When the Baptist General Convention of Texas met in Fort Worth on November 10-11, 2008 only 1891 messengers were registered to be part of these historic days. Even though Fort Worth is linked into the I-35 corridor which houses much of the Texas population, we had less messengers made their way to “Cowtown” than travelled to Amarillo the year before. Many suggest these numbers reflect the apathy and demise of the convention. Others suggest that we must begin to embrace the digital age by moving to a webcast of the convention proceeding to satellite sites across the state so our messengers don’t have travel so far to have their voice heard.
Just for the sake of perspective we would be wise to remember that in Houston the Southern Baptist of Texas held their 10th annual meeting. According to published reports there were 1033 messengers at their historic gathering. So between the two Texas conventions there were 2924 messengers sent from Baptist churches. Between the years 1972-1979 the BGCT averaged 2501 messengers. During these “peace” years our attendance was less than the combined total of the two conventions this year. In other words maybe we are not at such historic lows as one might suggest. Besides I want to argue that messenger attendance may not be the best measure of the health and vitality of an organization to start with.
Take your local church as an example if you are having historic high attendance at your monthly, or quarterly business meetings I suspect someone is in trouble, or you are having a Blue Bell Ice Cream social right after the meeting. Few of us gage the health of our churches based on attendance at business meetings, so why would attendance at the Annual meeting be any different. Granted, I want to explore ways of getting more people involved, and I would like to see the attendance improve, but that in no way is this job one for any of us.
I do believe our format does limit the involvement of many of our faithful churches and leaders. When I was in the Minnesota/Wisconsin Baptist Convention we held our annual meetings on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Our convention was a convention of small churches. Most of our pastors were bi-vocational so we sought to make it possible for them to take a long weekend and join us for what was closer to a family reunion than a business meeting. Believe it or not, the BGCT is also a convention of small churches, granted we have a large number of flagship churches, but the vast majority of our churches average less than 100 in attendance and many of them less than 50. If we are serious about broadening the tent we may need to explore ways of making our annual meetings more accessible to these churches by exploring new days or even new times of the year.
Before we begin to panic about the slow demise of the BGCT let’s remember:
- We are now dealing with “two” Baptist families in Texas not one, so let’s compare apples to apples.
- We are moving into a time of “peace” and away from the struggles of the recent past.
- We are adapting to a “post-denominational” world on many fronts.
On the bright side the spirit of our convention is good. We have a huge Kingdom assignment to keep us business in Texas Hope 2010, and I am confident that fresh winds of change are in the air!