May 13, 2019 • John Mark Yeats
“What’s this item in the budget marked, ‘Cooperative Program?’”
As the new interim at a church, I was working through budget details with the finance team. James, a long standing member of the church, but new member of the committee, had questions:
“Do we ever pay off this bill?”
“What does it go toward?”
“We could really use that money to help hire a better pastor!”
James considered himself a long-time Southern Baptist. He was proud of the stands the SBC took for the inerrancy of Scripture, for addressing social issues like abortion, and the effective work of Disaster Relief ministries. But James didn’t know how all of that came together. How churches of all shapes and sizes cooperate together for the sake of the work of the Gospel.
Perhaps it wasn’t James’s fault. Like many pastors, James’ former pastor talked a lot about missions in general, but he never connected the congregation to their participation in the greatest missions-sending structure on the globe. Where was James supposed to learn about the IMB, NAMB, six seminaries, the work of our state conventions, or the work of the ERLC? In the absence of pastoral leadership and communication, our shared work for the advancement of the Gospel falls into a black hole of “missions” dollars with no clarity on the specifics of how those resources combine to allow us to do even more!
In a recent book I authored with my colleague Robert Matz, we wanted to give churches a tool to help their people understand why we are Better Together – that our churches cooperating together for the sake of the Gospel accomplishes so much more!
Only 11% of all churches in the US run over 250 people. Most churches (57%) run under 100 people per Sunday. How on earth can a small church make a difference? They probably can’t support a single missionary full-time, much less train future pastors or send representatives to protect religious liberties in Washington DC.
Back when the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention launched in 1925, congregations were feeling the same pressure. The fields were “white unto harvest,” but limiting factors prevented some congregations from engaging in a way they thought had maximum benefit.
The idea was simple: if we can share our missions resources, much like the church in the book of Acts, we could see dynamic growth in our work around the globe.
Churches all over joined together. Many gave a percentage of their annual budget. Others gave a set amount. Each church independently give demonstrating that we are so much better together! Cooperation works!
This was (and remains) the genius of the Cooperative Program. Individual congregations pool their resources to accomplish more than any one congregation could on its own. Instead of partially supporting a single missionary, in 2018, we sent 3600 to the ends of the earth through the International Mission Board and 5200 missionaries into North American contexts. Those same dollars were collated so that 22,000 students could make it through seminary at a significantly reduced rate and so that the second largest North American relief organization – Baptist Disaster Relief – could serve thousands following a natural disaster.
Let’s see how this works: In 2018, $462,000,000 dollars for ministry and missions came from 47,000 cooperating churches. Churches then gave an additional $197,000,000 to mission work directly furthering the Great Commission work we do. This meant our missionaries didn’t need to fundraise while they completed the task they were called to do. What one church couldn’t do on her own, the whole convention of networked congregations could cooperate together and accomplish. We could make progress in fulfilling the Great Commission!
While sometimes we hear things like “program” and our eyes glaze over, the Cooperative Program is different! It’s a dynamic funding tool for networked congregations to do more together for the sake of the Gospel! My book, Better Together: You, Your Church, And the Cooperative Program is a tool for your church to help your people understand why we give from a Scriptural standpoint. It works well for small groups or for a Wednesday evening study group and would be especially helpful for leadership groups like deacons.
Southern Baptists may struggle in different ways, but one of the strongest components of our convention is our cooperative sharing in the task of Gospel advance! Let’s continue to share the story of how our churches are Better Together!
Dr. John Mark Yeats serves as both the Dean of Students and an Associate Professor of Church History at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College. He earned his Ph.D. in Church History from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and also holds degrees from Southern Seminary, Oxford University, and Criswell College.
He has authored three books — Franchising McChurch: Feeding our Obsession with Easy Christianity; The Time is Come: The Rise of British Missions to the Jews, 1808-1818; and Worldviews: Think for Yourself about How We See God — and has contributed articles to multiple journals as well as the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. John Mark is married to Angie, and they have four children: Briley, Sean, Cadie, and Jackson.
He has a great book on the CP that you can purchase at Amazon: Better Together.