My children have been attending the SBC Annual Meeting since they were born. I have a picture (somewhere) of Jim, my oldest, holding up a ballot in Phoenix, AZ, in 2003—just four months after he was born. He has missed one year. This is his fourteenth SBC Annual Meeting to attend.
My wife’s brother is a Southern Baptist pastor in Southaven, MS. His family attends the Annual Meeting as regularly as we do. With Matt’s kids plus our two, we reach the critical mass of grandchildren that brings my in-laws—themselves faithful lifelong Southern Baptists who care very much about our convention—to the Annual Meetings with us. As is true for many Southern Baptists, the SBC Annual Meeting is more than a business meeting; it has become a family affair for us.
The Convention experience is a bit different for those who attend as families. You get to enjoy the stroller section, for example. I lament the day when my youngest got too old for us to spend any serious time in the stroller section. You can move the chairs around into whatever configuration suits you. Nobody looks askance at you if you’re having a little fun with your kids while something happens up on the platform. We were there because of my kids, but let’s face it: I belong in the stroller section.
My wife Tracy has worked more years than I can count with the Disaster Relief Child Care teams who provide preschool child care. If you come to Dallas next year with preschoolers, you might see her there. Our children, obviously, got started attending the children’s events from infancy. They love it and give it their highest recommendations.
Attending the children’s events, my kids have met other Southern Baptist kids from all across the country (and sometimes beyond). In this world of telecommunications, some of those relationships have grown beyond that joyful week in June. In particular, Jim has had one young man with whom he really hit it off. They text one another throughout the year. I can’t speak for both sides, but I can say that Jim has really enjoyed the correspondence.
Yesterday I discovered something I had missed: Jim’s convention buddy that he met at the children’s session is the son of Michael Allen, preacher at the Pastors’ Conference and a new friend of mine. This is really just one of our Annual Meeting friendships. The family we meet at the SBC keeps growing for us in welcome and unexpected ways.
So, I’d encourage you to be as outgoing as you know how to be if you’re coming to Phoenix. Meet somebody new. Exchange email addresses or phone numbers. Friend someone on Facebook or follow them on Twitter or Instagram. It may be the beginning of a friendship that matters for you down the line.
The Convention is a family affair for me because my family comes with me, but is also a family affair for me because we are a family of churches, not a corporate brand. We have business to do, and I pray that we do it well. But I also pray that everyone who attends will leave Phoenix with roots a little deeper into our family of faith.