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New Ethnic Research Network to be introduced at SBC annual meeting

Natasha Moore, left, Jessica Craig and Antoinette Owens visit after the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) worship service June 12 at Friendship Baptist Church in Yorba Linda, Calif. The event preceded the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim. BP file photo

NASHVILLE (BP) – As the U.S. becomes increasingly diverse, leaders in the SBC are forming a new network to compile research related to the different ethnic groups in the Convention and build better relationships among them.

The group, called the Ethnic Research Network (ERN), is still in the early stages of development, but will formally introduce itself at the Asian American Kick-off event held June 11 before the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

Minh Ha Nguyen, director of gift care and data stewardship for the International Mission Board, has been collecting and researching data on ethnic groups in the SBC for more than 20 years.

He told Baptist Press the aim of collecting and presenting the data in not simply to provide information, but about contact.

“Diversity, though important, is only the first step,” Nguyen said.

“We in the SBC can pride ourselves in being very diverse, which we are. In reality, however, it’s still very much a diversity of strangers. We don’t know each other very well because we do not have meaningful contact with one another. While we should continue to talk to each other, we need to walk together, work together, sharing equal status for the greater purpose of the Great Commission. The more we do that, the more prejudice will decline and make room for acceptance, integration and unity.”

The research Nguyen has collected has taken many forms and is years in the making.  

The emphasis on diversity at a national level stems from a motion at the 2009 SBC Annual Meeting calling for a study “regarding greater involvement of ethnic churches and leaders.”

After two years of study, messengers to the 2011 SBC Annual Meeting approved a measure calling for greater accountability from SBC entities regarding the participation of various ethnic groups in the business of the SBC. Then in 2019, messengers passed a motion, which was referred and taken up by the SBC Executive Committee, for a progress report on the subject of diversity.

Over the next several years, one of the EC’s attempts to emphasize diversity was to build the Great Commission Relations and Mobilization team, including executive directors for African American, Hispanic and Asian relations.

Previously under an Executive Committee initiative called the Convention Advancement Advisory Council, Nguyen’s data collection now fell under the GCRM umbrella.

The most recent update of that initiative is the launch of the GCRM Ethnic Research Portal, which debuted last year.

Data collected is simply a compilation of information from the SBC’s Annual Church Profile, as well as information from entities like NAMB and Lifeway. The information is compiled and displayed in the portal via easy-to-understand charts and graphs.

Research indicates the Convention is more diverse than some might think, but still has a long way to go.

With the establishment of the new ERN, the research will now come out of the Executive Committee and GCRM umbrellas to exist on its own. Ultimately, plans are for the network to operate independently with its own core leadership, board and bylaws, Nguyen said.

He added that the network will be made up of various researchers in the SBC, GCRM leadership, and various leaders from the different ethnic fellowships in the Convention. But it will be open to anyone seeking to pursue and learn about diversity.

Peter Yanes, associate vice president for Asian American relations and mobilization with the Executive Committee, worked closely with Nguyen on the release of the GCRM Research Portal and will now serve as part of the ERN’s core leadership with him. He is hoping for a Gospel impact.

“ERN focuses on extensive available data catered to ethnic churches and pastors so that frontline strategic decision-making is based on relevant data and accurate facts,” Yanes said.

“This new network of researchers and practitioners is missionally driven and crucial to the Gospel response to the rapid growth of ethnically and culturally diverse communities.”

Nguyen believes telling the story of what God is doing in the SBC through different ethnic groups will strengthen the Convention as a whole. 

“The same story can be told from different perspectives,” Nguyen said.

“We want to tell our ethnic story of what God is doing globally, but also through us in the SBC from our ethnic minority perspective. And through that perspective, we want to enrich the collective story of the SBC. That’s all we want to do.

“The SBC’s readiness for the Great Commission in the 21st century depends on the participation of congregations of all ethnicities, races, places and sizes. ERN helps introduce Southern Baptists to one another and creates the conditions for the Great Commission from the local all the way to the national and international level.”