Baptist Press reports today the official messenger counts for SBC 2011 in Phoenix. They are, pretty much, what was reported back during the actual event, but demographic breakdowns now appear with the numbers, giving age categorizations and state-by-state analysis of the attendance.
The state bringing the most messengers to Phoenix was Tennessee. Perhaps that puzzles you. Why would a state so far away from Phoenix be the state contributing the largest number of messengers to the meeting? Are Tennesseans just the most loyal, faithful, and trustworthy Southern Baptists?
Well, maybe they are, but a more likely explanation is the fact that the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, one office of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention are all headquartered in Tennessee. Tennessee accounted for a whopping 1 in 12 messengers in part because of the fact that a large number of employees from these entities—who are also mostly members from Nashville area churches—are required as a part of their jobs to come to the convention. The next three most represented states were Georgia (NAMB), Texas (SWBTS and Guidestone), and North Carolina (SEBTS). Together, these top four states represented 27% of the total messenger count.
Looking at these numbers gives me the opportunity to say something that I always said to my Baptist Heritage classes back when I was teaching. There are three categories of messengers present at each year's SBC Annual Meeting:
- Those whose job requires them to be there and pays for them to attend. Most of this category are the people who are employed by the denomination. Some number close to 100% of these people will be in attendance every year, many of them registered to vote.
- Those whose job, while it does not require them to be there, will pay for them to attend. That's me, partially (my church's SBC convention allowance is $500, which comes nowhere near paying for the full cost to attend). Mostly these are the full-time pastors (and their families) of larger SBC churches. A surprising number of these folks actually will not come to the convention, but this category will be amply represented at the meeting. This number will also include those who have been appointed to committees or who are otherwise serving the convention in such a manner that their expenses are being covered by the rest of us rather than by their home churches, and the preponderance of that subcategory will be in attendance.
- Those who have to pay out of their own pockets to attend. These are the majority of Southern Baptists and they represent an enormous number of Southern Baptist churches too small and too poor (or too penny-wise and pound-foolish) to pay for their pastor to attend. A very small percentage of these folks will attend, and they ought to receive a standing ovation at every year's convention. They love the SBC.
This is why we all ought to make every effort to attend SBC meetings when we can. When numbers dip, they disproportionately come out of categories two and three. The denominational employees of the SBC are fine, wonderful people. An enormous quantity of them were once exactly what you and I are now—faithful members and pastors of SBC churches who love the convention and served it well even before being hired by the SBC. But no matter how noble our denominational employees are, it is a mistake if we ever get to the point where the opinion of the denominational employees is the determining factor choosing the future of our convention. That's not our polity; that's Roman Catholic polity.
The harder it is for you to attend the SBC Annual Meetings, the more you ought to try to go and be a voice for the people like you who can't go every year.