Attendance at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)
annual meeting June 14-15 slumped below 5,000 for several reasons, registration
Just before registration closed June 15, there were 4,814
registered messengers from the nation’s 45,000 Southern Baptist churches.
Official numbers will not be released until later this month.
In 2003, the last time Southern Baptists gathered in
Phoenix, there were 7,077 registered.
The count is 43 percent of the 2010 numbers in Orlando, a
dip Registration Secretary Jim Wells, who was unable to attend the meeting
because of illness, predicted last summer and one that other registration staff
“First, it wasn’t an ‘election year,’ with Bryant Wright up
for a second term as SBC president,” said Kevin Wilson, a registration
volunteer from the Georgia Baptist Convention. “Plus, the big issues like the
Great Commission Resurgence were voted on last year.”
It’s the lowest messenger count at an annual meeting in more
than six decades, when in the throes of World War II, 4,301 messengers gathered
in Atlanta in 1944.
North Carolina Baptists came in fifth with 332 messengers
behind Tennessee (390), Arizona (374), Georgia (357), and Texas (347).
The substance of the meeting led plenty who attended to
argue it shouldn’t be judged on numbers. More than 1,000 pastors and their
wives packed a North American Mission Board luncheon to learn about the
entity’s new Send North America church planting strategy. On the final night of
the convention, hundreds of messengers flooded the front of the convention hall
at the end of the International Mission Board report, having signed cards pledging
to lead their church to embrace an unengaged people group. The convention’s
focus on ethnic diversity and unity were also significant.
“I do believe it could prove to be the most spiritually
significant convention over the last 50 years,” SBC President Bryant Wright,
who was re-elected to another one-year term, told Baptist Press after the
Wright pointed to the sluggish economy and to the travel
time from most SBC churches as possible reasons for the low attendance.
Attendance followed a general geographic trend of higher
attendance from states in the West and lower from everywhere else: Utah’s
attendance more than doubled its 2010 number, while Alabama’s was 28 percent of
last year’s delegation.
The unofficial state-by-state messenger registration numbers
are as follows: Alaska, 13; Alabama, 244; Arkansas, 163; Arizona, 374;
California, 241; Colorado, 43; Connecticut, 1; Washington, D.C., 12; Delaware,
1; Florida, 242; Georgia, 357; Hawaii, 12; Iowa, 6; Idaho, 17; Illinois, 82; Indiana,
78; Kansas, 53; Kentucky, 233; Louisiana, 182; Massachusetts, 8; Maryland, 57;
Maine, 1; Michigan, 27; Minnesota, 27; Missouri, 169; Mississippi, 201;
Montana, 9; North Carolina, 332; Nebraska, 1; New Hampshire, 1; New Jersey, 11;
New Mexico, 85; Nevada, 69; New York, 13; Ohio, 88; Oklahoma, 148; Oregon, 11;
Pennsylvania, 22; Puerto Rico 3; South Carolina, 190; South Dakota, 1;
Tennessee, 390; Texas, 347; Utah, 24; Virginia, 191; Vermont, 1; Washington,
20; Wisconsin, 3; West Virginia 22; Wyoming, 13.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Koonce is a staff writer for The Pathway,
newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)