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Tracking Southern Baptist church affiliation a ‘cooperative effort’

Messengers vote by raised ballot during a business session of the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting. (Baptist Press/Eric Brown)

NASHVILLE (BP) — Determining a church’s affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention is relatively simple. The factors surrounding that status, including the path to get there, can be more varied.

Last week, six churches were deemed to be not in friendly cooperation with the SBC. One of them, New Faith Mission Ministry in Griffin, Ga., said it considered itself a nondenominational congregation and not identified with the SBC. However, Annual Church Profile reports show data from the church going back to 2014. 

Names of churches alleged not to be in friendly cooperation are reported to the Credentials Committee, which attempt to contact the church before making a recommendation to the SBC Executive Committee. Often a church voluntarily withdraws from the SBC at that point.

“The committee recognizes that autonomous churches do not have to respond to inquiries and is working to improve the process for churches that have no desire to cooperate with the Convention but do not communicate that with the committee,” said a statement from the Credentials Committee.

As explained on an FAQ page at SBC.net, each church is issued an identification number through Lifeway Christian Resources. This, said Lifeway Executive Director Scott McConnell, serves as a unique function to prevent the misidentification of churches with similar names. 

Typically, a church interested in affiliating with the SBC contacts the local Baptist association and/or state convention. Otherwise, a church goes through a credentialing process with the SBC Executive Committee and is eventually given an identification number through Lifeway. To send messengers to the annual meeting, churches must have an identification number and have contributed to Southern Baptist Convention causes in the preceding fiscal year.

A list of mission churches is also kept by Lifeway. Still in the process of establishing their autonomy, those congregations cannot send messengers on their own. But they can attend as messengers through their sponsoring church.

The process is meant to ward off the possibility, for instance, that Scotts Hill Baptist in Pulaski, Tenn., could mistakenly receive annual meeting messenger credentials for Scotts Hill Baptist in Wilmington, N.C. The same goes for Scottsville Baptist in Virginia and Scottsville Baptist in Kentucky.

“We track affiliation with associations, state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention,” McConnell said. “This is a cooperative effort of the state convention, local association and Lifeway.

“Affiliations are begun based on the process established by each of those entities. When a congregation is asked to complete an Annual Church Profile each year, this is an opportunity to confirm we are still cooperating with each other. At any point, if a congregation communicates they no longer want to be affiliated with the association, state convention and/or the SBC, we make sure the database matches that. Some of the entities also have clear processes to remove a congregation for non-participation.”

Ashley Clayton, national director for SBC Church Affiliations at the North American Mission Board, estimates that 98 percent of all Southern Baptist churches are affiliated through the state convention, local association or both. There has been an increase of 200-250 in the last two years that have done so through “national affiliation,” that is, through an entity like NAMB.

That process has also been streamlined through a portal for churches to join the convention at SBC.net.

“We try very hard to point churches toward their state convention,” Clayton said. 

Networking and available resources, he pointed out, are key motivations for many churches to join the SBC. Last fall, a record number of church planters attended the Send Network Orientation.

“They know about our seminaries, the Send Network and leaders,” he said. “In today’s culture, it’s increasingly harder to stand alone as an evangelical church. They’re looking for camaraderie, a place to belong.”