The funding of our Baptist denomination has significantly shifted over the past four decades, and the climate has changed.
The historic climate codified in the 1920s during a time of global economic swings was one of sacrificial giving that all might know Jesus.
As much as 50% of local church offerings through the Cooperative Program was the core principle. One additional principle was that upwards of 50% of this amount funded international missions work.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a common goal was 12% through CP and 3% to the association. In other places, 10% and 3% were standard.
By the early 1980s, a series of shifts occurred in the percentage of congregational offerings funding our denomination’s missional engagement. Even as percentages continued a downward trend, I still saw some congregations in the early 1990s whose CP giving was 30% or more.
Why a downward trend?
First, a shift arose out of the church growth movement. Some church growth experts suggested giving 10% through CP and an appropriate percentage to the association would negatively impact church growth funding.
Perhaps trickle-down economics was involved. If congregations attracted new Christians, the total dollars would increase, but the expected increases did not happen.
Second, the congregations of people elected, appointed or employed in denominational roles often showed low levels of support of the CP and the associations.
Percentages to Southern Baptist missional efforts steadily declined. Congregations backed away from their sacrificial financial commitments.
Third, direct missional partnerships and projects often redirected missions giving from denominational channels. Rather than over and above funding, they replaced contributions through the CP, the associations and special missions.
Fourth, the concept of tithing in some congregations has moved from a percentage to a commitment to regular contributions.
Fifth, our denomination now has generations of pastors, staff and lay leaders who have no memory of sacrificial funding principles.
Sixth, the post-denomination era that began in the 1960s and significantly impacted our denomination by the mid-1980s is not just stormy weather, it is climate change. Nondenominational is now the largest grouping of Protestant congregations.
By the mid-1990s, it was obvious churches were hesitant to fund multiple dimensions of our denomination unless they saw added value from each dimension. This created competition among associations, state conventions and national entities for a decreasing percentage of congregational offerings.
Competition in our denomination is never good. It does not honor the mission of God.
Cooperation is much better. The dilemma is that each dimension of our denomination wants to set the standards and lead the cooperation. That does not work either.
If the future of funding in our denomination continues to be competitive, associations will be the loser.
Let’s change the climate.
Missional funding ideas
Let’s move to a principle of multiple funding streams for associations. Retain the solid foundation of congregations giving to their association on a percentage basis.
Do this with careful, thoughtful strategies that do not flood the funding streams but recognize the new climate of missional funding.
I suggest a new climate strategy for multiple funding streams for associations. Look for my ideas in a future article at thebaptistpaper.org.