With 14½ million members, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest non-Catholic denomination in the United States. There are congregations of every size and ethnicity scattered throughout each state in the Union.
What is it that binds so many Southern Baptists together?
Part of the answer is that we all love Christ and share a common faith and practice. Yet, practically the answer is the Cooperative Program, the means the Southern Baptist Convention uses to collect and distribute undesignated gifts for ministry. This enables 47,500 Southern Baptist churches to work together to fund hundreds of missionaries and ministries.
The Cooperative Program was officially adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention at its 1925 annual meeting in Memphis, Tenn.
Because M.E. Dodd was chairman of the Future Program Commission, which recommended the Cooperative Program, he is often given credit for its origin. This special 30-member committee also included O.E. Bryan, the executive director (then called corresponding secretary) of the Tennessee Bap- tist Convention. Shortly after arriving in 1924, he led the Volunteer State to embrace the Cooperative Program. Because of these achievements, O.E. Bryan is sometimes referred to as the “Father of the Cooperative Program.”
However, when one digs a little deeper, you find Kentucky led the way.
In 1900, H. Boyce Taylor, pastor of First Baptist Church of Murray, directed his congregation to implement “the box planning of giving.” Wooden offering boxes were placed at each door. All the money collected would be divided up for ministry according to the budget the church had voted on. Before this, the church received a special offering when giving to any missionary endeavor, often in response to a missionary speaker. By changing to a budget plan, the church would not neglect any aspect of missions nor would there be competition between the various aspects of missions.
At the 1913 annual meeting of the General Association of Kentucky Baptist Churches, Taylor was named chairman of a committee of five whose job was to look at unifying denominational missions giving. For the next two years, Taylor and F.D. Perkins, a layman from Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville, toured the state, challenging Kentucky Baptists to adopt the budget or “unification plan.”
At the 1915 annual meeting, Taylor read the report of the Committee on Unification which proposed, “That we adopt the budget plan for the collection of funds for the support of all objects under the control and direction of the Gener- al Association, including foreign missions, home missions, state missions and other denominational interests fostered by Kentucky Baptists.” It passed by a rising vote of the messengers.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note the connections between Taylor and M.E. Dodd and O.E. Bryan. While pastoring First Baptist churches of Fulton and Paducah (1903-1911), Dodd regularly preached for Taylor in his annual Bible Institutes at First Baptist Church of Murray. Likewise, Bryan preached for Taylor in four of his five Bible Institutes from 1917-1921. These men undoubtedly learned of the idea and advantages of the budget plan of giving from their conversations with H. Boyce Taylor.
At the 1979 annual meeting of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, LaVerne Butler made a motion that the KBC form a committee to “explore the possibility of placing an appropriate marker on the property of First Baptist Church as the birthplace of the Cooperative Program.” His motion was strongly supported by the then-FBC Murray Pastor Bill Whittaker.
A committee was formed of Butler, Wendell H. Rone and A.B. Colvin. After further research, KBC voted overwhelmingly in 1981 to place a Kentucky historical marker celebrating the origins of the Cooperative Program in Kentucky at First Baptist Church of Murray.
It was unveiled on July 28, 1985, and remains there to this day. There it stands as a reminder to Kentucky Baptists of the importance of working together. Through the ministry of the Cooperative Program, one sows and another reaps, but we all “rejoice together” (John 4:36).
Ben Stratton is pastor of Farmington Baptist Church in Graves County and a historian with the J.H. Spencer Historical Society.