Cooperative Program’s long, effective history
Will Hall, Baptist Press
March 30, 2010

Cooperative Program’s long, effective history

Cooperative Program’s long, effective history
Will Hall, Baptist Press
March 30, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — From the

founding of the convention in 1845, Southern Baptists have united around a

mission of “eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the whole

denomination in one sacred effort, for the propagation of the gospel.”

What was elusive in the

early years was an organized plan to accomplish this mission.

At the outset, Southern

Baptists simply adopted a “societal method” of financing the Convention’s

ministries, in which persons are enlisted to contribute financially and to

generate contributions from contacts in their networks of church and friend

circles. Campus Crusade, Prison Fellowship, Samaritan’s Purse and Youth with a

Mission are all examples of ministries which traditionally have been funded by

the societal method.

Individual effort

Employing the “societal

method,” Southern Baptists launched and grew various denominational ministries

and institutions and went about seeking contributions from individual

congregations to sustain ongoing work. Sunday after Sunday, fundraisers from

seminaries and colleges, orphanages and hospitals, mission boards and

benevolent organizations fanned out among Southern Baptist churches asking the

faithful for help. The most gifted orator often was the most successful in

securing financial support for their entity or agency — and the constant parade

of ministry representatives making direct appeals took away “pulpit time” for the

local pastor to preach God’s word.

Frustration and competition

were the rule.

Moreover, results created a

feast and famine cycle that was bankrupting SBC cooperative ministries and

consuming much of the funds being raised in the raising of the funds.

Campaign failure

In 1919, Southern Baptists

embraced a solution that fell short of its goals, but that contained key

building blocks for cooperation and stability in funding.

One member was selected from

each of the convention’s 14 affiliated states to form a Financial Campaign

Committee to raise $75 million over five years. Quotas were set for each state,

and expected proceeds were budgeted out for each SBC entity, as well as for

state concerns, such as colleges, orphanages and hospitals.

Southern Baptists

pledged over $92.6 million, but the campaign ultimately failed to reach even

its original goal of $75 million. It raised $58.6 million, a record amount, but

Convention entities had borrowed money against the pledges and consequently

were left with a huge debt. People were discouraged and the dream of

“eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the whole denomination”

seemed to evaporate.

Cooperative Program success

In 1923, facing desperate

circumstances, the Southern Baptist Convention found itself forced to regroup.

The convention commissioned M.E. Dodd of Louisiana to lead a group called the

“Committee on Future Program” to come up with a solution.

Borrowing the elements of

coordination, uniformity and proportionate distribution from the 75 Million

Campaign, the committee focused on developing an overall strategy that would

produce consistent, long-lasting results.

Two years later, in Memphis,

Tenn., during the SBC annual meeting, the committee announced the “Co-Operative

Program of Southern Baptists.”

The structure of the

proposed Cooperative Program was remarkably simple in design:

  • Churches were to canvass

    their members in the fall asking for their giving pledges for the following

    year so that churches could set their own annual budgets.

  • Out of their respective

    budgets, cooperating churches were to commit a percentage to give through the

    Cooperative Program. That percentage of revenue would then be sent on to the

    state convention office on a monthly basis.

  • These combined resources

    would provide the budget base for state conventions which would send a portion

    of these Cooperative Program gifts on to the Southern Baptist Convention for a

    distribution which would address the needs of the national ministries


Though not everyone

accepted the Cooperative Program at first and not all churches participate, in

the very first year of its existence, Southern Baptist churches voluntarily

contributed an average of nearly 11 percent of their annual budget income to

this bold new integrated plan for reaching people through cooperative

ministries and missions.

The legacy continues

The simplicity and

effectiveness of the Cooperative Program have continued to be its hallmarks,

and now, the better part of a century after its birth, the Cooperative Program

still functions essentially the same way it did in its earliest days. However,

the success of the Cooperative Program has enabled the expansion of Southern

Baptists’ missions and ministries at home and abroad in ways unforeseen in those

early years.

The Cooperative Program

sends career missionaries and church planters to a hundred nations and

throughout the United States. It sends doctors and nurses to show the love of

Jesus to AIDS victims in Uganda. It sends agricultural missionaries to tell

Ethiopians about “Living Water” while showing them how to dig wells and plant

crops. It sends volunteers to paint public schools in New York City, and repair

thousands of inner-city houses all across America while providing a witness of

God’s ability to transform the home. Through Cooperative Program ministries,

volunteer disaster relief teams are some of the first responders to areas of

weather-related or other crisis, making the Southern Baptist Convention one of

the largest disaster relief organizations in the world. And in every building

project, every medical outpost, every cleanup, every repair, every relocation

effort, every initiative and every response of every kind, Southern Baptists

take the opportunity to tell how faith in Jesus Christ can make all things new.

Importantly, in

response to God’s command to minister among believers and the lost, Southern

Baptists have been obedient to employ the biblical concept of cooperation that

infused New Testament churches internally (Acts 2:40-47; Acts 4:30-37) and

catalyzed their joint missions (Acts 8: 4-8, 14-17), ministries (1 Corinthians

16:2; Romans 15:24-29) and doctrinal education (Colossians 4:16-17).

Today the Cooperative

Program stands at a crossroads that it has faced before.

In 1924, M.E. Dodd spoke

almost prophetically to the issues faced today:

“At this point our Unified

Program will either break or be saved. If it should break at this point, by an

under-emphasis upon the whole program and an over-emphasis upon the individual

object, then we will find ourselves back where we were five years ago, with

every object contending for all it can obtain, to the exclusion of other

equally worthy commitments.”

In unity, Southern Baptists

came together in those early years to forge the Cooperative Program.

Southern Baptists have the

opportunity today to preserve and even elevate the Cooperative Program as that

primary means of support and the key unifying method for showing love in action

in seeking to fulfill God’s Great Commission at home and abroad.

For more information and

resources relating to the Cooperative Program, go to www.sbc.net/cp and


(EDITOR’S NOTE: April 11 is

Cooperative Program Sunday in the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.

This article is adapted in large part from the video, “Cooperative Program: A

Sacred Effort.”)