It seems all the news about state conventions is gloom, despair, and agony. In North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, for instance, cutbacks are being made in budgets and staff. The Biblical Recorder reports of NC Baptists cutting their budget by $2.1 million which will be the smallest budget for them since 1999. Meanwhile, the Christian Index reports that the Georgia Baptist Convention has cut its budget by over $1 million to reduce it to 2000 levels. In South Carolina, the budget has been reduced by 8%. If this budget is approved, it will mark the first time since 1970 that the budget has been reduced in two consecutive years. All three state conventions are reporting staff reductions and reassignment to deal with the reduction in receipts.
As each of these articles point out, giving to the Cooperative Program has declined not only in gross dollars but also percentage of giving. Fewer churches are giving 10% or more to the Cooperative Program. Careful research will reveal that this decline did not begin during the current economic recession but was already occurring before 2006.
For small churches, the Cooperative Program has been the most effective vehicle for funding missional activities around the world. Whereas many small churches would find it difficult if not impossible to fund one missionary, in cooperation with other churches, missions are carried out. Also, the Cooperative Program funds the institutions which support the local church. It is the genius of our forefathers who had the vision to move from societal giving to the Cooperative program. The old model resulted in an inequity in the distribution of funds as those institutions with more persuasive speakers or wealthy patrons received more money. The Cooperative Program sought to redress this issue and while it is not perfect, it has been a reliable workhorse.
While budget cuts and staff reductions will help, they are only a short-term solution to a long-term problem. The downward trend of giving must be corrected at the local level. There must be a return to biblical stewardship by individuals. Tithing must be preached and taught in churches as a matter of discipleship. Then the local church must give more to the Cooperative Program. If this does not occur, a day will come in which the Convention will not be able to fund the International Mission Board much less any other institution at any level. That would be a day of gloom, despair, and agony.