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The Cooperative Program and Great Commission Giving

Morris H. Chapman
May 7, 2010

The Final Report of the Great Commission Task Force (GCTF) was released on May 3, 2010.  It contains a Component called “Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving” (Component Three).  The GCTF plans to recommend to the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Florida, June 15-16, a new category of giving for Southern Baptists to celebrate what the task force calls “Great Commission Giving” (GCG).  It will encompass “the total of all monies channeled through the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention, the state conventions, and associations” (Final Report, p. 8).

I have grave concerns about how this new category of giving will impact the Cooperative Program.  While the Task Force gives lip service to the Cooperative Program as “the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach,” the Final Report takes away with the left hand what it affirms with the right.

From the time the Cooperative Program was established until now, every previous Convention committee has urged churches to support the “whole” Cooperative Program.  But this committee breaks with the past.  It elevates designated contributions to associational, state, and national purposes as a cause for celebration equal to those contributions made to the “whole” Cooperative Program.  By doing so, this committee, unintentionally or not, dilutes the value of the Cooperative Program. 

I have several interrelated concerns about how this new model of giving will affect the financial health of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The GCTF has stated its intention to ask the Convention to embrace its “vision,” including the proposal to create this new category of giving.  If you agree with my concerns, attending the 2010 Convention in Orlando, June 15-16 as a messenger from your church will be the best opportunity to oppose the newly proposed category of giving entitled, “Great Commission Giving.”

Under this proposal, the Cooperative Program no longer will be lifted up as the main channel of giving for the whole of our SBC entities, despite the GCTF affirmations to the contrary.  Instead, CP will be listed as nothing more than an equal among all offerings, included designations to SBC, state convention and association causes (see diagrams below).  In time and in practice the net effect will be that the Cooperative Program will be repositioned as a “weak sister” to designated offerings. The CP will be reduced to merely one way for churches to give to Convention ministries.

A member of the GCTF diagrammed Great Commission Giving in the following way at the SBC Executive Committee in February.

Cooperative Program ........................ Great Commission Giving
Lottie Moon ...................................... Great Commission Giving
Annie Armstrong ............................... Great Commission Giving
Designations to other SBC Causes. ... Great Commission Giving

You can see that the diagram above was carefully designed to minimize the fact that the task force was proposing to equate CP with the other three designated offering categories (as you will note in the final report, this diagram is not included).  In actuality, the graphs below better illustrate how the Cooperative Program will quickly become only one of several ways of contributing to Convention work.

Cooperative Program
Lottie Moon
Annie Armstrong
Designations to other SBC Causes
Designations to State or Associational Causes
Great Commission Giving (Total SBC Gifts)


Great Commission Giving (Total SBC Gifts)
Cooperative Program
Lottie Moon
Annie Armstrong
Designations to other SBC Causes
Designations to State or Associational Causes

Though the Task Force may diagram the Cooperative Program as “first among equals,” as in the first diagram, in actual fact, Great Commission Giving becomes either the “bottom line” of church giving, or the “umbrella” category of church giving, as the latter two diagrams clearly show.

Thus, no matter how you diagram it, the effect is clear – the Great Commission Giving category moves the Cooperative Program off its historic, first priority position, and replaces it with a new category of measuring a church’s support for Convention ministries.  Under the GCTF proposal, Cooperative Program becomes just another component of a conglomerate category.

Since 1925, the Cooperative Program has been THE cooperative means by which Southern Baptist churches support the whole program of Southern Baptist work.  Each previous generation of Southern Baptist leaders believed God gave our forefathers great wisdom and insight for cooperatively supporting state convention and national convention missions and ministry objectives.  The last time the Convention met in Orlando (2000), Paige Patterson, president of the Convention said, “The Cooperative Program is as old as the New Testament.  As Baptists, we have simply given this program described in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 a name and developed a Convention-wide mechanism whereby our people can cooperate together so that an army of churches can advance on the very gates of hell itself.”  If the GCG paradigm outlined in the Final Report is supported by the messengers in this year’s Convention in Orlando, it will be the first step in unraveling the Spirit-led plan of support for our varied mission initiatives that we call the Cooperative Program.

The very name Cooperative Program refers to the time-honored practice of cooperation among the fellowship of churches called the Southern Baptist Convention. Traditionally, cooperative missions and ministries are what defined us as a fellowship of churches, not what individual congregations do alone.  Southern Baptists are not Independent Baptists.  Southern Baptists believe strongly in cooperation.

The Cooperative Program is a powerful “brand” that is known by Christians around the world. We are the envy of scores of denominations and independent missions-sending agencies, not just for how the Cooperative Program provides support for our missions and ministries, but also for how the name and methodology historically have defined Southern Baptists as cooperating for the Great Commission.  Of course, adopting the phrase “Great Commission Giving” for both designated and undesignated giving has appeal through its connection with Matthew 28:19-20.  However, as previous generations of Southern Baptists have understood, the Cooperative Program IS our Great Commission Giving!
The Cooperative Program has such name-recognition among long-time Southern Baptists that it may take a few years before it completely unravels if the new GCG model of giving is adopted; but the course of decline will be set in motion the moment the newly-minted category of giving becomes the primary emphasis.  Sadly, the “bait” of “Great Commission Giving” will lure unwary Southern Baptists to “switch” from cooperating with the whole of our missions and ministries.  It will artificially elevate designated giving to specific ministries held dear by a particular pastor of a particular church at a given time.  This would result in a revival of the old Independent Baptist model of societal giving.


Presently, the Cooperative Program is the standard by which a church’s support for the SBC is measured.  It provides a sense of a church’s sacrifice for the sake of all the ministries in which a state convention and the SBC are engaged.   Once “Great Commission Giving” is adopted, regardless of the present intentions of the GCTF, well-known pastors of larger churches that give small percentages through the Cooperative Program will lead the way toward insisting that “Great Commission Giving” should serve as the metric of a church’s participation in and loyalty to the SBC.
Once “Great Commission Giving” becomes this metric, there is little doubt that pastors who have already led their churches to give low percentages through the Cooperative Program will lead their churches to give even less of their offerings through the CP.  They certainly would not be motivated by the new giving category to give more through the Cooperative Program.

The Cooperative Program is based on two biblical principles: (1) “not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice” (2 Corinthians 8-9); and (2) the “Acts 1:8 Model” of missions and ministry – supporting ministries at each concentric circle of influence, beginning at home and radiating out to the ends of the earth.  Of course, the highest standard of giving in Scripture is the widow who gave her all (Mark 12:41-44).

If the GCTF is as serious as it says it is about retaining the primacy of the Cooperative Program, it would seem logical not to create any new category of support that would threaten to displace Cooperative Program as the metric of participation in the Convention.


As a former pastor of different-sized churches in which I strongly promoted the Cooperative Program as the greatest giving vehicle in the history of Christendom, I cannot understand why the pastor of any church, large or small, does not work to lead his church to participate with all Southern Baptist churches through the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program is about what we can do together, not what we are able to do independently.  The Cooperative Program, being a human instrument, is not a perfect method of funding Convention ministries; but it is light years ahead of other methods devised by other fellowships and denominations.  And it is light years ahead of the failed societal model of giving used in the SBC prior to 1925.  Unfortunately, though the name has a compelling ring to it, the new category of Great Commission Giving proposed in the Final Report appeals more to “special interest” giving than to collaborative ministry.

The GCTF Final Report places a heavy emphasis upon spiritual “core values.”  In the press conference that followed the Progress Report in February, one GCTF member made it a point to state his desire that churches receive greater recognition for designated gifts to SBC entities.  It seems an odd contradiction to propose a giving model that is based on receiving recognition (Matthew 6:1-8).  It also seems oddly contradictory to give more recognition to those who are less cooperative in their giving than those who are more cooperative (see 2 Samuel 24 and 2 Corinthians 8).  Our greatest successes for God’s Kingdom have come when we worked together cooperatively. 

The Cooperative Program is that primary vehicle that allows us to do much more together than the vast majority of our congregations could ever do alone.  It creates a synergy, a dynamism, a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, outside of ourselves.  It points to a God-sized, Kingdom enterprise.  It is a model of working in concert with fellow believers to impact the world for the total Great Commission work identified as the purposes of the SBC – missions at home and abroad, evangelism, church planting, theological education, benevolent enterprises, and moral advocacy. 


A question that has yet to be answered is this, “What is the driving force behind the new giving category?”  If the answer is that IMB needs more designated money to fund additional missionaries, no reallocation, no efficiency measures, no formula changes, nor any further work by an SBC committee or entity will be effective in addressing the financial needs of our Convention entities.  The greatest work we can do is to address the lagging stewardship priorities in the hearts of our people.  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). 

Those who lead their churches to give minimal percentages to Cooperative Program-funded ministries have already shown where their hearts are– and where they are not.  The single greatest issue faced by the Convention is the twenty-year slide in contributions forwarded through the Cooperative Program from our churches. 

Interestingly, the GCTF Final Report contains a rather glaring omission.  It calls on individual donors to quadruple their average contributions to the level of a tithe (10%) of their income to their churches.  It calls on state conventions to increase to 50% the percentage of Cooperative Program receipts they forward to the SBC.  It asks the Convention to set a goal of breaking the “50% barrier” of the CP Allocation Budget to the IMB. 

But, amazingly, nowhere in the report are churches asked to set a giving goal for their contributions through the Cooperative Program; nor are they asked collectively to achieve a higher giving total through the Cooperative Program.  

At the Convention in Orlando on Tuesday afternoon, the GCTF is preparing to give a persuasive presentation to underscore their commitment to the components in the Final Report.  Consequently, Southern Baptists are faced with an enormous decision that will, in my opinion, either strengthen our resolve to reach the world working cooperatively side by side or begin the unraveling of the “rope of sand” we have known as the cooperative spirit. 

It is not incidental that in Southern Baptist life we give through the Cooperative Program, but we give to designated objectives.   The ever-so-slight difference in the two words is the crux of the debate that is increasing at a rapid pace as we draw nearer to the Convention.

Do we want our churches and our entities to be models of competition and control or cooperation and collaboration?  That’s the question!

If the average forwarded by the churches to the Cooperative Program were still at the 8% level of a decade ago, the IMB would have received an additional $34 million dollars this year alone – and the seminaries and NAMB would have received tens of millions of dollars in additional funding as well. 

The task force missed an opportunity to urge our churches to set challenging, but realistic, giving goals for the Cooperative Program.  It also failed to set financial goals for contributions to the Cooperative Program despite doing so for both the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings.  Further, the Task Force proposes to remove funding for Cooperative Program promotion and Stewardship education from the Executive Committee.  These serious flaws cause their lofty words of support for the Cooperative Program to ring hollow. 

Reallocating funds from the Executive Committee to the IMB is not the answer.  The reallocation proposed by the GCTF increases the IMB budget by 0.62% (sixty-two one-hundredths of one percent) while decreasing the CP Allocation to the Executive Committee budget by almost thirty percent ($6.95 million to $4.95 million).  The total CP Allocation Budget for the Executive Committee ($6.95 million) is already less than the amount spent by the IMB just for promotion of its ministries ($7.15 million).  Mere reallocation of two million dollars from the SBC Executive Committee pales in comparison to the amount that would be generated if churches reversed the trend of keeping more money under local control


No doubt, some GCTF members may believe they are solving a problem in suggesting the adoption of the new nomenclature of “Great Commission Giving.” In the press conference that followed the progress report, a task force member said that the new language will allow the Convention to “celebrate what the churches are doing.” But the Convention already celebrates what churches are doing, both individually and collectively.

Direct missions giving and going is an extraordinary way to introduce church members to the actual experiences of “doing missions.”  I heartily endorse such hands-on ministry. But the Convention exists to promote cooperative ministries.  The real problem is that some churches do not give a substantial percentage through the Cooperative Program, and do not fully support the ministries of the entire Convention. 

Southern Baptist churches are autonomous and will give as the Lord leads under the leadership of their pastors.  However, those who lead in setting budget priorities should be those who lead the way in sacrificial giving to the Convention’s work.  Convention efforts are those that are supported collectively and collaboratively through the “whole” program.  It is a sad fact of human nature that when those who proportionally give small amounts to a collaborative enterprise try to control its processes, it undermines the willingness by those who proportionally give much to continue their giving at sacrificial levels. 


If the GCTF proposal is adopted, churches that contribute only designated funds will be recognized as if they supported the “whole” program, when, in fact, they do not.  Parts of the former “whole” program may go largely unsupported.  Creating new nomenclature does not generate new dollars; it will only count money that is already being given, just in “renamed” categories.  So, not a single new dollar will be added to the mix.

I can see that in a new world of “Great Commission Giving” CP allocation budget shortfalls will inevitably follow.  Our SBC entities will be forced to make up for their loss in revenue as the Cooperative Program fragments into “special interest” giving.  Our SBC entities will have no option but to ask permission from the Convention to seek designated funds from the churches as their dominant funding strategy. 

Incredibly, that is the situation Southern Baptists solved more than 85 years ago with the introduction of the Cooperative Program.  Our Baptist forebears identified the underwater reefs, the jutting shoals, and the treacherous rip-tides of societal giving on the Convention navigation charts.  These dangerous waters that threaten cooperation have not changed.  Why should the Convention now set its sails toward those very reefs that almost tore apart the fragile fabric of cooperation between entities and between the states and the national Convention a century ago?

In 2004, I made reference to James Sullivan’s analogy of the “rope of sand with strength of steel.”  Little by little, we flick away a grain of sand here, and another there.  At some point enough grains of sand have been flicked away that there is no more rope at all.  The tensile strength of the rope will have become so frayed there shall be no hope for it to be rewoven.

We desperately need a powerful move of God’s Spirit among His people and our full obedience to His Word. Rather than marshaling our energies and resources for the Kingdom of God, the GCTF Final Report is dominated with structural matters that already have polarized us!  A focus on reallocation, renaming and greater individual recognition will have no effect on spiritual revival. However, the opposite is true. A true spiritual renewal among Southern Baptists is what is needed to positively impact stewardship, giving, serving, going – and a commitment to trust and cooperation.


One of the “invisible” values of the Cooperative Program is its dependability and stability. Before the birth of the Cooperative Program, entities of the Convention were unable to plan their annual budgets in any meaningful way. The Cooperative Program introduced a proven track record of stability, much more so than special offerings. Prior to this stable source of funding, our entities had inadequate knowledge about how much income they might receive from the churches in each successive year.  Several of our entities hovered on the edge of bankruptcy, accumulating staggering debt.  Adoption of the Cooperative Program helped reverse this perennial trend.   

The Cooperative Program also provides flexibility when certain needs arise.  Several years ago when Katrina hit the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, Southern Baptists immediately gave more than $12 million to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the North American Mission Board and state conventions in the three states.  Do you know the origin of the funds? The Cooperative Program!

That year Cooperative Program gifts exceeded the adopted CP Allocation Budget by $12 million dollars. With agreement from all presidents of SBC entities, the Executive Committee voted to give the entire amount to aid the victims of the hurricane through our state conventions, the North American Mission Board and toward the rebuilding of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). This could not have been done had an infrastructure supported by the Cooperative Program not been in place to share its funds.


I am convinced that, under the GCTF proposal, the Cooperative Program will be diminished and/or dismantled, if not immediately, then over a short span of time. It will be the natural outcome of a decreased commitment to cooperative giving.  Once “Great Commission Giving” is positioned in the minds and hearts of Southern Baptists and the Cooperative Program is demoted to a status of one among several offerings, CP will be incapable of being resurrected, having been damaged beyond repair.

I am even more convinced that if the SBC does anything to lessen the effectiveness of the Cooperative Program, it will endanger not only the Cooperative Program, but the very spirit of cooperation by which we go about our work for God’s Kingdom.

Let me reiterate that when the Cooperative Program becomes merely one choice among many for giving to SBC causes, an unbalanced distribution of funds will occur. Some of the lesser-known state and national entities may find themselves facing bankruptcy with no emergency support built into the financial system. The lack of support will not automatically signal the failure of an entity. It will signal that some pastors are willing to allow an entity to be destroyed due to their preferences for other entities and their leaders.

A glaring weakness inherent in “special interest” designated giving will heighten the temptation of consigning favors to the pastors of strongly supportive churches for a given entity. This, in turn, will empower an entity president, tempting him to give special honor to those pastors who favor his entity.

If “Great Commission Giving” is introduced into Southern Baptist life, churches that are committed to supporting the whole program through the Cooperative Program will face the question as to whether they need more strongly to support the lesser-funded entities in order that the whole program of the Convention can continue. 

You may ask, “Why will churches be more inclined to designate funds only to specific entities rather than send gifts through the Cooperative Program to the whole of Southern Baptist missions and ministries?” Several of the GCTF leaders already have answered the question by making clear publicly that they want more denominational recognition for designated gifts given by their churches.  Simply put, with the introduction of “Great Commission Giving,” designated giving will grow inordinately compared to the Cooperative Program.

But, in a healthy church and in a healthy Convention, designated giving is the icing on the cake; it is not the cake itself.  The result will be that a few entities will not survive, others will be on a starvation diet, and only a select few will be healthy. This can only increase tensions between pastors who support the whole Southern Baptist program, including associational and state conventions, and those who do not.


Some will say that for me to suggest “Great Commission Giving” will cause the collapse of the Cooperative Program is irresponsible.  It is not.  I am doing the one responsible thing I can do, and that is to inform Southern Baptists everywhere from what I know and see.  The GCTF may bring the Final Report, but the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention will make the final decision.

From my position and experience, it is not difficult to understand the downside of promoting the term “Great Commission Giving” as the sum total of all SBC and other denominational gifts. A review of the CP giving records of the churches from which the most vocal GCTF leaders come proves the point. As our Convention theme last year reminds us, “Actions speak louder than words.”

The GCTF leaders are in a campaign mode to convince Southern Baptists that we must approve their report.  Southern Baptists are moved more by principle than by public relations.  No marketing campaign can mask the fact that these misdirected proposals will lead the Convention to demote the value of the CP.  Long-standing polity, policies, and procedures contained within our governing documents so far are the only hurdles that have kept their proposals in check. In the final analysis, only your vote will do so.

Though the Final Report of the GCTF professes an allegiance to the Cooperative Program, and includes a statement affirming the CP, the task force is putting into place the very giving model that will de-emphasize the Cooperative Program and in time, destroy it. The GCTF leaders cannot have it both ways.  As far as I know, all Southern Baptists believe the Great Commission and follow Christ’s command in Matthew 28:19-20. This does not mean, however, that they will automatically agree with the proposals of the Great Commission Task Force

I believe that grassroots Southern Baptists who fully support the Cooperative Program will never knowingly support anything that has the potential to dismantle the Cooperative Program and the spirit of cooperation that has so blessed our Convention. Most of us understand that our primary purpose – spreading the Gospel – depends on being adequately resourced to do so. The Cooperative Program is the proven means by which we have cooperatively funded world-wide evangelism since 1925. It is the means by which we have achieved the phenomenal successes of missionary appointments and seminary education we enjoy today.  We dare not set the stage for its downfall.

For these reasons I am compelled to write about the dangers I see in this proposal by the GCTF.  The proposal to introduce the nomenclature of “Great Commission Giving” appears at first glance to be innocuous.  It is anything but.  How disheartening it would be if eighty-five years of cooperative efforts were to come to a screeching halt at the Convention in Orlando because of a single vote!

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