The 195th Annual Meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention blessed me in many ways. Being with so many friends and colleagues in ministry is at the top of the list for me. But, there were informative reports from our seven institutions and ministries, times of inspiring worship and prayer, challenges from several dynamic Bible preachers, election of officers, and many other positives. Our President Tommy Kelly, the 2015 officers and committees, and state convention staff did a great job planning and executing the meeting agenda. We should all be grateful for their efforts.
As in past years, I'm a little troubled by the low participation in our mandated meeting. In South Carolina, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 churches, and a total statewide church membership of slightly less than 700,000. I'm not sure of the actual messenger count at this year's meeting, but someone mentioned slightly more than 800 messengers. That such a small number of Baptists conducts the important business of our many mission endeavors raises an important question: how does low participation influence support for our mission?
We've all witnessed and discussed declines in our demographic profile. Reversing these trends is discussion point one in just about every committee meeting and convention assembly. Of course, pin-pointing any single contributing factor in the current statistical evaluation of our denominational work is more a matter of opinion than absolute fact. There are many, the times being a significant element. Just the same, our system of governance, annual meetings, and the way we function has been the same over many decades. Our meetings follow the same format as in the 1950's, with the exception of the smaller attendance. This is because the organizational gears of Baptist life in South Carolina are regulated by long-standing By-Laws that remain unchanged for years. Perhaps it's time for a major review of our governing documents.
I've only served in South Carolina for thirty-three years. Maybe it's just me, by my pastoral ministry changed more in the past ten years than in the previous twenty-five combined. In the same way, the world is moving and changing at a velocity most of us could have never imagined. But, Baptist life, at every level, remains constantly slow and plodding. Today, our meetings, dictated by old by-laws and dated systems are declining while many other conferences and seminars are exploding, the new objects of our convention expenses and energy. Should we not pause at some point and just consider re-calibrating our organizational gears to raise participation levels in our kingdom assignment?
Changing the convention by-laws is a three-year process. The year I served as president of the SCBC we convened the By-Laws Committee and challenged them for a bold and fresh review of our documents and any necessary revisions to enable effective mission in these fast times. They proposed a change in our officer structure and this year we elected our first President-Elect, a good move. I rejoice tonight in the election of Dr. Keith Shorter, pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church, Easley, SC, to this office. He now has a year to prepare for being our president in 2017.
Raising participation in our annual meeting must be a significant goal of the current slate of officers. So, I'm challenging President Tom Tucker, pastor of Sisk Memorial Baptist Church, Fort Mill, SC, an able and effective leader, to place this goal before the officers, Executive Board, and By-Laws Committee. With all these creative minds and gifted leaders we must discover a new way to bring our people together in support of Christ's mission assignment to us, the Southern Baptists of South Carolina.
These are challenging times. Leading churches and denominations in them demands spiritual leaders who are guided by HIs word, committed to His mission assignment, dependent on His provision, and prepared to engage this fast-moving world. Gathering His people of like mind and faith must be an agenda item for those who lead. Please join me in praying for the creative spirit that will enable us to assemble in greater numbers and inspire us to greater service.
You know, the minds and hearts to deal with organizational gears that are stuck.