PHOENIX (BP)–Attendance at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 14-15 slumped below 5,000 for several reasons, registration officials said.
Just before registration closed June 15, there were 4,814 registered messengers from the nation’s 45,000 Southern Baptist churches. Official numbers will not be released until later in June. In 2003, the last time Southern Baptists gathered in Phoenix, there were 7,077 registered.
The count is 43 percent of the 2010 numbers in Orlando, a dip Registration Secretary Jim Wells predicted last summer and one that other registration staff confirm.
“First, it wasn’t an ‘election year,’ with Bryant Wright up for a second term as SBC president,” said Kevin Wilson, a registration volunteer from the Georgia Baptist Convention. “Plus, the big issues like the Great Commission Resurgence were voted on last year.”
It’s the lowest messenger count at an annual meeting in more than six decades, when in the throes of World War II, 4,301 messengers gathered in Atlanta in 1944.
The substance of the meeting led plenty who attended to argue it shouldn’t be judged on numbers. More than 1,000 pastors and their wives packed a North American Mission Board luncheon to learn about the entity’s new Send North America church planting strategy. On the final night of the convention, hundreds of messengers flooded the front of the convention hall at the end of the International Mission Board report, having signed cards pledging to lead their church to embrace an unengaged people group. The convention’s focus on ethnic diversity and unity were also significant. (Read the wrapup at http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=35563)
“I do believe it could prove to be the most spiritually significant convention over the last 50 years,” Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright, who was re-elected to another one-year term, told Baptist Press after the Phoenix gathering. Wright pointed to the sluggish economy and to the travel time from most SBC churches as possible reasons for the low attendance.
As expected, Arizona Baptist churches turned out for their host-meeting; their 374-messenger total was the second largest of the state delegations. Tennessee was the highest at 390 messengers.
Attendance followed a general geographic trend of higher attendance from states in the West and lower from everywhere else: Utah’s attendance more than doubled its 2010 number, while Alabama’s was 28 percent of last year’s delegation.
The unofficial state-by-state messenger registration numbers are as follows: Alaska, 13; Alabama, 244; Arkansas, 163; Arizona, 374; California, 241; Colorado, 43; Connecticut, 1; Washington, D.C., 12; Delaware, 1; Florida, 242; Georgia, 357; Hawaii, 12; Iowa, 6; Idaho, 17; Illinois, 82; Indiana, 78; Kansas, 53; Kentucky, 233; Louisiana, 182; Massachusetts, 8; Maryland, 57; Maine, 1; Michigan, 27; Minnesota, 27; Missouri, 169; Mississippi, 201; Montana, 9; North Carolina, 332; Nebraska, 1; New Hampshire, 1; New Jersey, 11; New Mexico, 85; Nevada, 69; New York, 13; Ohio, 88; Oklahoma, 148; Oregon, 11; Pennsylvania, 22; Puerto Rico 3; South Carolina, 190; South Dakota, 1; Tennessee, 390; Texas, 347; Utah, 24; Virginia, 191; Vermont, 1; Washington, 20; Wisconsin, 3; West Virginia 22; Wyoming, 13.
Wells was unable to attend the annual meeting because of illness. His duties were picked up by SBC Recording Secretary John Yeats and various other workers, including Wilson of Georgia.
Wells, director of missions for Tri-County Baptist Association in Nixa, Mo., has been undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed in 2010 with a form of cancer, a sarcoma malignancy in his left hip muscle. He has responded well to the treatment, Wells has said in emails, but developed an infection in recent days and could not leave home.
Wells was first elected registration secretary in 2002; he was re-elected to another term June 15.
“We missed Jim dearly, but all things considered, things went pretty smoothly,” Wilson said.
Brian Koonce is a staff writer for The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com) newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.