Thursday, August 1, 2013

Record low attendance? Not here.

Southern Baptists are all about numbers, ad nauseum, ad absurdum, and often to our harm. Admit it, pastor, when numbers are declining in your church, you feel bad, you feel inadequate, you feel unfulfilled, you feel unsuccessful.

So, when there is an SBC event with low attendance, it is usually followed by grave handwringing sessions, laments about the decline of our grand denomination, and a surfeit of analysis and expert opinions.

This past June the SBC met in annual session in one of our major southern states, Texas, in one of the cities where we have shining megastars, Houston, and the attendance in June was pathetic, just over 5,000. At the meeting a VP was elected with just a few hundred votes, nowhere near a quorum of 25% of registrants.

The laments commenced.

How about something that is good news? Stellar numbers? How about something that has caught the enthusiasm and support of significant numbers of SBCers, particularly younger ones?

The North American Mission Board's Send North America conference met in Texas this week, Dallas metroplex rather than Houson, and the attendance was almost as large as the SBC annual meeting. Baptist Press reported  attendance of over 4,200.

NAMB President Kevin Ezell said he was "ecstatic about the turnout" for the event. "Not only the energy and electricity among the participants, but the passion and heart of pastors and planters -- it all exceeds our expectations. The ethnic diversity is fantastic. Obviously this confirms the launch of a new day. It is a new day and a new NAMB."
Most important, Ezell said, were the partnerships and commitments that were made at the conference.
"We've had more than 500 participants say they want to take the next steps in church planting. And more and more churches are stepping up to say they will partner with our planters. So the ongoing impact of these two days will really be the measure of success," Ezell said.

Of course, the goal is not to have large meetings but to share the Gospel, see people in North America saved, and plant churches. The critical metrics for all this aren't beginning to register just yet but one cannot help but be optimistic about the interest of Southern Baptists in the effort.

This is the same NAMB that was our most dysfunctional entity just a few years ago and the same Kevin Ezell who was welcomed with skepticism and criticism when he became the new NAMB CEO.

I lack both the calling and the skill set to be a church planter but I have worked with many. They all complained about meager support from NAMB and from Southern Baptists. I don't hear as much of that as I did earlier. I get the feeling that planters have greater support both denominaitonally and from established churches and pastors.

We should all be glad to see it.

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