May 1999 Issue
The Baptist 75 Million Campaign
by Nate Adams
While the Cooperative Program is now well-known and well-established
among Southern Baptist churches, there was a day when cooperative giving
was a bold, new idea.
From 1919 to 1924, Southern Baptists participated in an unprecedented
giving campaign that became the foundation for today's ongoing Cooperative
Program. Prior to that time, special fund drives were common twice a year,
one for Southern Baptist Convention causes and the other for needs in the
But by 1918, the pressing physical and spiritual needs of post-World
War I Europe, as well as other missions, education, and benevolence causes
led the Convention to look for new models of cooperative funding. In the
face of worsening financial difficulties, SBC President J.B. Gambrell challenged
Southern Baptists at the 1919 Convention "to adopt a program of work
commensurate with reasonable demands upon us." (SBC Annual,
1919). The 4,200 messengers voted, without dissent, the undertaking of the
Baptist 75 Million Campaign, where members in every church were asked to
sign pledge cards and give over a five-year period.
Leaders such as George W. Truett, pastor of FBC Dallas and L.R. Scarborough,
president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary played key roles.
WMU accepted $15 million as its campaign quota, and appointed Mrs. W.J.
Neel of Georgia as its campaign director. The eighteen State Conventions
each accepted goals ranging from $250,000 in New Mexico to $16,000,000 in
Texas. When the pledges were totaled, an amazing $92,630,923 had been committed.
Due to economic problems (cotton dropped from 40 cents a pound to 10
cents a pound) and controversies, actual receipts from the campaign totaled
only $58,591,713. But that amount given over a five-year period represented
between 80 percent and 90 percent as much as Baptists had given in their
first seventy-four years of existence since 1845! In addition, October services
for "calling out the called" resulted in more than 20,000 volunteers
for ministry and mission service. About 3,000 new churches were organized,
and eight new foreign mission fields were entered.
Because Southern Baptist agencies had begun planning and spending according
to the amount pledged in the campaign rather than actual receipts, leaders
were soon forced to consider a successor plan to the Baptist 75 Million
Campaign. They had reason to do so with optimism. The unprecedented cooperative
giving from 1919 to 1924 had raised the sights of Southern Baptists, giving
them a vision of what autonomous churches could do together for the cause
of Christ. They had experienced the spiritual blessing that sacrificial
giving brings and developed a pattern for ongoing cooperation.
When Southern Baptists met in Memphis in 1925 and formally began the
Cooperative Program, it was in effect a way of continuing the ongoing benefits
they had experienced during the Baptist 75 Million Campaign.
A Year of Celebration
Next year, Southern Baptists will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the
Cooperative Program focusing on the theme Partners in the Harvest.
The Cooperative Program's official birthday day was May 13, 1925.
Begin plans to involve your congregation in the Cooperative Program year
2000 celebration. Together we will rejoice over God's blessings in the past
and accept His challenge for the future.
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