The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a fellowship of over 47,000 Baptist churches and another 4,500 mission churches (churches that have not yet established their autonomy as self-governing congregations) scattered across the United States and its territories. These congregations, comprised of numerous racial, ethnic, language, and socioeconomic people groups, are called “cooperating churches.” They have organized themselves to accomplish a specific set of missions and ministry initiatives. The Convention’s formal purpose statement is:
. . . to provide a general organization for Baptists in the United States and its territories for the promotion of Christian missions at home and abroad and any other objects such as Christian education, benevolent enterprises, and social services which it may deem proper and advisable for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. (SBC Constitution, Article II)
A cooperating church is a church that freely and gladly identifies itself as a Southern Baptist church, affirming its willing cooperation with the Convention’s purpose, missions, and ministries and providing regular financial support for the Convention’s work as part of the church’s adopted budget. (see What makes a church ‘Southern Baptist')
Each Baptist church is responsible before God to determine its own policies and ministries as its members discern the will of God expressed in Scripture. The Convention, also an autonomous body, rightly defines for itself the qualifications by which churches are identified as cooperating churches. The SBC Constitution is very clear on these two matters:
While independent and sovereign in its own sphere [Convention autonomy], the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church [church autonomy], auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention. (SBC Constitution, Article IV)
Consequently, the SBC does not have a hierarchy. A local church voluntarily chooses to identify and cooperate with the SBC to reach the world for Christ through our cooperative ministries of missions, evangelism, ministerial training, moral advocacy and cultural engagement, and other benevolent causes. Conversely, the Convention chooses to recognize those churches it deems as supportive of the Convention and in harmony with the Convention’s theological, missiological, and ministry purposes and work.
While Southern Baptists are not a creedal people, we have a broadly-accepted statement of faith called The Baptist Faith and Message. Revised most recently in 2000, its preamble identifies the eighteen articles of faith contained within it as “certain definite doctrines that Baptists believe, cherish, and with which they have been and are now closely identified.”
Southern Baptists firmly believe in the complete and absolute trustworthiness of the Bible as God’s Word. We are fully committed to carry out the mission Jesus gave His followers to make, baptize, and teach reproducing disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19–20).
Southern Baptists value cooperation as a core commitment of how we can most effectively accomplish Kingdom purposes. We believe the expanding set of Great Commission mandates outlined in Acts 1:8 (“be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”) underscores the need for churches to network with other churches in local associations and state Baptist conventions to reach their respective Jerusalems and Judeas with the Gospel, and with the ministry initiatives of the SBC to reach to out to their Samarias and the uttermost parts of the lost world.
Historically, the Convention has maintained a close relationship with more than one thousand local Baptist associations and forty-one state or regional Baptist conventions. The Convention also works closely with more than thirty language-specific and other ethnic and racial fellowships of Baptist churches.
Since local associations are geographically closest to the churches, the SBC has relied heavily on local associations to determine the “baptistic” character of churches that network with the Convention. As the racial and ethnic diversity of the Convention has increased, some of the ethnic, language, and racial fellowships have assisted in this role as well. For information about these fellowships, contact the SBC Executive Office of Convention Advancement.
Each association and state and regional convention sets its own criteria for participation and adopts its own set of cooperative ministries. Contact information for the local association and state or regional Baptist convention closest to you can be found here.
As a result of this core commitment to cooperation, more than 98 percent of Southern Baptist churches that cooperate with the SBC also participate with a cooperating state Baptist convention and a local association or regional network of Southern Baptist churches. Each has its particular ministries, fellowship, and mission outreach, and there is a great deal of interaction between them and cooperation among them.
We understand that in rare instances, for some specific reason, a church may believe it is best to identify and work with the Southern Baptist Convention only, bypassing the state and/or the association. If your church votes to bypass participating with your state Baptist convention, the church will need to go through a credentialing process with the SBC Executive Committee’s Office of Convention Communications and Relations. This office will work with the church to guide it through the steps to become identified as a cooperating Southern Baptist church.
The Convention does not assess “dues”; nor does it set minimum contributions to participate with the Convention. However, a church must make financial contributions to Convention work each year to participate fully in Convention life and seat messengers at the annual meeting. Truly cooperating churches typically make regular contributions (usually monthly) to Convention work from the church’s general operating budget of tithes and offerings (as opposed to designated gifts from individual members). Since 1925, these regular gifts have been known as the Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists or, more simply, Cooperative Program (CP).
From 1845 to 1925, the SBC and state Baptist conventions, some of which predate the SBC, conducted their own fund-raising activities, often appealing to the same groups of churches to provide financial support for often duplicating and overlapping sets of ministries. In 1925, Southern Baptists adopted a plan to streamline their fund-raising costs. They created a mechanism by which cooperating churches can contribute to the ministries of both the SBC and their state Baptist convention through submission of a single check each week or each month. For more than ninety years, the Cooperative Program has provided a reliable stream of income for state Baptist convention ministries and SBC ministries.
A unifying mark of Southern Baptists is our shared belief that the CP is the most efficient and effective funding method for accomplishing the Great Commission. In 2010, the Convention reaffirmed this core commitment when it adopted the Great Commission Task Force report. The report stated, in part, that we “continue to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach.” It also affirmed that “designated gifts to special causes are to be given as a supplement to the Cooperative Program and not as a substitute for Cooperative Program giving.”
There is a synergy created when thousands of churches pool their collective resources to do Great Commission work together. Southern Baptist churches use the Cooperative Program, our unified budget, to maximize this synergy. At the national level, these combined gifts are distributed through the CP Allocation Budget to five ministry initiatives—overseas missions, North American evangelism and church planting, ministerial education and training, moral advocacy, and managing the day-to-day operations of the Convention—to touch and reach the world with the Gospel. Two other ministry initiatives—Christian publishing and retirement and benefit services—are financially independent and are not funded through CP contributions.
The Cooperative Program is primarily administered through the state Baptist conventions. Most churches give budgeted monthly contributions, representing a percentage of their undesignated receipts, to their state Baptist convention. Cooperative Program gifts from fully supportive churches typically run in the 7 percent to 12 percent range of their church’s undesignated receipts, although some churches give as much as 15, 18, even 20 percent through the Cooperative Program. The state convention then forwards a portion of those CP receipts on to the national SBC.
What your church chooses to do in this regard is, of course, in its own hands, for each church is fully autonomous in all matters, including its giving.
The Southern Baptist Convention meets once each year in June to celebrate what God is doing through our combined ministry efforts and to deliberate on our direction for the future. The annual meeting combines the elements of an old-fashioned revival meeting with an open-microphone business meeting. Each annual meeting typically includes the following elements:
Proceedings of the current and previous SBC annual meetings may be accessed in the Southern Baptist Annuals.