Gathering under the banner of “Unite,” messengers to the 197th annual meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention sang, prayed, conducted business, and fanned out across the city of Columbia for “One Day” — a missions and evangelistic effort.
The annual meeting took place Nov. 7-8 at Shandon Baptist Church.
Keith Shorter, SCBC president and pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Easley, opened the Tuesday morning session by encouraging Christ’s followers to unite as one “so that … a lost and divided world may believe that God sent [Jesus].”
“Serving is not easy or convenient,” Shorter said at the conclusion of the morning session. “But just ask the people you serve if it matters. Go love people like God loves them. You’re going to get your hands dirty, but you’re going to make a difference in somebody’s life.”
More than 400 messengers and other volunteers then exited the auditorium and filed out to the church’s parking lot, where they reconstituted in small groups around handheld blue signs designating their assignments.
After lunching on Chick-fil-A meals in the parking lot, the volunteers dispersed to 24 service sites, where they prayer-walked the South Carolina State House as well as multiple college campuses, handed out Bibles, visited patients at a V.A. hospital, distributed coats to the needy, led evangelistic block parties for children, and sang at a men’s prison, among other projects.
On Tuesday evening, volunteers returned to Shandon Church for an evening of worship and celebration. Shorter grew emotional while reporting that eight people (a number that grew to 11 by the next day) accepted Christ as part of the “One Day” event.
In all, 457 South Carolina Baptists participated. “Eleven people stepped over from death into life,” Shorter told messengers on Wednesday.
In addition to the “One Day” effort, messengers approved a $28 million Cooperative Program budget, adopted resolutions addressing cultural and societal issues, elected officers, and heard reports on Baptist work throughout the state.
Messengers adopted a Cooperative Program budget of $28 million, down $500,000 from last year’s spending plan.
Talmadge Tobias, chairman of the convention’s Budget, Finance & Audit Committee, told messengers that the last time the convention’s receipts exceeded budgeted needs was 2012. He said income has ranged from $27.3 million to $27.5 million over the last five years at a time when the SCBC annual budget was $28.5 million. “This is a more realistic budget,” he said.
Messengers adopted the 2018 budget without debate. Forty-one percent of projected receipts will be forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention; 4.5 percent will go directly to the International Mission Board; and 54.5 percent will remain in South Carolina to support SCBC Executive Board ministries and the convention’s seven institution ministry partners.
Messengers adopted a slate of resolutions, including expressing 1) approval for the work of South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers and staff members, 2) opposition to the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana, 3) commitment to repentance and fervent prayer for revival and spiritual awakening, 4) opposition to all expressions of hatred, and 5) appreciation to Shandon Baptist Church and those involved in planning the annual meeting. The full text of the resolutions is available at http://www.scbaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/resolutions.pdf.
Messengers elected officers on Wednesday morning during the final session of the annual meeting.
Each officer was elected by acclamation and without opposition. Officers began their terms of service at the conclusion of the meeting.
Marshall Blalock, pastor of Charleston First Baptist Church, who was chosen president-elect at last year’s meeting, will serve this year as SCBC president under the theme of “Building Bridges.”
Bryant Sims, pastor of First Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Greenwood, was named president-elect. He will assume the office of convention president at the conclusion of next year’s annual meeting.
Other newly elected officers for 2018 include: first vice president Mike Runion, pastor of City View First Baptist Church in Greenville; second vice president Josh McClendon, pastor of Philippi Baptist Church in Johnston; recording secretary Frances Miller, member of Hulon Baptist Church in Batesburg; and registration secretary David Dinkins, pastor of Center Baptist Church in Hemingway.
John Goudelock, chairman of the SCBC’s Executive Board, updated messengers on the status of the proposed sale of the convention’s White Oak Conference Center in Fairfield County. He reported that the Executive Board has signed an intent-to-sell contract with a group of investors seeking to purchase White Oak for $5.4 million for the purpose of establishing a charter school. The group has 24 months to secure funding through grants and other sources. Goudelock said the convention’s summer programs, including SummerSalt and KidsSalt, will be held at White Oak in 2018 without interruption.
Messengers heard first reading of a proposed bylaw change that would require all nominees for Executive Board membership or trusteeship of the convention’s seven institutions to “affirm [in writing] and reflect in practice” the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the mission and vision of the state convention, and “sacrificial support” for Great Commission Giving, including the Cooperative Program. Second reading of the proposed change and a vote would come at next year’s annual meeting.
The convention’s Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee presented awards to Spartanburg First Baptist Church, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division chief Mark Keel, and former SCBC director of public policy Mark Hendrick.
Messengers heard detailed reports from SCBC executive director-treasurer Gary Hollingsworth and convention staff as well as reports from leaders of the seven SCBC-affiliated institutions.
On Tuesday night of the annual meeting, Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, delivered the keynote address. “Living on mission is about gospel conversations,” Ezell told messengers in a sermon based on the parable of the sower in Mark 4. “The seed is God’s word — the gospel we are to share,” he said. “Sharing the gospel is not always convenient, but we must always be obedient.”
The messenger count for this year’s annual meeting was 611, down from last year’s 756. Messengers represented 311 of the SCBC’s more than 2,100 churches.
The attendance continues a downward trend, with 2017 being the lowest-attended meeting since 1944. The number of registered messengers was consistently above 1,000 until 2013, when 888 people were registered. In 2014, 942 messengers were present, and in 2015 attendance trended slightly upward, with 965.
Next year’s annual meeting will be held Nov. 13-14 at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, a historically African-American fellowship.