In just under two months, thousands of Southern Baptists will gather in Birmingham for the annual meeting. Over the course of two days, we will conduct business as a denomination. For many, the prospect of attending a denominational business meeting sounds akin to experiencing a colonoscopy.
During the Conservative Resurgence, tens of thousands attended the Convention each year because the theological soul of the denomination hung in the balance. Recent years have brought much lower crowds, though last year’s attendance was much higher than the previous year. Last summer, there were 9,632 messengers sent to represent SBC churches at the convention, and there are over 47,000 cooperating churches within our denomination. Even if the 9,600 messengers represented 9,600 churches (but they didn’t), that still means only about 20% of Southern Baptist churches were represented in Dallas. With the lack of serious theological controversy, many Southern Baptist churches do not see the need to send messengers each year.
I get the sentiment. Sending messengers requires a financial commitment, and it requires attendees to take time away from work. Even though I don’t want to dismiss those concerns, I want to give you a few reasons why you and your church should try to send messengers every year to the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and according to the latest financial information I could find, roughly $462 million was given in 2017 by SBC churches to the Cooperative Program. That is a massive amount of money, so we should play an active role in making sure the resources are being used in a manner that is above reproach, as well as advancing the vision and mission of our denomination. Sending messengers to the SBC allows a church to have that voice.
Besides the financial aspect, the sheer size of the Southern Baptist Convention means that any decision brings national coverage, whether it’s a statement on race or sexual abuse or religious liberty. Even though a motion passed at the national level will not necessarily have massive effects on the local church level, it will affect the way secular culture views our churches. I believe it’s important for churches to send messengers so that we can decide together, not only what topics are worth speaking to, but also what should be said about those issues.
One interesting aspect of the convention is that every entity leader must give a report on their entity, such as Southeastern Seminary or the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and then there is a time of taking questions from the floor. Besides the sometimes cringe-worthy questions that are asked, this actually provides an opportunity for leaders to stand accountable before church messengers, whether they’re from a megachurch in Dallas or a fifty-person church in the backwoods of Kentucky.
With the abundant resources that our denomination has, churches should feel a responsibility not only to safeguard the use of those resources, but also to proactively use them for the expansion of Christ’s kingdom.
Even though the convention always promises to produce some eye-rolling moments, there are also encouraging moments that you shouldn’t miss. One example is the International Mission Board’s commissioning service, where a group of prospective missionaries is presented, prayed for, and commissioned to join the ranks of our almost 3,700 missionaries who are faithfully serving around the world. Amidst the various business items that are debated and voted on, this commissioning service brings us back to our core, to the missional zeal that drives our denomination.
Likewise, I am encouraged by the increasing diversity that is on display at the convention. For so long, it felt like the convention messengers were comprised of older, white people. To be sure, our denomination is still demographically dominated by white people, but things are changing in that regard. Convention attendees will not only notice a shift in racial and ethnic demographics but also generationally. I was struck last year in Dallas by the number of younger messengers present. Both of these shifts are vital for the future health of our denomination.
How Many Messengers Can You Send?
You should send messengers to this year’s annual meeting and to future conventions. If you’re interested, you may be wondering how many messengers can each church send. This was actually changed in recent years, and as a pastor of a small church, I am thankful for the change. It allows us to bring as many, if not more, messengers than some megachurches who are present.
Section III of the SBC By-laws explains how many messengers your church can send:
2. Under the terms above, the Convention will recognize to participate in its annual meeting two (2) messengers from each cooperating church, and such additional messengers as are permitted below.
3. The Convention will recognize additional messengers from a cooperating church under one of the options described below. Whichever method allows the church the greater number of messengers shall apply:
(1) One additional messenger for each full percent of the church’s undesignated receipts which the church contributed during the fiscal year preceding through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity; or
(2) One additional messenger for each $6,000 which the church contributed during the fiscal year preceding through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity.
4. The messengers shall be appointed and certified by their church to the Convention, but the Convention will not recognize more than twelve (12) from any cooperating church.
To summarize, every church can bring at least two messengers, but you can bring more according to how much your church gives towards the Cooperative Program or SBC entities, which would include your Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offering. This approach rewards those who invest in the Cooperative Program, which is the means by which virtually all of the Southern Baptist entities are funded.
So, that’s why you should make every effort to make it to Birmingham this summer. You can register messengers for the convention by following this link. If you’re planning on making it, let me know. I would love to hang out while we are there. In the next few weeks, I will publish an article that highlights some of the luncheons and additional events that will be taking place during the annual meeting.