By now, the events of the SBC are history, and the blogs have been busy analyzing it all. There are a few things about this year’s meeting that are worthy of noting.
Frank Page’s Appointments
According to a Baptist Press report, more than 90% of Frank Page’s appointments have not previously served on an SBC committee or board. That’s a record that has not been achieved in who knows how long? That, along with his very fair and gentle leadership of the convention meetings, will be his legacy. It is, in my opinion, a major accomplishment and one that will hopefully set a precedent for all future SBC presidents. In a denomination of at least 6 million people in the pews, in 45,000 churches, there is no reason that anyone should serve in more than one capacity for a lifetime.
There are also far too many names of individuals who work for SBC agencies and entities, particularly in executive positions, that find themselves on boards and committees and while that may not be a direct conflict of interest, it prevents good men and women from serving the denomination. When people are involved at the denominational level, they become a channel of information and support back to their own congregation. The more churches there are who have people serving on SBC boards, the more informed church members we have.
The narrowness of board and committee appointments should be limited by bylaw. A motion was made attempting to amend bylaws to prevent agency and entity executives from holding an elected SBC office. I think a motion also needs to be made to 1) limit the number of members of any individual church from serving on boards or committees to one member at a time. 2) No husband-wife tag teams. Once a spouse has served, the other one is ineligible. 3) No individual may serve more than two terms on any committee. Once you have served, move on so someone else can serve. President Page has set the precedent, and I hope others will follow.
The SBC flirted briefly, and indirectly, with the fact that the digest of letters reports 16 million members with only 6 million actually attending church. There wasn’t really direct mention of the loss in total membership reported this past year, but there were at least two points made that indicate the leadership is aware of the problem and is resorting to the very typical response of coming up with a denominational emphasis and program to deal with it.
I was a little surprised when Bill Gaither took about ten minutes of the executive committee report to talk about the new financial planning program, “It’s a New Day” that the committee is pushing. With statistics showing that half of the membership of SBC churches is past 60, and aging rapidly, the “giving generation” is about to die off, and in the next twenty years or so, some predict that as much as 60% of church income could evaporate with them. Younger people tend to give less, mainly because they are facing the big, yet to come expenditures(kid’s college tuition, daughter’s wedding, etc.) , and because many of them don’t manage their money well. So, we have a money management emphasis, complete with a testimony from a pastor who used it and managed to get his church to increase their giving by about $800 per week.
The “Great Commission Resurgence” is a renewed emphasis on evangelism. David Dockery did a good job of challenging the convention to make evangelism a much higher priority that it already is, and this denominational emphasis is supposed to encourage churches to do just that. I didn’t see that there were many details included as to exactly how to go about this, and I agree that we need a renewed emphasis on evangelism, but we also need a Holy Spirit poured-out revival to go along with it. And a lot of churches aren’t struggling with the will to be evangelistic, they are struggling with ways to put their enthusiasm to work in a relevant way, to touch a culture with which they are essentially out of touch. A denominational program won’t fix things.
Southern Baptists aren’t good at dealing with decline. We’ve placed a lot of credibility in growth, and have believed that growth, even though it has come in the tiniest of percentages, and there have been warning signs of the decline to come for quite some time, is an endorsement of the correctness of our “theology.” Other mainline denominations have declined, we’ve reasoned, because they have become unfocused on the message of scripture and liberal in their approach to doing church. In this particular convention, though, I didn’t see much more than “business as usual.” Essentially, at this point, we are going to deal with a serious drop in baptisms, a lost in membership, and the aging of our churches by a couple of denominational emphases. I’m not sure that an appeal to a renewed emphasis on evangelim is going to be enough this time around.