One big event that pulls many of us together each June is the annual Southern Baptist Convention. This year’s gathering in Baltimore was filled with inspirational music, messages and reports. But at its core, the annual SBC is a business meeting where messengers from autonomous churches gather to affirm or determine how they will cooperate.
Those messengers elect board and committee members. They agree on how to invest shared resources in missions and ministry. And they declare to one another and to many onlookers the biblical truths on which they will continue to stand.
It’s a big event with big consequences. But the reality is that there are relatively few messengers at the annual meeting compared to the number of churches and church members that cooperate as the Southern Baptist Convention. Most of us trust a few of us to determine which leaders, strategies, and priorities should direct the resources that we all have shared.
That’s why I would argue that the real big event for Southern Baptists does not take place in a convention center, or in a single city, or even on the same day. The real big event that determines at least the financial strength of our Great Commission cooperation happens in multiple locations at multiple times. It’s called the local church business meeting. That is where each church determines the percentage of its budget that will go through the Cooperative Program to support Southern Baptist missions and ministries. And that is the “big event” that really determines the degree to which we will cooperate in fulfilling our shared, Great Commission purpose.
For more than 20 years now, the percentage given by all SBC churches through the Cooperative Program as a percentage of undesignated giving has ever so slowly declined. It’s only been a fraction of a percent each year. But over time, national CP giving as a percentage of churches’ undesignated giving has declined to 5.4%, when it used to be almost 11%.
Here in Illinois, our churches are doing a little better than the national average. IBSA churches’ CP giving is about 7% of their undesignated gifts. But that is still well below the level being given 20 years ago.
There are some indications, however, that the trend in CP giving may be on the verge of a reversal. Annual Church Profile data for 2013 was recently released, revealing a second consecutive year of uptick rather than decline in national CP giving. The “One Percent Challenge” that Dr. Frank Page has been championing for 2-3 years now appears to be gaining traction, and numerous churches are accepting that challenge to intentionally increase the percentage of their CP giving.
Other churches are starting to give a percentage of their offerings, rather than a flat amount. It’s only two years, but it’s enough to encourage optimism that churches may be recapturing their vision for the power and effectiveness of cooperative missions giving.
So whether you were able to attend the big event of the Southern Baptist Convention this year or not, I hope you will consider attending the big event of your church’s business meetings, especially the one where the annual budget is discussed. Challenge your church to be one that’s helping reverse the trend by increasing your commitment to SBC missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program.
The Big Event of all history, of course, will be that day when Jesus returns and our Great Commission task as His church draws to a close. All our churches’ big events should anticipate and point to that one. And our churches’ business meetings are a good place to start, because that’s where we can choose priorities that demonstrate we believe He’s coming back soon.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.