2023 Southern Baptist Convention: A Preview
In just a few weeks, the Southern Baptist Convention will gavel itself into session in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a reminder, the Convention only exists for those 2 days every year when it orders itself into session. Its business is handled and overseen by various entities the other 363 days of the year.
As we approach New Orleans, there is a lot to celebrate and be excited for, and there are some issues of concern that should have our attention and prayer.
The 2023 Book of Reports has been released, and here are some highlights and things to be watching for as the Convention nears…
The Book of Reports notes a number of exciting facts for which Southern Baptists should celebrate and give thanks. Here are a few highlights:
1 - 2022 Giving was strong.
Total giving across the Convention was nearly $10 billion dollars, with $457,417,314.00 going to the Cooperative Program.
As compared to last year, total giving increased by 1.92%.
-As part of the $10 Billion given by Southern Baptists, a significant portion of that went to SBC Mission endeavors.
There was a significant increase in Lottie Moon giving, totaling $137,346,386.00 (an 11.4% increase over last year).
The Annie Armstrong Offering saw a slight 1.23% increase for a total of $59,907,119.00.
2 - Membership Statistics
-At present, the Southern Baptist Convention reports 47,198 member Churches.
While there was a slight decline in number of member Churches (-416 congregations), there was a net increase in weekly Church attendance.
Attendance increased by 5.46% with the weekly average being 3,804,490.
There was also a 4.16% increase in small group attendance across the Convention.
Baptisms also increased with a total of 180,177 ( 16.47% increase).
3 - Strong Activity Across the Convention
The 2023 Book of Reports shows strong activity across the various entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Guidestone is seeing strong numbers with Insurance, Retirement, Investing, and with Mission Dignity (a program that supports aging pastors and pastor’s wives in need).
Our Seminaries continue to see record enrollment in a time when many seminaries are in decline. Several of our schools continue to rank among the largest in the world.
The ERLC is strongly standing for SBC interests in Washington, and doing solid work in coming alongside SBC churches, equipping the churches to understand and think through the issues of our day. Recently, Brent Leatherwood was installed as the new ERLC President.
4 - National and International Mission Work
Missions is the heartbeat of the Southern Baptist Convention. In years past, where our differences have divided us, our shared commitment to get the gospel of Jesus to the nations has kept us together. That commitment remains strong, even in the face of challenges.
The International Mission Board reports 3,500 career missionaries on the field as of right now.
Here are some of the numbers that the IMB saw last year:
592,408 gospel conversations.
174,242 new believers.
22,744 new churches.
217,564 people meeting in ongoing Bible studies.
73,739 people being intentionally mentored by IMB missionaries.
29,632 men received pastoral training.
67,187 people received training in theological education.
-The North American Mission Board has continued its strong work across the nation.
Thousands of SBC Churches received NAMB Evangelism training.
1800 Pastors and their wives attended NAMB Refresh Conferences.
917 new SBC congregations were added including 639 Church plants, and 106 replants.
SEND Relief, in partnership with the IMB, ministered to those hit by Hurricane Ian in Florida, as well as ongoing efforts to serve and minister to the Ukrainian people.
There is so much good going on across the Convention. Even with all of its struggles and warts, its an exciting time to be part of the Southern Baptist Convention!
Things to Watch and Pray Over:
1 - Churches Disfellowshipped.
The Southern Baptist Convention is a group of cooperating autonomous Churches that associate on the basis of our Statement of Faith, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (adopted at the 143rd Session in Orlando, Fl). The Convention itself holds no authority over its Churches, but can act to remove churches who are deemed unfriendly concerning the fundamental commitments of the BF&M 2000.
The Baptist Press reports, “Messengers…voted to amend the SBC’s bylaws to repurpose the SBC’s Credentials Committee into a standing committee to make inquiries and recommendations for action regarding instances of sexual abuse, racism or other issues that call a church’s relationship with the SBC into question.”
The 2023 Book of Reports notes that 8 churches are being brought to the 2023 Convention for disfellowshipping over the issues of Women in Pastoral Roles, affirmation of LGBTQ behaviors, or failure to properly deal with abuse.
Baptist Press reports that at least 3 of these churches will be present at the Convention to protest the move (which is their right under SBC bylaws). Among those protesting is Saddleback Church, and Rick Warren.
Given his performance at last year’s meeting, and his jaw-dropping interview on the Russell Moore podcast, it will be anyone’s guess as to how the appeal unfolds.
The reality is that Warren and Saddleback have abandoned the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and are no longer in friendly cooperation with the SBC. Disfellowashipping was the right move, and their protest is unfounded and smacks of pride.
Furthermore, based on Warren’s comments on Moore’s podcast, he has personally departed from sound doctrine, biblical interpretation, and application.
For more on Saddleback and Warren, read here…
2 - Presidential Election.
For the first time since 2011, a sitting SBC President is going to be challenged in the election. Bart Barber was elected last year in Anaheim, and he has spent this year leading well, bringing healing, and strengthening the reputation of the SBC in the eyes of the world. Barber has been a breath of fresh air. He pastors First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Tx; a normative SBC Church.
Barber has also taken a strong stance against the abuse uncovered in the Guidepost Solutions report, leading the Convention to shine the light of righteousness on the issue. His leadership has been courageous, biblical, and convictional.
When Johnny Hunt attempted to make his way back into Convention life, Barber strongly opposed the move saying that, if he could, he would “defrock Hunt.” It was the right move and sent a strong message to abuse victims across the convention.
Mike Stone has announced that he will let his name be submitted for the Presidency saying, ““In this critical hour, we need leaders who will guide us to care well for victims while at the same time embracing scriptural principles of due process in the handling and publishing of accusations [of sexual abuse]...”
While the statement itself is true, it comes as an inaccurate slight against Barber. Barber has fulfilled this need and more. So, it is hypocritical and insulting for Stone to insinuate otherwise.
Stone ran for the Presidency previously in 2021, losing in a runoff to Ed Litton.
3 - Doctrinal Commitments and The Role of Women in Ministry.
This issue came to the floor at the 2022 Convention, and its arrival was precipitated by several factors (Warren and Saddleback being a big one). As a reminder, I wrote a good bit about what unfolded in Anaheim here, and I would suggest you go back and check it out.
The issue will resurface in New Orleans, and the conversation has been lively already. The Convention has to clarify its position, and we must do so with biblical conviction, biblical clarity, and unity of voice.
As a reminder, here are Dr. Mohler’s clear words on this issue…
4 - DOJ Investigation.
I wrote about this when it was announced, and there has been very little chatter about it since that time. The Book of Reports notes that the investigation began, but sheds no further light on the issue. Something to watch.
This year’s Southern Baptist Convention is shaping up to be Consequential in many ways. Lots to give thanks for, and lots to pray for!
I’ll report back after the Convention takes place.