By David Roach
NASHVILLE (BP) — The average Cooperative Program gift from churches has rebounded from a low of 5.41 percent of undesignated receipts, and there are indications that Southern Baptists feel renewed interest in cooperative ministry endeavors, Frank S. Page said in his report to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Sept. 22.
The good news is I think we’ve seen, I pray we’ve seen that low point and are on the way to seeing a robust appreciation of and understanding of cooperative ministry,” Page, the EC’s president, said.
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ unified program of funding missions and ministries in North America and around the world.
In his report Page also updated the EC on the work of five advisory councils he has appointed to help SBC leaders understand and appreciate the perspectives of various subgroups within the convention such as Hispanics and African Americans.
Regarding CP, Page listed three challenges that Southern Baptists face:
— Their belief in local church autonomy precludes the SBC from insisting that congregations give through CP.
— SBC missions and ministries are competing for churches’ gifts against a broad array of non-denominational ministries.
— There are misunderstandings of CP such as, “There’s got to be a better way” to fund missions and ministries.
Page said he is open to other models of funding ministry but noted that CP has been effective in several important ways. Any alternative funding plan must at least match CP in:
— Long-term sustainability
“People say, ‘Well, we can do better through direct giving or self-funded modalities of mission giving,'” Page said. “Is that long-term effective? I don’t think so.”
— Eliminating competition
“We don’t need to be in a place where our entities are competing one with another,” he said. “We need to be cooperating together.”
— Alignment with Southern Baptists’ guiding principle, “We can do more together than we can do alone.”
— Fostering and appreciating the involvement of smaller churches and ethnic churches.
Some 45,000 of the SBC’s 46,125 churches qualify as small congregations, Page said. A direct funding model, in which churches fund their own missionaries and global ministries rather than pooling their money with other congregations across the convention, prevents some smaller churches from engaging deeply in missions, he said.
“I am passionate about the fact that Southern Baptists are made up primarily of smaller churches,” Page said. “And I will not ever forget who we really are. And when we go toward direct funding models and self-funded models, it is a direct slap at the smaller church.”
Direct funding of missions also hinders involvement of ethnic churches, Page said. He explained that on average, Hispanics and African Americans have smaller incomes than Anglos in America. When missionaries are required to raise their own support, those from ethnic minority communities often are unable to generate sufficient funding, he said.
Direct funding means that “our mission force will be Anglo,” Page said. “There’s not a soul in this place that wants that.”
Speaking of the advisory councils, Page said their work is aimed at involving ethnic churches in convention life. Among the councils appointed by Page:
— The African American Advisory Council, which represents nearly 4,000 SBC churches, has finished its work and submitted a report.
— The Hispanic Advisory Council, which represents nearly 3,000 SBC churches, also has finished its work and submitted a report.
— The Asian American Advisory Council, which represents 2,000-3,000 churches, is still working, as is the Multiethnic Advisory Council, which represents 28 additional groups recognized as official ministry partners of the SBC.
“I have been working hard and our staff has been working hard with various advisory councils of godly men and women from across our nation for the express purpose of deepening their involvement and understanding of convention work and deepening their commitment to the Lord through our convention,” Page said.
In addition to the ethnic advisory councils, he noted that the Bivocational and Small Membership Church Advisory Council has just begun its work.