The smallest Southern Baptist Convention in 67 years may occasion a serious review of how we do business at every level. The 4,800-plus registered messengers could reflect distance and cost factors more than disdain for meetings. Yet, trends indicate a “voting with your feet” declaration. It seems that large annual meetings are no longer the preferred venue for the various dynamics of organizational life.
Now, people do attend meetings, conferences and seminars. Thousands attend high-octane events covering a long roster of practical and theological issues of interest to Christian leaders. Attendance at meetings tends to be proportional to the value attached by those on the invitation list. Attendees will travel the distance, put up the money, and endure some of the downsides if some benefit is perceived in the gathering. It is, however, understandable why so many churches don’t send messengers to an annual meeting in a faraway locale. We’re in an economic slump! Many can no longer justify the cost of such travel.
Of course, there’s the “we’ve always done it that way” thing, and lest we forget, the mandate of ruling documents, the constitution and by-laws that dictate corporate behaviors. They are firmly entrenched in our denominational culture and require a good bit of time and focus to change. So it may be that we experience the “death by meeting” pandemic that has infected much of corporate America. Pray not!
Some of these dynamics apply at the state level, but most do not. While attendance at our annual meeting has also reflected the national trend, it cannot be primarily due to cost or distance factors. No, most of us live within driving distance of just about any geographical area of our state, and the costs of such travel are not exorbitant if overnight accommodations are not required. What I’m hearing is that these kinds of meetings, once thought to be crucial to our partnership, are now lower on the priority list. Many of us take a pass because it is not seen as consequential.
Consequential may be a matter of perspective. My 61-plus years as a Baptist, and more than 50 years as a member of a South Carolina Baptist Convention church, raises the importance of an annual meeting on my personal agenda. The mission we share is significant, maybe more so in times like these. And what is more encouraging than re-connecting with our ministry friends and being refreshed by the evidences of how God is using us to influence our state?
This year, Order of Business Committee chairman Keith Shorter, committee members Gary Rodgers, Chadwick Ivester, Jason Lee, Furman Gatewood and Stephen Cannon, along with members of the SCBC staff, have been working on a meeting agenda with a greater inspiration factor and less business. Of course, certain business matters are essential, and we will conduct them in good order.
The centerpiece of this year’s meeting, Nov. 15-16, at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, will be the presentation of the South Carolina Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report. This will be the main proceeding of the Tuesday evening session. It has been scheduled at this time to encourage maximum participation from every level of Baptist life in South Carolina. This task force, chaired by Ralph Carter, is a representative cross section of our Baptist family. The report is exciting and may chart a new path for us in the years to come.
Please save the date and plan to attend every session of what I hope will be a thrilling time of mission, rather than “death by meeting”!