PHOENIX (BP)–Messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix will vote on a set of recommendations aimed at making the convention’s leadership positions more reflective of the growing ethnic diversity in its churches.
Adoption and implementation of the recommendations, which are the result of an extensive ethnic participation study conducted by the SBC Executive Committee, could be pivotal in reaching an increasingly diverse American population with the Gospel, one expert said.
“If we want to reach America for Christ, it needs to be with the inclusion of everybody in the SBC. The ethnic people are growing constantly at a very, very high percentage. If we do not include them, we may lose a generation,” Frank Moreno, director of the language division of the Florida Baptist Convention, said.
In 2000, about 35 million Hispanics lived in the United States, but in 2010, the number had grown to 50 million, Moreno told Baptist Press. In Florida alone, the Hispanic population has grown by 60 percent in the past decade.
The 2009 SBC Annual Church Profile report indicated that 6.5 percent of congregations in the SBC were African American while an additional 12.5 percent reflected other ethnic identities. Moreno said that means only 81 percent of the convention’s churches are Anglo.
“What I’m saying is we are growing. We are a very diverse convention,” Moreno said, “and if we are not aware of the changes that are taking place, I think we are going to lose a good segment of the population.”
Successful marketers in American culture, Moreno said, are aware of the current power of the Hispanic market in particular and have vigorously targeted that population segment.
“I don’t think that as Southern Baptists we have tapped into the language people enough. The secular world is way, way ahead of us in that respect. When we take a look at the boards and committees, it is evident that there are very, very few language people on those committees. It’s about time that we change,” Moreno said.
Messengers in the past have passed resolutions celebrating and encouraging ethnic diversity in the convention, but Moreno said the recommendations to be voted on in June are “the first serious step” toward making a change. He was on the committee in 2008 that drafted a resolution on ethnic diversity, but he said little has happened in response.
“Some of the things that this report includes were included in the resolution, but we haven’t seen practically anything happen in that respect,” Moreno said.
The difference this time, he said, is that the recommendations are the result of a comprehensive study conducted by the convention’s Executive Committee and presented in a different format than in the past.
“I don’t recall any study that is as serious as this trying to include the language people and also making sure that the language people are aware of the fact that they need to respond also to those recommendations,” Moreno said. “It’s not a one-way street. It’s going to be a two-way street.”
Some may argue that ethnic Southern Baptists will not attend associational, state or national meetings or that they don’t speak English well enough to participate on boards and committees, Moreno said.
“But nowadays we have a lot of people who are well-educated and are able to communicate even if they have some difficulties. They can understand everything that is being said, and they can contribute a lot,” he said.
Robert Anderson, a former president of the National African American Fellowship within the SBC, said the recommendations can help black Southern Baptists realize anew that they need to do their part.
“We too are the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s not like we’re a part of it. We are the Southern Baptist Convention. We have responsibilities in this area too to help our convention be a reflection of what we’re trying to do,” Anderson, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md., said.
As the only African American currently on the Executive Committee, Anderson has sought to keep the issue at the forefront of discussion. He served on the subcommittee that conducted the ethnic participation study and drafted the recommendations.
“There was a full buy-in from the Executive Committee. I think there will be full buy-in and support from messengers. Come on, we’ve got a black president,” Anderson said, referring to President Obama. “We’ve moved on now, and it’s time for the SBC to step up its game. They may not think of it in that regard, but that’s my take on it. I do believe it will have good support.”
To accomplish the intended goal, Anderson said the recommendations must be embraced with a major degree of intentionality because an increased number of ethnics in leadership positions “will not happen by osmosis.”
“You’ve got to start somewhere. I hate to call it a starting place, but in some respects this is a starting place,” Anderson said. “If you don’t start here, where are you going to start? If this is not the right thing to do, then what is the right thing to do?
“It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and throw rocks at cars going by, but it’s quite another thing if you’re really in the car and you’re trying to go someplace,” Anderson added. “Honestly, I don’t believe there will be many cynics. I think there’s a wide support base.”
Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press he is thankful that the recommendations have been made and he witnessed a positive reception in the Executive Committee when they were presented earlier this year. He has not encountered people talking about the ethnic participation study report outside of the Executive Committee, though.
Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., said the convention needs more ethnic diversity in its leadership and the first step toward making progress is bringing it to the attention of the people, which he believes the recommendations do.
Three of the recommendations are addressed specifically to the SBC president, asking him to “give special attention to appointing individuals who represent the diversity within the convention, and particularly ethnic diversity” among his appointees to various committees.
The president also is requested to report the total number of appointees that represent the ethnic diversity when names for committees are released to Baptist Press and to encourage the selection of annual meeting program personalities that represent the ethnic diversity within the convention.
“We have worked real hard to have ethnic diversity in our Committee on Committees appointments as well as on the resolutions and credentials committees and the tellers,” Wright told Baptist Press. “… We haven’t counted it. We’ve just worked to see that there’s a very good representation.”
Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To read a previous Baptist Press article on the ethnic participation study, visit