In 2025 the Southern Baptist Convention will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative Program. Thus, it is safe to say that none of us today can remember a time when it did not exist. None of us can remember a time when missionaries had to leave their overseas field assignments, come back to the States to visit churches for the purpose of raising money, so they could continue their work. Only a handful of people remember a time when the six SBC seminaries did not exist. And most of us in ministry today benefitted from a reduction in seminary tuition because our home churches gave to the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperative Program has been the stalwart platform for Gospel partnerships for almost 100 years. And it is still an effective means by which Southern Baptists can participate in seeing the world reached for Jesus Christ.
The Cooperative Program has been the stalwart platform for Gospel partnerships for almost 100 years.
However, conflict and division have caused a few to question whether or not a partnership like this is still valid. Not long ago I was confronted by a church leader who was unhappy by some of the things happening at the national level in the SBC. His concern was that the national convention was drifting in a direction he did not like and was a proponent of withholding Cooperative Program giving until changes were realized. I shared with him that doing what he suggested only hurts those who were serving on the field or preparing to carry out their calling.
I have also found that familiarity has been a challenge to Cooperative Program giving among our churches. It is easy to take for granted those things which have always existed. Because we cannot remember a time when it was not there, we believe it always will be. In some cases, this has led churches to undervalue the Cooperative Program and so they do not communicate its value to church members.
As a result, fewer and fewer members of Southern Baptist churches understand what the Cooperative Program is, and more importantly, what it does. So, I would like to highlight just a few of the values of the Cooperative Program.
The Great Commission commands us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” I believe there are both corporate as well as individual implications to this command. “Going” for the individual believer is about making Gospel connections in the fields we each travel. “Going” for the local church is about making a Gospel impact in the communities where they reside. But, “Going” for a network of churches like ours is about making a Gospel impact in places we do not live and in cultures not our own. Because the task is so vast, the work takes many hands at the plow.
This is partnership! Going to the ends of the earth, planting churches in areas that are underserved by any Gospel witness and supporting men and women preparing for ministry; this is WHY we partner. This is the driver behind all we do together. The Cooperative Program is simply HOW we can do this. The Cooperative Program has never been about how much a church gives. It has been about being in partnership with our sister churches to accomplish what the Lord has called us all to do.
“Going” for the individual believer is about making Gospel connections in the fields we each travel. “Going” for the local church is about making a Gospel impact in the communities where they reside.
The Cooperative Program allows us to reach the ends of the earth.
The work of the International Mission Board has always been at the forefront of the work of the Cooperative Program. Because Southern Baptists have been mission-minded from our inception, finding ways to do this better has been our goal. When the concept of the Cooperative Program was introduced for vote in 1925 it came during a time of great financial struggles for the SBC. Close to bankruptcy our mission boards were struggling to continue the work of sending missionaries onto the field. But the advent of the Cooperative Program thrust mission work to new heights. It was not only effective in seeing more missionaries sent to the field, but it also united Southern Baptists around a common cause. Southern Baptists collectively grasped the value of partnership for the Gospel like never before.
Because of this ongoing emphasis for missions, the Cooperative Program has allowed nearly 3,600 missionary units to serve on foreign fields, fully funded and focused on reaching people for Christ. In 2022 our missionaries reported: 67 new people groups engaged; 178,177 new believers reached; and 102,417 new believers baptized. Yet, more can still be done. Prior to its reset in 2015, the IMB had nearly 5,000 missionaries on the field. As more churches participate in the Cooperative Program, more people can be reached for Christ.
missionary units to serve on foreign fields
new people groups engaged in 2022
new believers reached in 2022
new believers baptized in 2022
missionaries on the field prior to 2015 reset
The Cooperative Program supports the work of church planting, replanting, and revitalization.
There are many places here in the United States where the percentage of lostness is great. In those locations, especially in the west, the percentage of unchurched people is well over 90%. And in most of those places there are fewer churches per capita committed to reaching the lost. Thus, in 2010 the North American Mission Board refocused its attention to seeing new churches planted in underserved areas. Today, NAMB works with local churches to see church planting efforts thrive all across our nation. In 2022 almost 800 new churches were started in North America. But that is only part of the story. Churches that are struggling or dying are being revived or restarted because of the network of support which is available through NAMB because churches give to the Cooperative Program.
In 2022 almost 800 new churches were started in North America.
The Cooperative Program supports the work of state conventions.
The primary means of reaching Colorado for Christ comes from the contributions which our partner churches give through the Cooperative Program. Each state is unique in its ministry efforts, but all state conventions are best positioned to reach lostness in their own state because that is their home. In Colorado we have resort ministries, associational ministries led by our Regional Directors, Disaster Relief, the Rocky Mountain Campus of Gateway Seminary, and the Rocky Mountain Foundation. All these ministries were established and sustained to reach the lost or support the work of those who are reaching the lost right here in our state. Because a percentage of what Colorado churches give to the Cooperative Programs stays here in Colorado, we can expand our reach to support churches and associations for accelerated Gospel impact. It is a true model of partnership.
Each state is unique in its ministry efforts, but all state conventions are best positioned to reach lostness in their own state because that is their home.
There are many other ministries supported through the Cooperative Program. Some of these ministries are the work of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, the work of our six seminaries, and the work of SEND Relief. The bottom line is that the Cooperative Program gives us the opportunity to partner in something much larger than ourselves.
Austin Crouch, the first president of the Executive Committee of the SBC (1927-1949) said, “The Cooperative Program is scriptural. Paul gave a fine example of cooperative effort. He had urged the churches in different sections to make contributions for the poor at Jerusalem, and the method for raising this money was according to his instruction to the church in Corinth: ‘Upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come‘ (I Cor. 16:2).”
As we partner in this way, we are able to make greater Kingdom impacts than we could just by ourselves. Thank you for your partnership, you are making a difference!