Several blogs in the past couple of weeks have brought attention to the Cooperative Program and the way in which its funds are distributed.  The BGCT has asked Buckner Baptist Benevolences, which is an agency receiving Cooperative Program funding, not to solicit funds directly from BGCT churches.  Buckner had plans to initiate an offering called Bless the Children to provide additional funding to help meet various needs.  The Cooperative Program funding that Buckner receives is just a small portion of their budget, but the BGCT asked them to put the offering on hold, at least as far as BGCT congregations are concerned, during this period when giving is not meeting the budget. 

Attention has been drawn to Howard Payne University in Brownwood, as a result of its women’s basketball teams recent NAIA national title and undefeated season.  One of nine institutions of higher learning that receives funding from the BGCT, HPU is having to deal with the financial strains and stresses that most small, private colleges must deal with.  And even though only a small portion of its budget is provided by the BGCT’s Cooperative Program gift, the fact that the amount will not be increased once again this year is having an affect at HPU, and at the other schools as well.

One of the main reasons the Cooperative Program came into existence was to avoid the competition among various agencies and institutions for funding from the churches.  Churches were bombarded with dozens of appeals for offerings and regular funds, and often either those who got their first, or those who had the better orators and preachers as their representatives, got the lion’s share of the money.  For a long time, the Cooperative Program helped to balance the gifts that came from the churches, on all of its various levels.  In recent years, as the cost of operating institutions, particularly colleges, universities and hospitals, has increased dramatically, and the various agencies and institutions of the SBC and state conventions have grown, the demand for funds has increased faster than the giving. 

Controversy has raised issues related to control.  Agencies and institutions which receive Cooperative Program funds have their trustee boards elected by convention bodies.  Many of the institutions related to state conventions, after watching the effect of control of trustee boards on the six seminaries, questioned having a state convention control their governance and operations by electing a trustee board when the Cooperative Program money they received accounted for only a very small portion of the money they received to operate.  As medical costs skyrocketed, many hospitals related to state conventions have been sold to private corporations.  Long before Baylor made the move to a self-perpetuating trustee board, Wake Forest University determined that sacrificing the small amount of Cooperative Program dollars it received, weighed against its other sources of income and operating expenses, was worth the cost of achieving self-control.  A number of other schools have done the same in recent years.  As Cooperative Program giving from churches continues to fall behind inflation, the question of whether a gift that provides only a small fraction of an institution’s budget is the entitlement to complete control of the trustee board will continue to come up. 

Appeals to the churches to increase their CP support haven’t met with success.  On the SBC level, I believe this is partly due to the fact that many of the SBC presidents elected by the conservative resurgence have come from mega churches with mega budgets, but with records of almost non-existent support of the CP.  The argument that they’ve made, basically that “dollars pay the bills, not percentages,” is hollow and empty, since the actual dollar amounts they are giving are surpassed by churches that are often less than a fourth of their size. 

It may be time for a paradigm shift in the way the Cooperative Program operates.  Our colleges and unversities have expanded by enrollments that reflect a wide denominational diversity of students, and in many cases those from Baptist congregations represent less than 50% of the student body.  Some Baptist related schools take their Cooperative Program money and divide it up as grants and scholarships for the students on their campus who come from Baptist churches as a way of not only helping them attend a school they might not otherwise be able to afford, but also as a means of recruiting and retaining students.  Some operate in a partnership with schools, providing resources for ministerial students and mission volunteers, and maintaining the campus ministry apparatus. 

The “giving generation,” those in our churches who are the biggest tithers and givers, are slowly passing away.  In less than twenty years, our churches and the conventions they cooperate with, will face a major financial crisis if we do not prepare for it.  We need to train our people in principles of church support, and we must, at the same time, streamline our convention agencies and institutions to be efficient stewards of the money they receive from the churches, considering it to be sacrificially given and precious.  Many of our business practices need to reflect recognition of sacrifice as well.  The future doesn’t appear to hold the opportunity for budget increases, or the addition of new offerings.  We must learn how to work with what we have been given.




About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

10 responses

  1. Ken Coffee says:

    I suspect most of our universities could make it fine without the small amount of their budget that comes from the BGCT. The major reason for BGCT continuing to provide any funding at all is to maintain its ties to the schools and top assist ministerial students. It is good for the schools to have that tie and it is good for the BGCT to have that tie. However, long ago the amount of support had become insignificant to most schools. The amount provided for ministerial students (I think $40 a semester hour) by the BGCT is helpful to the students and would have to be made up elsewhere. At the institution I represent as a trustee 90% of our students receive some sort of financial assistance already and still would without the BGCT money. The ministerial students might be impacted minimally, but not much else. I think iof you asked each of the presidents they would tell you they are glad to get the BGCT money, but do not look at it as anything but a tip of the hat towards them.

  2. Lee says:

    It has been somewhat interesting to observe as state convention related colleges and universities around the country have “loosened” their ties to the conventions, in most cases, they gave up the Cooperative Program funding that went along with it. It’s gone in stages at some places like Wake Forest and Mercer, where the boards became self-perpetuating, but the CP money continued for a while, mainly going to ministerial students and as grants to students who belonged to Baptist churches. Eventually, even the “fraternal” relationships between the state conventions and those schools were discontinued. The divinity schools at both places claim to remain firmly Baptist in tradition, but are involved in partnerships with CBF and the Alliance. Many other schools have done similar things, instead of putting their Cooperative Program check in the main budget, they’ve divided it up among the Baptist ministerial students on campus, or give it out as a tuition discount to students from Baptist churches who apply for it. Concerns have been raised, however, regarding how much Christian influence, and how much “Baptist” theology is being taught at schools whose ties with state convention bodies have been loosened or severed.

    I believe the involvement of state conventions in providing support for colleges and universities goes beyond just the Cooperative Program money they receive, and the support for ministerial students. I believe the value of an undergraduate education at a Christian college or university is that the principles and truths of scripture are integrated into the whole curriculum, and that a Christian lifestyle is supported and encouraged by the campus environment. Those things are part of the experience, and I question whether they can be maintained if the source of the Christian influence, a convention body made up of churches, is removed from the equation.

  3. Lee,

    As the chief development officer at Baptist University of the Americas for the past 5 years, I can tell you that for some institutions, BGCT support is more than impactful on the budget, it is vital! In 2003 BUA had a budget of about $900,000, $750,000 of which came from the BGCT through either CP or MHD funds. Now, we’ve grown to a more than $3,000,000 budget, but still get the same $750,000 from the BGCT. Given our traditional student population, we’ll never be tuition-driven, and our alumni will most likely rarely be major donors. BUA relies on the generosity of Texas Baptists, whether through CP or directly. But like the other institutions, we are at the place of needing more revenue from somewhere, and it doesn’t look like it will come from the convention. And because it’s still 25% of our revenue, we will struggle sooner. It’s a challenging situation, and we’re all looking for the best solutions.

  4. Jack Matthews says:

    Baptist conventions would do well to take a look at where their Cooperative Program funds are going and could probably be a lot more efficient and effective in preventing waste. There are always “causes” that become part of the CP stream due to the influence of “prominent” individuals and they become institutionalized in the budget.

    And I think a closer look at educational institutions might warrant some changes. I went to Belmont University in Nashville, and at the time I went there, its trustees were elected by the Tennessee Baptist Convention and it received Cooperative Program support, though I can’t say I ever saw much evidence of that there. The tuition and fees were pretty high, and if it hadn’t been for an academic scholarship, and a grant I got because of the death of my parents, I couldn’t have afforded to go there. I wasn’t a ministerial student, but on the Belmont campus, they were a distinct minority. If Cooperative Program money was going to the general fund of the school, it was a waste for Tennessee Baptists, because the Christian influence on the campus wasn’t what I would call significant in the life of the school, and I didn’t find the required Bible courses to be very much in line with the Baptist church I belonged to while I was a student there. The recent battle that the school engaged in with the convention over their departure from convention control involved a settlement of several million dollars being paid back to the convention, nothing close to what Tennessee Baptists invested in it.

  5. Ken Hall says:


    You have always been gracious to offer insightful and helpful dialogue. Thanks for giving thoughtful discussion to the dilemna facing our Baptist institutions who value the cooperative giving of the BGCT. The officers of the convention have appointed a committee that has been charged specifically with looking at this issue. Randel Everett is very aware to the problem of falling receipts while we have more opportunities than ever before to touch lives for Christ. His participation in the discussion will be helpful.

    I propose we think less about a cooperative program and more about cooperative giving. The time is ripe to challenge our churches to do something greater than yesterday.

  6. Ferrell says:

    This is a good “conversation.” I love Ken’s comment that the “time is ripe to challenge our churches to something greater than yesterday.”

    As you might expect, I’m a fan of the Cooperative Program. It is simply amazing the breadth of missions, evangelism and ministry supported by CP, and the largest chunk of Texas CP goes to our institutions. As our institutions grow larger and more healthy, it is only natural that CP would be become a smaller portion of their budget; but it is still a significant amount of money. Even for the big institutions, it takes millions of dollars in endowment to replace the annual CP designations.

    I think it’s good for us to remember, however, that all of our institutions are not giants. For some of our our institutions, like Baptist University of the Americas, the BGCT Cooperative Program provides a significant portion of the budget and is therefore more critical to the financial health of those amazing ministries.

    Everyone knows that Baylor University, Buckner International and Baylor Health Care System are the big boys on this Baptist block. But BUA, South Texas Children’s Home and other smaller institutions are having a great impact in Kingdom ministry.

    I like to think of the BGCT as a family. Our larger institutions are like big brothers or big sisters in a family, they have their lives to live but they also keep an eye over the shoulder at the little brothers and sisters, helping them along and understanding that being a family requires caring about the whole family. As the big brother and big sister “grow up,” they don’t need the family as much, but the family needs them; and there may come a day when the big brother and big sister need a helping hand from their siblings.

    The time is ripe to challenge our churches to do something greater today, and I think the Cooperative Program and its system of sharing resources should be at the center of meeting that challenge.

  7. […] and our institutions There’s a good conversation going on over at Tim’s blog. I dropped a note there but thought I would also post a version of it […]

  8. Chuck says:

    Back when it mattered, the BGCT failed to respond to the Baylor unilateral move by proportionately reducing the funding, which was enormous at that time.

    Baylor clearly said, “The money’s not important” to the relationship, yet the convention gave it anyway.

    Now, when it is important, the institutions more dependent, such as B U of A’s, are suffering from the lack of funds. There will have to be a narrowing of those receiving the funds so that those needing it will have enough to survive, hopefully thrive.

  9. Lee says:

    Chuck, you make a good point. Clearly, BGCT Cooperative Program funding is small potatoes compared to the other sources of income that Baylor has, including their endowment, and the deep pockets of some of their alumni. Yet, in spite of the fact that the BGCT can only elect a third of the trustees there, and even at that, can’t alter those named by Baylor, the CP funding still goes there.

    This is one of those nagging issues that I think Baptists are going to have to deal with in the very near future, or the Cooperative Program, and institutions who depend on it heavily, like BUA, will dry up. There are a lot of churches who still point to Baylor, and the fact that they declared their trustees self-perpetuating, but they have a lot of alumni who serve in the churches, or belong to them, and whenever the issue comes up, it is the power and prestige of their alumni association that steps in and keeps the money flowing, to the detriment of other agencies and institutions. Those churches who would rather support something else must either designate to their preferred agency or institution or, as most of them have done, they simply cut their CP giving. That’s one of the reasons why BGCT personnel in particular sound kind of hollow and empty in their talk about challenging churches to do more. Good, sound, solid stewardship, and at least the appearance that someone is really listening, instead of the usual smile, lip service and encouragement to “give more, more, more, more, more…” is what we need.

  10. Ken Coffee says:

    I don’t believe it is accurate to say the BGCT did not reduce Baylor’s funding. My recollection is that it was reduced, but by how much I can’t recall.