BRENTWOOD — The majority of leaders from Tennessee Baptist churches say they are “very satisfied” with the Cooperative Program and an even higher percentage indicated they find the Cooperative Program “valuable,” according to a recent study conducted by the Executive Board Ministries of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
The survey’s questions were sent to approximately 2,000 churches and polled pastors, church administrators, treasurers, Woman’s Missionary Union directors, missions ministers, and other key leaders. The survey grouped churches into three categories: those whose Cooperative Program giving is increasing, those whose Cooperative Program giving is decreasing, and those whose giving is remaining flat.
“We sampled Cooperative Program giving over the five-year period from 2008 to 2013,” said Nicki Brooks, TBC staff member who led the study. “The survey was conducted in March and was completely anonymous because we wanted people to offer candid responses. A main goal in conducting the survey was to gain a better understanding of people’s level of awareness, and their overall perception of, the Cooperative Program.”
The majority of the responses came from church leaders whose churches were either increasing or decreasing in Cooperative Program giving. There was a low response sampling from churches remaining flat in their giving.
When the groups were asked how satisfied their church was with the Cooperative Program, approximately 63 percent of respondents from increasing churches indicated they were “very satisfied” while 51 percent of respondents from decreasing churches indicated they were “very satisfied.”
Additionally, when asked to place a “0 to 10” value on the Cooperative Program, 81 percent in the increasing category and 73 percent in the decreasing category responded with an eight or higher.
When asked how connected the leaders felt their churches were to the Cooperative Program, approximately 83 percent in each group felt their churches were connected. That said, when asked how well they felt the majority of the individuals in their churches understood the Cooperative Program, only 17 percent felt their members had a “strong” understanding while 66 percent are either “vaguely familiar” or “don’t understand it.” Only 1 percent indicated they’d never heard of it.
“The response from Tennessee Baptists to the Cooperative Program survey was immensely helpful in many ways,” said Randy C. Davis, executive director of the TBC.
“It was very encouraging about the future of our funding the priority of Great Commission work in Tennessee and around the world.
“And, as we seek to better serve churches, you, through the survey, also informed us that we need to more often and more clearly tell the stories of the individual lives being changed because of the impact of Cooperative Program financial support of missions and ministry,” David added.
The study supports Davis’ observation. When asked what would help people better understand the Cooperative Program, approximately 70 percent in both groups indicated they wanted stories about lives impacted by their Cooperative Program giving.
Not surprisingly, pastors were seen as the primary supporters of the Cooperative Program when asked to indicate who key influencers were within the church. There was a somewhat substantial difference, however, between pastoral support of the Cooperative Program in churches increasing and decreasing their Cooperative Program giving amounts. Seventy percent of pastors were seen as strongly supporting of the Cooperative Program in increasing churches opposed to 56 percent strongly supporting it in decreasing churches.
When asked to choose what the top motivating factors for giving to the Cooperative Program were, both the increasing and decreasing groups indicated “doing more by pooling resources with other churches” (78 and 77 percent respectively). The second most motivating factor related to churches with strong missions emphases (74 and 67 percent), and thirdly was pastoral support (58 and 45 percent).
“I think the survey documents what our predecessors knew in 1925,” said William Maxwell, the TBC’s administrative director. “The secret of the Cooperative Program is the doctrine of cooperation. While every church maintains their independence and unique ministries, they cooperate to do things through the denomination that can’t be done without others.”
When asked what the top obstacles were to being more supportive of the Cooperative Program, decreasing churches overwhelmingly (43 percent) indicated that their church was struggling financially. Other notable obstacles were: not understanding how the money is used (33 percent); would rather invest in local projects and outreach (29 percent); concerns over whether the money would be used wisely (26 percent).
Top obstacles for increased giving churches were: not understanding how the money is used (28 percent); would rather invest in local projects and outreach (27 percent); concerns over whether the money would be used wisely (25 percent).
Despite the obstacles, 66 percent of decreasing churches said they were open to an increase in giving in the near future, 9 percent plan to increase giving, 3 percent plan to continue the decrease, and 30 percent aren’t sure. More than 57 percent said their Cooperative Program giving would remain at current giving levels.
More than 20 percent of churches from the increasing group plan to continue increasing their Cooperative Program giving amount.
“The information collected identified some areas in which we need to do a better job serving our churches,” Davis said, “Whether that is clarifying what the Cooperative Program is or in getting in the hands of pastors the educational resources they want to help them educate their congregations.
“However, overall I am encouraged by the study. I believe the majority of Tennessee Baptists still realize that we can do more together for the advancement of the gospel than we can do individually. That has been the heart of the Cooperative Program for 90 years, and I believe will continue to financially drive our Great Commission initiatives for decades to come.”