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What is the Southern Baptist Convention?

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

SBC 2021 in Review: Part 2

What is the Southern Baptist Convention?

What is the Southern Baptist Convention?

In one sense, the Southern Baptist Convention consists of churches that have partnered together under a shared statement of faith (our most up-to-date statement is The Baptist Faith and Message 2000) in order to accomplish some shared goals. Through this partnership, Southern Baptists do things like:

  • Worldwide gospel missions through the International Mission Board (IMB) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB),

  • Provide ethical and moral guidance to our local churches, as well as lobbying in Washington for Southern Baptist policy positions through the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

  • Provide top-level theological education at our 6 seminaries.

  • Provide ministry resources to churches through our publisher, Lifeway Christian Resources.

  • All of these are managed by the SBC Executive Committee. The EC, “handles the administration of fiduciary decisions and governance of assets on behalf of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

    • “A board of trustees governs every SBC board, institution, or commission.”

All of this is funded by something called The Cooperative Program. As individual churches contribute to the cooperative program, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention allocates these monies to the various convention entities listed above.

And there you have. The Southern Baptist Convention is a partnership of evangelical, gospel believing churches that love God, love the gospel, have a burden for missions, a shared conviction to preach and teach the Bible, and to proclaim the name of Jesus far and wide. Here’s the Convention breakdown by the numbers (as of 2019)...

  • Number of Cooperating Churches: 47,530

  • Total Membership: 14,525, 579

  • Average weekly Worship attendance: 5, 250,230

  • Cooperating State Conventions: 41

  • Cooperating Local Associations: 1,116

  • Total International Missionaries: 3,604

  • Total North American Missionaries: 3,057

  • Total Enrollment at 6 Seminaries: 23,818

What is the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention?

Technically speaking, the Southern Baptist Convention only exists for the 2 days a year in which it calls itself into order to conduct business. The meeting is held every year barring exceptional circumstances like Covid-19. The SBC Constitution states, “The convention shall hold its meeting annually at such time and place as it may choose.” During the other 363 days of the year, the convention entrusts itself to the leadership and watchcare of executive committees and trustee boards.

The annual convention meeting is a jam-packed 2 day event, usually occurring the 2nd or 3rd week of June each year, during which various presentations are made, missionaries are commissioned, reports are given, sermons are preached, songs are sung, resolutions are offered, motions are made, and elections are decided. It can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers.

  • The main sessions usually run from 8am-12pm, and 2pm-7pm on Tuesday, with a similar schedule Wednesday. The SBC presides over the convention with the help of his parliamentarians (the guys who know all the bylaws and protocols by heart).

  • Alongside these main sessions, there are numerous smaller meetings, venders and bookstores, and countless personal meetings occurring...all at the same time.

The purpose of the convention meeting is for the deliberating of various issues, many of which are carryovers from the previous year’s meeting, and from resolutions submitted ahead of the meeting and for setting the course for the upcoming year. According to official Southern Baptist documentation, the agenda for the meeting, “must include certain elements that strike a balance of inspiration and motivation to Southern Baptists with accountability and the opportunity for democratic process: a Convention sermon, the President’s message, Committee reports, resolutions, and the introduction of motions.”

All of this takes place among the messengers to the convention. Messengers make up the deliberative body of the convention and are members of cooperating Southern Baptist Churches. The title “Messenger” stretches back to the 1700’s and carries the idea that those who attend the convention meeting speak at the convention for their individual churches, and after the convention is over, will carry news of the convention back to their churches.

During the meeting, Messengers can participate through 3 major activities:

  • Voting: During the Convention meeting, Messengers are called upon to vote on a variety of issues.

    • Typically, the first vote is for the approval of the “order of business.” There is a “Committee on the Order of Business,” and they present a suggested order of how the meeting should unfold over its two days; but that schedule is not formalized until the messengers vote to approve it. Then the Convention gets underway.

    • Other votes include the election of officers (President, 1st Vice-President, 2nd Vice-President, Recording Secretary, and Registration Secretary), the approval of Resolutions, trustee board recommendations, and budget allocations. All of this information (minus resolutions) is published ahead of time in the Annual Book of Reports.

      • A motion was made at the 2021 convention to publish proposed resolutions ahead of the convention for consideration.

  • Being that the Convention is a meeting for the Messengers, anything can be introduced from the floor and decided upon.

  • Motions: “A motion is a formal proposal by a member, in a meeting, that the assembly take certain action.” A motion will typically direct the convention, in some manner, to take some form of action (formation of a study group, investigation, etc.) and report back at the next year’s meeting.

  • For example, this year, a Messenger from Tennessee presented “a motion to ask for an investigation of the Executive Committee.” The motion was put before the Messengers, and it was approved. A report of the findings will be delivered at the 2022 convention.

  • Resolutions: These are a specific type of motion presented as a formal statement (Resolutions have the “Whereas” and “Be it there Resolved” type of language). Resolutions, unlike motions, do not call action. Resolutions are put to a vote, and if adopted, serve as an official statement of that particular convention meeting. Messengers wishing to offer a resolution must submit it to the Committee on Resolutions a minimum of 15 days in advance of the meeting.

  • Resolutions are not binding on the Convention, any Association, or any local Church. They are merely official statements of the messengers of a particular convention, but resolutions can, and often do, have a lasting impact.

  • A few of the resolutions offered at this year’s meeting addressed: 1) Baptist Unity and Public Witness; 2) Race and Racial Reconciliation; 3) Condemnation of the repeal of the Hyde Amendment; 4) A condemnation of the Equality Act; and 5) A condemnation of China’s practice of Genocide against the Uyghur people. You can find this year’s, and previous years resolutions here.

At the end of the meeting on Wednesday evening, there is an official/ceremonial handoff to the next year’s meeting location.

  • 2022: Anaheim, California

  • 2023: Charlotte, North Carolina

  • 2024: Orlando, FL (?)

Up next: Part 3, Presidential Uncertainty. Stay tuned...

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