By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
TRENTON — A West Tennessee Baptist pastor who wants small and medium membership churches to have a voice in the denomination is rallying churches to send messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to be held June 12-13 in Dallas.
Mike Sanders, interim pastor of Connect Church in Milan, formerly served as pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Trenton.
Sanders, who is the evangelism team leader in Gibson Baptist Association, serves as the coordinator of SBC STRONG, a network of volunteers advocating support for small and medium membership churches in the SBC.
SBC STRONG was established to encourage churches “to get to know what the SBC is about and to be involved,” Sanders said. “Our goal is to send messengers every year to the SBC annual meeting” and “use our voice and exercise our vote.”
Sanders observed that small membership churches that faithfully support the Cooperative Program are the backbone of the Southern Baptist Convention. Yet, historically small membership churches have been unable to send messengers to the convention due to costs.
Sanders noted that thousands of smaller SBC churches are predicted to close their doors within the next 10 years. “More resources are going to church planting, resulting in less support for existing SBC churches,” he said. “All of us certainly support church planting, but we feel to overlook the existing churches and the roles of directors of missions is a big mistake. Our lowest number of baptisms in 50 years tells the story.”
Fewer messengers from small and medium membership churches have participated in the SBC annual meeting in recent years and this has resulted in decisions being largely impacted by SBC entity personnel and board members and new church planters, who in many cases are supported by SBC funds, which help with their expenses, Sanders said.
“We (smaller churches) are losing our voice because we are not using our voice,” he continued.
He stressed the effort is not political. The organization is not promoting either of the two announced candidates for SBC president — North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear or South Carolina educator Ken Hemphill.
To reverse the trend of small and medium membership churches not being able to send messengers, the organization has worked out arrangements with a travel agency that will enable messengers to travel to Dallas for $450 round trip on a 56-passenger bus. The cost includes five meals and lodging.
Baptists from seven states (Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma) have expressed an interest in getting groups together to attend the annual meeting, Sanders said. He noted buses will depart from locations that are within an eight-hour drive to Dallas. In Tennessee, buses will depart from Jackson and Memphis. Anyone from Middle or East Tennessee who would like to participate is welcome but they would have to travel to one of those locations to catch the charter bus, the pastor said.
There is a minimum of 40 passengers needed to leave from any location, he added. Bus captains currently are being enlisted from associations across the seven states.
Buses will travel to Dallas on June 9 and participate in the Greg Laurie Crusade at AT&T Stadium, organized by the North American Mission Board, on June 10. A Small and Medium Church Membership Symposium, focusing on the theme “The New Frontier,” also is included in the cost.
For more information, visit the website at sbcstrong.org or call Sanders at 731-695-4800. B&R