News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: Bigger crowds lead to tough, necessary decision for the SBC

iStock. May not be respublished.

NASHVILLE (BP) – The 2021 SBC Annual Meeting was the largest crowd we have hosted at an SBC annual meeting in a generation. This June’s meeting in Anaheim is shaping up to draw close to 10,000 for a gathering on the West Coast – nearly doubling the number of messengers from our gathering in Phoenix in 2017.

This started in 2018 when more than 9,600 messengers came to Dallas. After adding in guests, exhibitors, credentialed press and others, the official attendance was 16,032. Then in 2019, 8,183 messengers and 13,502 total attendees made their way to Birmingham, Ala.

And 2021 blew past those totals with 15,726 messengers and 21,474 total attendees making Music City their home for the week.

It’s safe to say a new generation of Southern Baptists has engaged with the Convention, and attendance at our annual meetings has ballooned. As the entity in charge of planning and promoting the annual meeting, the SBC Executive Committee is ecstatic over the response we’ve seen in recent years.

But that leaves us with a major problem for 2023.

When Charlotte, N.C., was selected in 2016 as the host city for the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting, the plans allowed for a maximum of 8,000 messengers and guests in the 280,000 square feet of available space at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Simply put, Charlotte simply does not have adequate space to host the SBC Annual Meeting in 2023.

The space now required to host an annual meeting exceeds 400,000 square feet – 225,000 for the main hall, 150,000 for the exhibit hall and 50,000 for registration and storage. This year in Anaheim, we will utilize more than 500,000 square feet. Last year in Nashville, we required more than 400,000 square feet—and truly needed more.

Charlotte has only 280,000 square feet of meeting space – less than 75 percent of what is needed to meet the current demands of our annual gathering.

Several conversations have taken place with meeting organizers and city officials in Charlotte over the past few months. Our team visited the city in February to see if any workable solution could be found. Ultimately, we were unable to find a way to keep the meeting in Charlotte – there simply was nowhere for us to hold the meeting as needed in the Queen City.

We also began researching options and earnestly praying for an alternative to Charlotte that would meet the current needs of our Convention for the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting. We inquired of every major city and convention center in the southeast United States. In the end, only one city was able to meet our four major needs for 2023: geographic proximity to Southern Baptists, hotel availability, available dates and available space.

That city is New Orleans, Louisiana.

The annual meeting was last held in New Orleans in 2012 – a historic gathering that saw Fred Luter elected SBC president. After meeting with city and convention center officials in New Orleans as well as with SBC Executive Committee officers, SBC EC Chairman Rolland Slade has called a special meeting of the EC in order for EC members to vote to relocate the 2023 Annual Meeting. This is in accordance with SBC Constitution Article 11.3, since the City of Charlotte is unable to fulfill its commitments to host the event – they simply do not have space for us to meet as needed.

Please understand this move comes at no fault to Charlotte other than the space they have available. The city wants to host Southern Baptists, but simply cannot. Our meeting has grown beyond the city’s capability and usable space. We will do everything in our power to honor the Queen City as this move is made, and it is our prayer that Southern Baptists will honor Charlotte for its willingness to host us.

As for New Orleans, several updates have been made to the city and the convention center since Southern Baptists last met on the bayou, and we are getting ready for an annual meeting unlike any the Crescent City has seen.

See you in Anaheim … and then—prayerfully—New Orleans!