With 52 Sundays, the Cooperative Program becomes personal

by Emily Rojas, BSCNC Communications
Tuesday, December 13, 2016 | 346 days old

The Cooperative Program (CP) can sometimes seem impersonal, Mike Creswell says. So in 2010, when he created a resource that made the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) main budgeting program seem more approachable to congregations, the idea took off.

Creswell, the Cooperative Program consultant at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (convention), created the “52 Sundays” resource to be primarily used to introduce North Carolina Baptist congregations to the missionaries they support through their Cooperative Program giving.

Originally, this resource was a printed booklet with weekly devotions and missionary spotlights. Missionaries from the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) were among those featured, and congregations could pray for a different missionary every week. For the first time, congregants were able to consistently associate a name and face with their Cooperative Program giving. The CP had transformed into something more than just a budget — it became personal.

“This was a way to help churches to share with their people information and introduce them to the people that they’re supporting overseas so they can pray for them,” Creswell said. “It’s a very basic, basic thing.”

It wasn’t long, however, before other state conventions heard about 52 Sundays and wanted to be a part of it themselves. Virginia was the first state to adopt this resource, and soon, other states followed suit.

Quickly, the resource changed to adapt to the digital age. It became a PowerPoint and was sent out to churches as a DVD when more churches acquired overhead projectors for their services. Soon, Creswell said, 52 Sundays will be sent out in digital format.

The resource was also designed to be versatile — it can be used in a small group or Sunday School setting. 52 Sundays will be sent out to churches this month in time to be used in the new year, but the 2017 resource is also available for free download at ncbaptist.org/cpresources. 52 Sundays is also available on the same website in Spanish.

In 2015, this resource from North Carolina captured the attention of the Southern Baptist Stewardship Development Association (SDA), which comprises stewardship and Cooperative Program workers on the staffs of various Baptist state conventions. The group decided to produce the resource on a national level, making it available to all 42 state conventions in the United States.

In North Carolina alone, this resource has become wildly popular. Former convention president, Timmy Blair, uses it weekly at his church, Piney Grove Chapel Baptist Church. Frank Page, CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, has also spoken highly of 52 Sundays. “Presenting a balanced Acts 1:8 missional strategy in their church is a high priority on the list of every SBC pastor,” he said. With 52 Sundays, congregations gain a constant understanding of what it means to follow God’s lead and be obedient to His call to the mission field.

“With this resource, we are basically trying to bridge that gap of ‘We support thousands of missionaries, but who are they, where are they serving,’” Creswell said. “These are not just some anonymous people — these are our missionaries, we sent them overseas, and we need to support them with prayer and get people behind them financially.”

To Creswell, one of the great benefits of 52 Sundays is the fact that it helps churches to remember their Cooperative Program giving every Sunday. Today, he said, many people might not fully understand why they give to the Cooperative Program — some people might not even know exactly what the Cooperative Program is. When they see 52 Sundays at church, however, they are reminded that the Cooperative Program allows the featured missionaries and many others to follow God’s call to serve on the field.

About 41 percent of all North Carolina Cooperative Program giving goes to global SBC ministries. Of that amount, about 50 percent is allocated to the IMB, and about 23 percent is allocated to NAMB. Last year, a slump in Cooperative Program giving resulted in about 800 missionaries returning home from the field. To Creswell, this fact only underscores the importance of 52 Sundays and the need to use it to engage and educate congregations.

However, income within North Carolina Baptist churches is increasing, and things seem to be looking up for CP. This year, the Executive Committee of the board of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina approved a budget with a 3 percent increase over last year’s. In fact, this is the second year in a row that the committee has approved a budget increase.

This year’s budget also includes increased financial support to national and international missions through the SBC.

“The Cooperative Program is one of our hidden mysteries, so we need to get information into the hands of the churches,” Creswell said. “It’s basically the foundation of everything we do.”

Editor's note: If you or your church would like more information on 52 Sundays, please contact Mike Creswell at (800) 395-5102 ext. 5541 or at [email protected]. 52 Sundays is available for download at ncbaptist.org/cpresources.