By Frank S. Page
NASHVILLE (BP) — The longer we live, the more we realize that actions or decisions have consequences — sometimes unintended consequences that are absolutely un-foretell-able or un-seeable. But more often they are foreseeable. Scripture instructs the wise person to “count the cost.” This exhortation aptly applies to conversations concerning the continuing value of the Cooperative Program within the Southern Baptist Convention.
In recent years, some within our convention have suggested new funding modalities for our mission work. I understand why they do so. Support for our current methods of cooperative giving and special mission offerings has failed to raise the kind of dollars needed to propel an aggressive global vision while simultaneously maintaining a strong home base of ministry.
Even when dollars increase annually, they have not kept up with inflation and certainly not with population growth. Therefore, we find ourselves in a day and time when people are looking for new ways to raise mission dollars to distribute for global missions and North American evangelism and church planting.
This question is: Do we give up on a cooperative model which has brought us to this point? It’s a question that is being discussed at many levels and among many generational and theological groups. Let’s look, then, at some issues that may well have unintended consequences.
First of all, no one alive today has lived through the anarchy that existed prior to the Cooperative Program. Churches were literally bombarded with funding requests from entities, agencies and individuals so much that they cried out for relief.
Virtually every Sunday, some worthy cause asked local churches to receive special offerings for its ministry. Inevitably, the most persuasive entities and individuals raised the most money. Also inevitably, entities jockeyed to speak to the church during peak attendance seasons. I doubt seriously that churches in the 21st century will tolerate this kind of “free-for-all” for very long.
Another consequence of direct giving or “societal methodology” flies under many people’s radar. According to a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center, the overall wealth of Anglo households is approximately 20 times that of African American households and 18 times that of Latino or Hispanic households.
How does this connect? When individuals are required to raise their own support they do so by going to friends, family and fellow church members. When people in that sphere of influence have fewer resources, mission volunteers have to work that much harder to raise their support.
The unintended consequence of such a modality is a diminishing of ethnic representation in our mission force over time, a consequence no one would wish for. This is a serious question that must be answered.
Yet another unintended consequence of a direct giving model is its impact on the small church. While there is no intentional “war” on small churches, as some feel, many who are discussing changing our methodology do so from a large or mega-church perspective.
A direct funding modality may not be problematic in a large or mega-church situation. Individuals from those settings can go to the church and quickly receive funding for their calling to missions and ministry. This has been occurring for years and is done without great effort.
However, when a mission volunteer comes from a small church, which most of our mission volunteers do, it becomes increasingly difficult for that person to raise funds within that setting. Southern Baptists are primarily a small church network; a small church would have to make hard decisions about supporting its mission volunteers. Where would that money come from? In my opinion, it would come from the church’s Cooperative Program giving to which it has been committed perhaps for many years.
These unintended consequences have the potential for great impact upon our overall missions program. If they come to fruition, the overall result will be a dramatic lessening of support for the world’s largest fully-funded missions-sending organization and all of the convention’s related missions and ministries.
When the pool of CP money lowers, convention entities will, of necessity, have to find alternate means of support. This will likely set off a “turf war” within our convention, with each entity fighting for any remaining resources. This leads not to unity but to disunity.
I pray that we will all think carefully about these new methods and their long-term impact. They may raise more missions support in the short term, but could have long-term consequences that would negatively impact our convention’s missions and ministries throughout North America and the world.
Frank S. Page is president of the SBC Executive Committee.
Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.