Another Annual SBC

Posted on June 17, 2013 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Down Home in Mississippi

Non-Southern Baptists have trouble understanding that the Southern Baptist Convention only exists once a year when messengers representing member churches gather for its annual meeting. Boards and various entities carry on the work of what more than 45,000 rather independent and autonomous churches do together cooperatively. Another annual meeting has come and gone, this year in Houston, Texas, with attendance in radical decline.

SBC2013-IMBboothBarely 5,000 messengers registered this year, a few more than the lowest attendance in modern times in Phoenix in 2011. That’s doesn’t even measure up to attendance at a single mega-church on any given Sunday morning and represents less than 5% of member churches. Though benign business went on as usual and administrators of various agencies droned through their obligatory reports, inspirational music and spirited sermons made attendance worthwhile.

What the annual convention is really all about is cruising the corridors and hanging out in the exhibit hall connecting with old friends and catching up on the news of changing pastorates. We spent a lot of time at the bedouin tent featured at the International Mission Board booth visiting with former staff colleagues, missionaries and familiar church partners. It was encouraging to see the interest and large attendance at the IMB breakfast as Tom Elliff challenged pastors to lead their churches to embrace the unreached peoples of the world.

SBC2013-groupSBC President, Fred Luter, did a stellar job presiding over the convention sessions, for those who dropped in on the program, but it seemed the primary interest was generated by subsidiary meetings such as the 9 Marks gathering and Baptist 21 luncheon, breakout sessions for the growing numbers embracing reform theology and young leaders emerging in the 21st century respectfully. The highly anticipated report of an ad hoc task group studying the growing controversy between calvinist and non-calvinist was presented without discussion since there were no official proposals. Its recommendations to get along and practice mutual respect will likely be ignored as adherents to both positions represent rather strong emotional convictions.

SBC2013-friendsAs with all conventions, the fun and memories are social occasions with friends, which included indulging in Tex-Mex and Texas BBQ. Bobbye and I enjoyed dinner with staff from World Hope Ministries International–Stuart and Amy Sheehan and Craig and Julie Kendricks. I am blessed to serve this ministry in an advisory capacity as they provide a program of theological education in third-world countries around the world. Pastors are provided an opportunity to teach one-week courses to pastors and church planters who would otherwise be deprived of training. Go to to explore this unique mission opportunity.

So, whence goes the Southern Baptist Convention? Is it time to retrench and realize the irrelevance of an annual gathering? Millions of dollars for missions could be saved by going to a biennial or triennial meeting. Is there a way to gather in regional locations by simulcast that would make participation more feasible for smaller churches and those not able to bear the expense of cross-country travel? A way must be found to give churches more of a sense of ownership lest declining Cooperative Program receipts create a more severe crisis for seminaries and mission boards.

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