It looks like attendance at the SBC Annual Meeting will be higher this year. Why?
I’d like to think that Southern Baptists know a good baseball city when they see it, and therefore have a hankering to get to St. Louis, but that’s probably not it (especially this year!).
I think the number one factor affecting attendance at the Annual Meeting is meaningful participation. This year we have a three-candidate race for the SBC Presidency, the three of them just different enough in style and substance to make this a genuinely contested (but not contentious) election. I personally know of at least four important, substantive resolutions that have been submitted. A new idea is on the table for the SBC Pastors’ Conference, presenting attendees with new (I think refreshing) choices. Southern Baptists have business to do in St. Louis, and they know that their votes count.
The high-water-mark of SBC attendance remains the intense years of the Conservative Resurgence. Not coincidentally, this was also the moment when messenger votes were more palpably important than at any other time in our recent history. Some have concluded that some base love of controversy for controversy’s sake nefariously lies at the root of those messenger counts. I demur. This year isn’t especially controversial, and attendances are trending up this year (as they do to a lesser degree every time we have an open presidential election). Controversy is not required. Southern Baptists show up when they know that it matters for them to show up.
Do we want larger attendances at our annual meetings? The solution is to make certain that messengers know that not all of the business is done in committee and that not all of the outcomes are foreordained by the guy holding the gavel. Meaningful participation by the messengers, believe it or not, is the reason why people come to the SBC Annual Meeting after all.