By David Roach
PHOENIX (BP) — Data compiled following the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix indicates more messengers than 2011, the last time the convention was held in Phoenix, and a net annual meeting cost reduction of some $800,000 since that time.
Nominees elected to boards and committees were notable for their ethnic diversity, Cooperative Program support and representation of churches with 250 members or fewer.
A total of 5,015 messengers attended the 2017 Phoenix annual meeting, falling short of the 2016 annual meeting messenger count of 7,321, registration secretary Don Currence has announced. Registration exceeded the 2011 Phoenix total of 4,852 messengers.
In 2017, messengers were sent from 2,230 churches in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Churches in Maine, North Dakota and Rhode Island sent no messengers.
Including guests, total registered attendance at the annual meeting and its related events was 9,315, down from 12,138 last year.
Most messengers, 3,219, were male, and 3,071 of them were ordained. Only 743 messengers, 14.8 percent of those registered, completed the registration survey. Of those, 351 were senior pastors and 41 were the wives of senior pastors, according to surveys submitted.
By age, 32 of those who submitted surveys were 18-29, compared to 126 between 30–39, 127 between 40-49, 215 between 50-59 and 243 ages 60 and above.
Convention manager Bill Townes told Baptist Press the 2017 annual meeting’s net cost should be finalized later this month. He estimated a “similar” total to previous years — $130,004 in 2015 and $146,070 in 2016. Those figures represent a reduction of approximately $800,000 since the high water mark in 2011.
Annual meeting cost reductions stem from the leadership of SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Frank S. Page, who “directed the [EC’s] convention finance office to analyze and evaluate the costs associated with the SBC annual meeting each year to see where we could reduce our costs and also to ensure that we keep costs affordable for attendees,” said Townes, the EC’s vice president for convention finance.
“That direction to look at every expense in detail resulted in making some significant changes and a lot of small ones that have greatly reduced the net cost of our SBC annual meeting,” Townes said in written comments.
Among specific cost reductions:
— Annual meetings no longer feature carpet in the aisles of the main hall, a $25,000 annual savings;
— The SBC Pastors’ Conference reimburses the convention $100,000 for use of the meeting hall, up from $38,000 per year from 1992-2011;
— The exhibit hall has expanded from approximately 50 exhibitors through 2012 to 167 in Phoenix, with an accompanying increase of revenue from exhibitor fees. An updated exhibitor policy “gives priority to our SBC entities/organizations, but also allows other approved vendors that do not conflict with the ministries of Southern Baptists,” Townes said;
— The convention has purchased computer monitors, laptops and electrical cords to reuse every year rather than renting them from each convention center;
— The convention began contracting with LifeWay Media in 2014 to coordinate both the audio and visual aspects of the meeting.
“Every expense is reviewed, analyzed and documented to ensure that we are being the best stewards possible,” Townes said.
Board & committee diversity
Individuals elected to the 2018 Committee on Nominations and those elected to SBC boards and other convention committees represented a diverse array of ethnicities and churches of various sizes.
Committee on Nominations chairman Jim Richards noted the 2017 Committee on Nominations was one of the “most ethnically diverse committees ever.” The committee’s diversity led it to propose a slate of nominees that was 14 percent non-Anglo.
According to SBC governing documents, the convention president appoints the Committee on Committees, which nominates members of the following year’s Committee on Nominations for messenger approval. The Committee on Nominations nominates Southern Baptists to serve on SBC boards and committees, with messengers again granting final approval.
In Phoenix, messengers approved the full slate of nominees presented by both the Committee on Committees and the Committee on Nominations.
The 2017 Committee on Committees reported that half of those elected to the 2018 Committee on Nominations were from churches with average worship attendance of 250 or less.
An average worship attendance of 524 among churches of 2018 Committee on Nominations members was down from an average of 1,704 over the past five years.
Committee on Committees chairman Randy Davis said, “While we praise the Lord for our large megachurches that influence and impact so many, we understand that we need representation from our smaller churches.”
Some 80 percent of next year’s Committee on Nominations has never served “in any national position within the SBC,” said Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
The average Cooperative Program giving of churches attended by members of the 2018 Committee on Nominations is 8.7 percent of undesignated receipts, Davis said, “one of the highest numbers in years.”
The 2017 Committee on Nominations nominated a slate of 80 Southern Baptists to fill vacant seats on SBC boards and committees.
Richards, committee chairman and executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, noted average CP giving of the churches attended by newly elected board and committee members is 7 percent of undesignated receipts.
All nominees presented by the Committee on Committees and the Committee on Nominations affirmed the Baptist Faith and Message prior to their election.