This week my wife and I made our annual trek to the BGCT Annual meeting. Attending this meeting has been a professional and personal priorities for over two decades. I have traveled from one end of Texas to the end seeking to be a part of the work of the BGCT and to spend time with my friends.
Going back to Amarillo brought back a flood of personal memories for me. It was in Amarillo that I was narrowly defeated by Joy Fenner for the presidency of the convention. I can still close my eyes and see myself sitting on stage as a member of the Committee of Convention Business when the election totals were announced 840 votes for Lowrie, 900 votes for Fenner. Looking back even though I lost I realized I won. That election opened the door for me to get more involved in the life of the convention.
Sadly this week, the attendance at the convention was miserable. Only a little over 700 people voted in the presidential election, and at times the auditorium looked like a ghost town or a group of people who had just viewed the movie “Contagion” and did not want sit too close to someone because of fear of infection!
Marv Knox, the editor of the Baptist Standard made this observation:
The key relationship that must be repaired is the rift between the Baptist General Convention of Texas and its churches. This year, the vast majority of Texas Baptists voted, but not in Amarillo. They voted from home by not bothering to show up. Their no-show ballots indicated they don’t believe the BGCT matters to their churches. They voted to say it is irrelevant to their ministries and their lives. You may disagree, but perception represents powerful reality.
I have no doubt that there is truth to his observation, but the signs around us give off mixed signals. Right, wrong or indifferent, we must admit that the BGCT Annual meeting is still a glorified business meeting. If my local church begins to have huge crowds at the business meetings that probably means something is wrong or trouble is on the horizon.
Not to try to spin the numbers, but to make some observations I would like to speak to the issue of Annual meeting attendance.
1. I do believe there has been a disconnect with many of our churches, and also a disconnect between pastors. I suspect for many of us that did make the trek we did not so much travel to Amarillo for the business as important as it is, but for the fellowship. I must admit I had a great time, but I missed seeing many of my friends.
2. Cost: I believe many churches are struggling to make ends me and providing a stipend for the pastor and his wife to go to the convention probably does not rank up high on their priority list. Besides, I suspect many pastors decided to spend their “convention/conference” allowances on conferences like Catalyst, Willow Creek, Saddleback, Orange, One Day, etc…No longer do conventions hold the corner on the marketing on leadership training, in fact, I fear for many the convention’s perspective is very low on the list if not on the list to be avoided at all costs. Why learn from an organization that gives off the appearances of struggling or dying at worst.
3. Distance: In these tight economic times and $3 gas, it is harder and harder for the pastors and laypersons of our many, many small churches to keep driving to the parameters of Texas. I think it would be wise for the BGCT to consider keeping the annual meetings around the I35 corridor between Dallas and San Antonio where the travel distances would be minimized.
4. Cards vs Contacts: I suspect if we are serious about gathering a crowd again we will need to start making personal contacts. A drop in visit, a phone call, a personal letter with a hand written note or a text to a good friend will need to be used. In simple terms, our leaders and staff need to reach out and invited people to come back person to person. We need to tell our friends, we miss you. We want you back. We want your input. We NEED you. The BGCT has no shortage of slick advertisements. Maybe we need to be less “slick” and more “real and personal.” A “slick” ya’ll come is not going to cut it any more.
5. Communication: Almost in contradiction to my earlier statement, the BGCT leadership needs to get the word our far and wide, what is going to happen and be discussed, who is going to come and speak, and why should anyone take the time to come. The program this year was exceptional (a bit too long) but full of inspiration. If missed Bob Roberts presentation watch it on line. He hit a home run. However, who knew he was even going to be there. I am not sure how to solve this problem but it needs to be solved.
I must admit I was deeply disappointed at the turn out for this year’s meeting. I still deeply believe in the mission of the BGCT. I pray fresh winds will blow soon. I pray God will raise up a leader from among us to lead us boldly into tomorrow.