The Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention impacts everything from the number of missionaries the convention sends out to the types of programs its seminaries can offer. But in a struggling economy it can sometimes be difficult to drum up donations when many people are struggling themselves.
Donations to the Cooperative Program are down 7.1 percent for the first quarter of the fiscal year, according to numbers released on SBC's website this week.
“Our entities depend on CP contributions as one part of their revenue streams. When CP contributions lag, each entity manages its cash flow in different ways,” Roger “Sing” Oldham, vice president for convention relations, explained in an email to The Christian Post on Friday.
“Our mission boards will appoint fewer missionaries until contributions pick back up. Our seminaries will be unable to fund particular programs for their students with reduced funding. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has chosen not to replace staff it has lost through natural attrition and has streamlined its communications with churches and the general public.”
“The Executive Committee has made and will continue to make necessary adjustments to costs associated with the SBC annual meeting and other services,” he continued. “For example, over the past twelve months, the Executive Committee has downsized its staff by 26 percent – from 38 to 28 full-time employees – and shifted some of the services it has performed on behalf of the Convention.”
The SBC's Cooperative Program allows churches to donate to Southern Baptist ministries through a single contribution that is first sent to the state-level convention. The state decides how much to keep for local missions, and how much to send in support of North American and international missions and ministries.
The SBC reduced its overall budget for 2011-2012 at its annual meeting in June, and Oldham says that although “we are below what we received one year ago ... we are right on the mark for our 2011-2012 budget goal.”
A report from LifeWay Research that was conducted in May 2011 revealed “mixed economic signs” in churches. Approximately 71 percent of pastors said their 2011 offerings at the time either met or exceeded their church's budget requirements, while about 27 percent said they had received offerings below their budget levels.
Of the 1,000 Protestant pastors surveyed in the study, 67 percent of them said the economy has had a negative impact on their churches.
A report, which is available on the SBC's website, says that of the 42 state Baptist conventions, 33 of them have seen a reduction in giving since last year.
But not everyone thinks the financial strain is quite as bad as it seems. Steve Vernon, acting executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, for example, told The Tennessean that giving directly to missions programs is up even though giving to the Cooperative Program has declined.
“Churches are more intentional in the way they are giving,” Vernon told The Tennessean. “They would rather give to causes than to cooperative programs.”
Despite its struggles, Oldham says there are some positive signs that SBC giving will increase in 2012. Giving in October was low, but saw increases in both November and December of 2011. Many state-level Baptist conventions have also already approved increases in SBC giving for this year.
“Non-profits typically rebound from economic crises at a slower pace than the general economy,” said Oldham. “We are optimistic that giving will continue to rise in the current year.”