James Suggs gets it.
Suggs, 72, is the pastor of Cave Hill Baptist Church in Newport. He’s lived in Cocke County his entire life — Cocke County, total population of about 35,000. Suggs shares the story of when he was a young pastor in his early 20s and told some friends that his goal in life was to see a million souls saved.
“I knew to see that goal reached I was going to have to go way beyond Cocke County,” he said. “But I figure that by participating in the Cooperative Program I’ve been able to see at least that many saved in these 50 years.”
Brother Suggs, because of the faithful giving of the churches you’ve served, you’ve seen way beyond a million come to saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ through the diversity of ministries and missions those churches supported by Cooperative Program giving.
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But James Suggs isn’t Tennessee’s only Cooperative Program hero. There are countless Tennessee Baptists in churches of all shapes and sizes who sincerely believe that we truly can do more working together to advance the gospel than we can do apart. That isn’t some catchy slogan; it is a reality, and I’m thankful for men like Pastor Suggs who can give an eyewitness accounting to a half century of the truthfulness of that statement.
I’m also thankful for young men like James Griffith, 32, pastor of Dyllis Baptist Church, Harriman, who believe in the potential of the Cooperative Program. He was there at the Summit in Brentwood two years ago when Tennessee Baptists adopted the Five Objectives. He recalls being challenged by the God-sized goals before us, and immediately by Objective Four (“Realizing an increase in local church giving through the Cooperative Program that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024).
“That was one I felt we could do immediately,” he says. “It just hit me that we ask members of our churches to give 10 percent so why wouldn’t the church also give 10 percent? I believe in where we are heading as a state convention and I believe in missions. In the end it is all about making sure people hear the gospel, are saved, and that we see them become disciples.”
Dyllis jumped from 4 percent to 10 percent in its Cooperative Program giving in just a matter of months after that Summit. It was initially a shock, but now about 20 months later, Pastor Griffith reports that the church’s giving is up in every area: building fund, missions giving, budget, and more.
Every October we celebrate October as Cooperative Program month. Since its genesis in 1925, the Cooperative Program has been the financial backbone of Southern Baptists’ Great Commission efforts and it is as relevant today as when our predecessors launched it by faith. Its impact is profound.
Just in our state, Tennessee Baptists giving through the Cooperative Program have had a hand in planting a record number of churches or Bible study groups beyond church walls. Through the Cooperative Program, Tennessee Baptists are helping a record number of struggling churches successfully turn from dying to growing again. And I’m proud to say that because of the Cooperative Program, Tennessee Baptists are supporting Baptist Collegiate Ministries in the midst of more than 350,000 students on more than 20 university campuses. As a result of these ministries, more than 60 young adults have given their lives to Christ just since classes began this fall.
What’s more, it thrills my heart to report that Cooperative Program giving is up more than 3.6 percent over last year. This increase allows us to help more Tennessee churches successfully connect with their communities, see more people saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship, and send more money on for national and international missions efforts.
And while we celebrate one of our best years recently, we mustn’t lose sight of the task before us. Tennessee Baptists have a goal to see annual baptisms jump from 22,000 to 50,000 in the next eight years. That may sound impressive, but the reality is baptisms must increase to that level just to keep up with our state’s exploding population growth. Anything less and Tennessee migrates toward a greater level of spiritual lostness.
James Suggs gets it. So does James Griffith. Do you “get” it? Cooperative Program giving has a direct impact on our ability as Tennessee Baptists to reach our state and the nations for Christ. I strongly encourage you and your church to grab a handle of cooperation and give generously. I can honestly say, the eternities of millions of Tennesseans are dependent up on it.
It is a joy to be on this journey with you.