COVID-19 puts ‘true value of the Cooperative Program on full display’

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP) -- Salvations through text messages and drive-in worship services, meals for those suffering financial losses, protective gear for first responders and financial resources for pastors are products of the Cooperative Program at work during the COVID-19 pandemic.


"We need one another, this COVID-19 is all the more reason for [the Cooperative Program]," Tallahassee, Fla., pastor Ronny Raines said. "We're better together, but we need one another."


The effectiveness of CP is on full display especially during the pandemic, a cross section of leaders said in advance of the April 26th recognition of Cooperative Program Sunday on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar.


"I think pastors are dealing with more stress, working longer hours than ever before," said Raines, pastor of Bradfordville First Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla. "I've been on a lot of calls with guys right now, just trying to pray with one another and support one another; but we sure need one another just to be all the more transparent, just through the chaos going on."


The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists' unified method of funding ministry and missions at home and abroad. As SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd points out, the CP supports many Southern Baptist COVID-19 relief efforts across the United States and continues to fuel international Great Commission work.


"Southern Baptists know that we are called to reach every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state and every nation. This global pandemic is threatening our work everywhere, but it will not stop it," Floyd said. "Until the Great Commission is finished, we will not retreat in this hour of uncertainty.


"This is why our missionaries are still on the field, both overseas and in North America. Whatever the cost and whatever the risk, this worldwide mission thrust will be our priority. This is why we will advance, we will sacrifice, we will resource, and we will give our all until we finish this task."


A new Cooperative Program video, downloadable at no cost to churches and other ministries, highlights CP work.


"Although today we are physically apart, together we stand," the video points out. "We didn't ask for this moment, we didn't seek it, but in this moment we choose to come together because the Great Commission cannot be thwarted. These times are challenging. They feel isolating. They put the true value of the Cooperative Program on full display. We are better together, and together we bring the Good News for the whole world."


In the Northeast, where most of the more than 50,000 U.S. COVID-19 deaths have occurred, the Baptist Resource Network (BRN) of Pennsylvania/South Jersey has mobilized CP funds to help those in need.


"One of the highlights has been watching nearly 100,000 meals being delivered to 40 of our BRN churches to distribute to people in the communities during this time," BRN Executive Director Barry Whitworth said on a new BRN video. "What an amazing effort it has been as our disaster relief and compassion ministry directors have coordinated with FEMA, Pennsylvania National Guard and Sysco Foods to get all these meals out, from Atlantic City to Erie, from Wilkes-Barre to Pittsburgh. Cooperation is a trademark of Southern Baptists and we're seeing it lived out at this time."


Terry Dorsett, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE), said CP dollars are funding Great Commission work during the pandemic. BCNE serves hundreds of churches in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Less than 4 percent of New Englanders are part of an evangelical church, the BCNE reports.


"The Cooperative Program has provided a stable base of financial support that allows the Baptist Convention of New England to train over 2,000 people a year in personal evangelism," Dorsett said. "This ongoing effort to equip New England Baptists in evangelism has set the stage for incredible impact across New England annually, and even more so during the COVID-19 crisis. When the crisis hit, our people were ready to share the Gospel with their neighbors, and they are doing it in incredible ways."


A church member in northern New England drew three people to Christ by sharing text messages, Dorsett said, and Calvary Chapel in Uncasville, Conn., counted 23 decisions for Christ at an Easter drive-in worship.


CP helps fund national and international work through the Southern Baptist mission boards as well as ministerial education at six Southern Baptist seminaries.


Adam W. Greenway, president of The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said CP dollars are especially precious during the pandemic.


"Southwestern Seminary is deeply grateful for the faithful support of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention through the Cooperative Program. Southern Baptist seminary tuition and fees are among the lowest in theological education across the world because of the Cooperative Program," Greenway said. "Especially during times of economic uncertainly, we must be careful stewards of the precious funds entrusted to us by Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program -- resources which are especially meaningful during such times."


Raines has led Bradfordville First Baptist Church in Tallahassee to increase CP giving since he began leading the church in 2014. Economical seminary education is a CP benefit he appreciates, with about five of his members currently enrolled in Southern Baptist seminaries.


"And their tuition rates are much, much cheaper because of the Cooperative Program," he said. "As we call people, we want to mentor them and disciple them, there's no doubt, but we can partner with seminaries through the Cooperative Program that they can get a quality theological education that will help them in their area of ministry that God's called them to."


He appreciates being located in Florida, one of many state conventions offering loans and grants to help bivocational and small church pastors survive the COVID-19 economic downturn. In the spirit of cooperation, Bradfordville First Baptist has blessed 18 bivocational pastors with $100 gift cards during the pandemic.


"That's why we sought, our church, to go from zero giving to the Cooperative Program to now giving 10 percent to the Cooperative Program," Raines said. "That's the benefit of our church's giving to the Cooperative Program, that we can help other churches, other pastors."


Nationwide CP giving was above budget by 2.94 percent at the midpoint of the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Baptist Press reported April 3. Contributions to SBC national and international missions and ministries totaled more than $15 million in March, bringing the six-month national total to more than $101 million.


Willie McLaurin, SBC EC vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization, said Southern Baptists continue to "put on display the power of cooperation for the sake of spreading the Good News at home and around the globe."


"The Cooperative Program is the fuel that enables churches to take the Good News to the nations and their neighborhood," McLaurin said. "For 95 years Southern Baptist churches have faithfully stewarded the Great Commission. In seasons of challenge, Southern Baptist churches continue to advance the Kingdom of Christ by prioritizing, elevating and accelerating the Cooperative Program."



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