Describe how “The Seventy-Five Million Campaign” affected the Southern Baptist Convention. What is the Cooperative Program and what does it do? Discuss the effectiveness of this program.

Response

The Seventy-Five Million Campaign and the Cooperative Program were both forms of raising financial support for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the twentieth-century. H. Leon McBeth explains that the Seventy-Five Million Campaign was “an effort to raise $75 million for Baptist causes over a five-year period, 1919-1924.”[1] The initial effort to raise the funds proved tremendously successful. Through the successful planning and promotion of the Campaign Commission, a whopping $92 million was pledged by the end of a 6-month initiative in 1919.[2] Unfortunately, the SBC committed a financial blunder that many non-profit agencies have made once receiving pledged commitments. The SBC allowed many agencies to expand their work based on the pledged amounts and not actual cash receipts, and when the economic recession hit in 1920, collections waned.[3] By the end of the campaign, only $58 of the $92 million was collected, and it was not until 1944 that the convention debt was finally paid off.[4] Although the overexpansion hurt the SBC at first, the benefits of the Seventy-Five Million Campaign significantly outweighed the costs. McBeth lists several positive effects of the Campaign, which include record-breaking baptisms, large volunteer recruitments, an increase in Baptist school enrollment, a spirit of unity, and a heightened awareness of stewardship.[5]

The Cooperative Program is a stewardship program launched in 1925 to support Southern Baptist benevolent initiatives. McBeth explains that the program has churches send funds to support the Baptist denomination directly to state conventions, who then send a portion of the funds collected to the Southern Baptist Convention office.[6] The funds support both the benevolent work of state denominations as well as the initiatives of the SBC, with the goal of approximately half of the funds going to the SBC.[7] McBeth suggests that the benefits of the program include “economy, balance, and perspective.”[8] In other words, the program has low administration costs, provides a cross-section of ministry support, and allows participants to engage in the full spectrum of denomination ministries. Robert Baker provides additional insight into the effectiveness of the Cooperative Program. First, Baker admits that a weakness of the program is that it tends to depersonalize the process of supporting benevolent initiatives.[9] However, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Baker lists six achievements of the Cooperative Program as follows: the program supports the convention style of church organizational structure, opens the possibilities for increased financial planning, supports “first-fruit” rather than random giving, allows uniform benevolence support across ministry directives, provides a sense of participation of members, and increases denominational unity.[10] Baker sums up the effectiveness of the Cooperative Program by quoting from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1939, which states, “The Cooperative Program is the greatest step forward in Kingdom finance Southern Baptists have ever taken.”[11]

Bibliography

Baker, Robert Andrew. “The Cooperative Program in Historical Perspective.” Baptist History and Heritage 10, no. 3 (July 1975): 169–76.

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville: B&H Academic, 1987.

[1] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville: B&H Academic, 1987), 618.

[2] Ibid., 618–19.

[3] Ibid., 619.

[4] Ibid., 620.

[5] Ibid., 621.

[6] Ibid., 622.

[7] Ibid., 622–23.

[8] Ibid., 622.

[9] Robert Andrew Baker, “The Cooperative Program in Historical Perspective,” Baptist History and Heritage 10, no. 3 (July 1975): 175.

[10] Ibid., 175–76.

[11] Ibid., 176.