75 Million Dollar Campaign and Cooperative Program

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Leon McBeth illustrates, “After the turn of the century, prosperity and optimism prompted Southern Baptists to project larger programs… [and] in 1919, Southern Baptists launched their “Seventy-Five Million Campaign,” in an effort to raise $75 million for Baptist causes over a five-year period between 1919 – 1924.”[1] This was the biggest fundraising endeavor the Southern Baptists had ever engaged in, which led to an even more aggressive campaign of publicity and promotion. Unfortunately, as McBeth highlights, “The seventy-five million dollars proved easier to pledge than to collect.”[2] This was largely in part to the economic recession that hit the south in 1920, which led to crop prices dropping by half and farmer’s income by over sixty percent.[3] The campaign also had both good and negative impacts, but the good far outweighed the bad. Despite being vulnerable for Fundamentalist attack or causing embarrassment on the part of individuals unable to pay what was previously pledged, the campaign not only led to Baptists tripling annual giving, but also led to major spiritual renewal and a new spirit of unity within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

McBeth explains, “Due to the success of the campaign, in 1920, the SBC appointed a Conservation Committee to preserve the results of the campaign… [and] out of it came a permanent convention financial plan startling in its simplicity, yet revolutionary in its impact. Launched in 1925, the Cooperative Program (CP), called for churches to send their offerings for denominational ministries to their state conventions.”[4] This program became the lifeline of Southern Baptist ministries and no method, even to this day, has come close to the effectiveness of the CP. Part of the program’s success rests in its ability to provide both balance and perspective, by providing a way to equally support all ministries under the SBC umbrella. However, as McBeth states, “Any assessment of the CP must also include its drawbacks, such as some speaking to rather than through the program, as if it were an end in itself.”[5] Despite this, the CP allowed churches to play an active role in not just some of the denomination’s ministries, but in all of them. This was one more initiative that led to the SBC growing numerically and geographically. McBeth records, at the turn of the century, “Records showed a total of 1,586,709 members 18,873 churches and these churches were grouped into 16 state conventions. By 1983 reports showed 14,208,226 members in 36,500 churches, gathered into 37 state conventions, many of which were located outside the South.”[6] This numerical and geographical growth can be directly linked to these previous programs and it is truly astonishing to see how far the SBC has come and the amazing things God has done in and through this denomination.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

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

[2] Ibid., 619.

[3] Donnie Gerald Melton, “The Seventy-Five Million Campaign and Its Effects upon the Southern Baptist Convention,” Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1975): 188.

[4] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 622.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 623.

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