is unfortunate. Southern Baptists are a people deeply committed to conservative, evangelical theology. There is no need to rehearse history here, but anyone familiar with our convention understands this truth. It is important to realize that the Cooperative Program is not simply a program that is practically beneficial and historically rooted, it is also biblically based and theologically relevant.
The Bible tells the story of God and his mission to redeem sinful people. According to Luke 24, God’s plan from the beginning has been that this salvation would be purchased by the death of Christ and proclaimed by the church. The church is both the object and the agent of God’s mission. That is, God’s mission creates the church and the church is charged to advance the mission. Any discussion about the mission of the church must keep in mind that the mission is not our own; it is the Lord’s. Local churches cooperate together because we have all received one commission. We worship one God with one mission. His mission produces the church and also relies on the church for its success. Our Cooperative Program provides Southern Baptist churches with a simple means for pursuing this mission.
“The church is both the object and the agent of God’s mission. That is, God’s mission creates the church and the church is charged to advance the mission.”
Recent news about our Cooperative Program is mixed. Financial contributions have been trending down for the past several decades. In the face of these stark realities, Southern Baptists have stepped up, and there have been moments of improvement. However, one wonders if these bumps will sustain. Some have questioned the importance and sustainability of the Cooperative Program.
As with everything, we may need to make adjustments in order to keep up with the changing times. However, we should not dispense of, or neglect, the full program. The mission is too great and the opportunities are too plentiful for us to do this. Each generation of Southern Baptists is given the responsibility to mobilize our churches in the advancement of God’s mission. The Cooperative Program remains a valuable tool in achieving these goals.