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Southern Baptists experience a record number of exhibits at 2023 annual meeting

The exhibit hall at the 2023 SBC annual meeting featured more exhibits than ever. Photo by Robin Cornetet

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans who didn’t get to enjoy much of the Big Easy outside of the Earnest N. Morial Convention Center got a small taste of it inside, thanks to the exhibit of the New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA).

Photo by Robin Cornetet

NOBA’s brightly colored exhibit, decorated with scenes of the city, pointed attendees to thriving ministries throughout the city—including Baptist ministry centers, a foster care center, and a medical clinic.

“We’ve had a lot of response to the ministries happening here in New Orleans,” said Kayleigh White, the director of the Baptist Friendship House in New Orleans and one of the guides at the exhibit to answer questions. “Our goal was to let people know that there was ministry happening in the city and that it was being done well. I think it’s really cool how we’ve been able to meet with people all around the country and the world and let them see what God is doing here in New Orleans through our cooperative ministries.”

Jack Hunter, the executive director of NOBA, said he hopes Southern Baptists will come and serve in the city after getting a glimpse of God’s work in the city this week through the exhibit.

“We’re all about proclaiming Christ and meeting the needs of our neighbors,” said Jack Hunter, the executive director of the New Orleans Baptist Association. “It’s like a two-handed plow, and we grab both with equal passion.”

The Lifeway store is always a popular part of the SBC Exhibit Hall. Photo by Robin Cornetet

The NOBA booth was one of a record 213 exhibits Southern Baptists welcomed to the annual meeting in New Orleans. Between sessions, annual meeting attendees could go to the exhibit hall, meet Southern Baptist missionaries at mission board exhibits, grab a snack, and learn about countless other ministries and organizations wanting to partner with Southern Baptist churches. More than 2,300 volunteers served in the exhibit hall during the annual meeting.

Rachel Gulledge, the SBC annual meeting exhibit coordinator, says she heard strong reviews about the experience from exhibitors and messengers alike. Noting the experience of the exhibitors she talked to, Gulledge added: “From their point of view, they had an incredible time. They were able to engage with 18,000 of our messengers and guests. They made lots of great connections, lots of business opportunities, and more importantly—ministry opportunities for the future for their ministries, but also for our churches, and our messengers.”

Gulledge says the exhibit hall also gave Southern Baptists opportunities to be a witness to non-Christians who were there. For example, they prayed every morning to start the day in the exhibit hall.

“I knew there were non-believers in the room,” Gulledge said. “It was very important to me that we were an example to those folks, no matter what everyone’s opinion about us was. We made great ministry connections, but I also like that we were able to be a witness to other people. I was very pleased with that. To me, that’s the most important thing, that we can represent Christ in that way.”

This year the exhibit hall included a food court, and Gulledge believes that helped facilitate even more conversations than ever before.

“Obviously, things that are happening in the main sessions are strengthening the Southern Baptist Convention for the greater good of our Convention,” Gulledge said. “But I believe that the conversations and the relationships that start in the exhibit hall, really are key to furthering our convention in a way that’s going to honor the Lord, that’s going to spread the Great Commission, and that’s going to equip our churches to continue to do the work that they’re doing back home in a better way.”

Mike Vaurigaud, a local Trail Life leader, spent much of the week at the Trail Life exhibit, sharing about the program with Southern Baptists. Vaurigaud says he isn’t trying to sell the program to attendees, but he has seen the impact of the Christian scouting ministry for boys and wants to help others have a similar experience.

“It’s been really good,” Vaurigaud said. “We’ve had a lot of great conversations about Trail Life, and I’ve had the opportunity to hear about what’s happening in other people’s ministries, as well.”

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  • Tobin Perry