Asking the Wrong Question
Cooperative Program giving is not increasing because you have made it all about you.
That will be my opening statement on April 25th when I address CP/Stewardship leaders from each State Convention of the SBC. I plan on pausing for dramatic effect and then continuing with this story.
That was the comment I made to the leadership of the Missouri Baptist Convention in the fall of 2021, after they asked me to review their website to evaluate the stewardship resources they offered their churches. Do you know what I found? A few articles and videos about the Cooperative Program.
I’m going to tell you what I told the Missouri Baptist Convention; you have made giving all about you!
They were asking the wrong question. They asked how to increase CP giving when they should have been asking how we can help our churches thrive. You may not like that statement, but we must think like pastors. When it comes to finances, what question are they asking?
Let’s pretend you are a church pastor with around 250 in attendance. The community around your church is transitioning to be multicultural. Your $500K budget is becoming a challenge to meet. Covid forced you to lay off staff and cut back on, well, a lot. You are still struggling, and you just got the weekly offering report, and the numbers are not good. You know you must do something, but what? You turn to your state denominations website for help.
Here is that pastor’s question. How can I increase giving at my church? That is the question you should be prepared to answer. Let’s see what this pastor’s state has for him. Not much.
In preparation for this meeting, I have visited 37 state convention websites to find any stewardship resources. 21 conventions had nothing to offer. At least I couldn’t find anything, which means they have nothing. 12 conventions listed only Cooperative Program or missional offering help. I found only 4 conventions, MBC being one, that had any attempt at providing churches real actionable help to increase giving and givers at their church.
The pastor in this story is real. His name is Billy Chidester of Elmdale Baptist in Springdale AR. I pastored Elmdale for 15 years, from 1983 through 1998. I baptized my kids in that church’s baptistry. A huge part of my heart is still there. Here is the stark reality: If Billy doesn’t do something soon, there will be a for sale sign on the property in ten years or less, and Southern Baptists will lose another Gospel outpost.
What is at stake? Let me close with another story. During my time as the pastor of Elmdale Baptist Church, Springdale High hired a new basketball coach named Jim Hamilton. That coach had a family he brought to Elmdale faithfully through all the years he coached there. The coach’s oldest son, Jim Jr., was someone I barely remember growing up in our youth ministry. Like pastors, coaches tend to bounce around a lot, and the Hamiltons moved on, and I lost track of them.
Several years later, Jim’s wife Jeannie sent me a link to a sermon “little Jim Jr.” had preached somewhere. Little Jim is a preacher? As I listened to the message, Jim Hamilton Jr. told the story of being raised under the preaching influence of Southern Baptist preachers, and he named me! Seriously, I had no clue the kid was listening! But he was. And because of faithful churches led by faithful men preaching faithfully the Word of God, little Jim Hamilton grew up to be Dr. Jim Hamilton, Senior Pastor at Kenwood Baptist in Louisville KY, and a professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written numerous books, including God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology and What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. He has recently completed a commentary on Psalms and is currently writing a book on typology. And he partly credits Elmdale Baptist Church for grounding him in God’s Word.
Who is currently in the youth ministry of Elmdale Baptist that might be the next Dr. Jim Hamilton? I can tell you that his name probably isn’t Jim but Julio. My question for you, pastor, is this, who is your potential Jim Hamilton? If your church ceased to exist, does your Jim or Julio have a chance to realize their full potential? While there is a disagreement over the exact number of churches closing annually, no one disputes that closings are becoming more prevalent. How much potential will be lost as a result?
The question our denominational leaders must ask is different from how we can increase CP giving. The question must be, how can we help our existing churches survive into the next decade? Assure their continued existence and as a by-product Cooperative Program giving will rise.
Let me end by saying a word of appreciation for Dr. John Yeats and his staff. They went from providing essentially nothing in terms of practical help to leading the entire Southern Baptist Convention in providing local churches with free stewardship help. Through this weekly journal, every church in the MBC has a stewardship resource open to them 24/7/365.
My question is, are you using it?