NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A new concept for collecting and giving access to Southern Baptist statistics and directory information was introduced to state convention statistical representatives in sessions at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention March 3-4.
Three state representatives who subsequently tested the service in their states cited benefits to their work, including being able to better help churches with growth strategies.
Southern Baptist Directory Services (SBDS) will be built around a secured Internet site, with initial access given to states and associations, said Cliff Tharp, Annual Church Profile and constituent information coordinator at LifeWay. Churches may be given access to the system at a later date. SBDS will be used for the first time in collecting 2000 ACP information.
In addition to serving as a tool for collecting church statistics and names and addresses of leaders, Tharp said SBDS will meet the following needs:
— A real-time listing of all Southern Baptist congregations that is available to all appropriate users. The list can be updated as changes occur instead of once a year.
— A real-time listing of Southern Baptist leaders that is available to all appropriate users and can be updated as changes occur.
— Basic statistics at the national level, archived for 20 years that enable evaluation and reporting. Persons with access can then identify statistics they need and customize reports. For example, Tharp said a state or SBC church growth consultant could obtain a church’s statistics for the past five years as part of preparing to assist with growth needs.
“Think of Southern Baptist Directory Services as a directory for Southern Baptists by which you access ACP,” Tharp said. “The thrust of SBDS is access and use.”
He emphasized that most ACP information already is a matter of public record in association and state convention annuals. SBDS will provide electronic access with the capacity of ongoing updates. Association and state convention site managers for SBDS must sign data protection agreements. They will be responsible for identifying SBDS users within their entity. ACP information will continue to be restricted to the ministry and business purposes of the Southern Baptist network entities, and information will not be given for sale or distribution to third parties or for public use.
In addition to the need for ongoing updates of directory information, Tharp said increasingly diverse patterns of church affiliations have created a need for process changes.
For example, more churches are now choosing to affiliate with more than one association or state convention. Some are affiliating with an association and the SBC while others relate to an association and a state convention. While churches have the freedom to choose their affiliations, this trend creates difficulties in making sure every congregation is counted once and only once.
“In 1999, at least half of the state conventions encountered some form of an affiliation issue,” Tharp said. SBDS will enable churches and leaders to be listed in a national directory with their affiliations noted.
Leigh Anne Winston, Baptist General Association of Virginia, said March 16 she had already notified associations about SBDS and immediately received requests for two reports.
“The archive will definitely be helpful. From time to time we receive requests from churches for their ACP data from previous years. Virginia will take advantage of these services,” Winston said.
Beth Ward, statistical representative for the Baptist Convention of New York, said she left her office for the Nashville meeting with a three-week-old request from an association evangelism director who needed 10 years of data on baptisms and resident membership of every church in the association.
“Short of going to annuals, there was no way to get that information for him,” Ward said. Returning from Nashville with access to SBDS, she was able to fulfill the request in 15 minutes.
“For people like me who wear multiple hats in the states, this is something I didn’t have to dream up, plan or execute. The beauty of it is that I just have to plug a little information into the system and I get back a lot,” Ward said.
After sharing SBDS with fellow New York staff members, Ward said they now plan to access SBDS before they visit a church to get information about the congregation that will help make the visit more beneficial.
Ty Salter of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio said SBDS “is a use of available technology to enhance our work.”
Salter said SBDS will be helpful in addressing the Ohio convention’s two priorities of strengthening churches and starting churches.
“To help a church grow, we need to be able to see where that church has been,” Salter said. SBDS also will be helpful in identifying locations for new churches.
Tharp said input from state representatives was valuable in identifying needs for additional fine-tuning of the secured Internet site.