Drawing Young Leaders Back to the SBC

Southern Baptist leaders held their second dialogue on better engaging younger leaders into the denomination on Feb. 28, 2004, on the campus of California Baptist University (CBU) in Riverside, California.

According to Baptist Press, around 40 young Southern Baptist leaders who ranged in age from their 20s to early 40s gathered at college to discuss partnering with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and its array of local, statewide, and national expressions.

“I do believe that Southern Baptists need to deal with issues important to you,” James T. Draper Jr., LifeWay’s president said.

The dialogue, the second of its kind sponsored by LifeWay since last year’s annual convention, is part of a nationwide attempt to draw younger leaders back to the denomination. During the 2004 annual convention, Draper told the 1,000 Southern Baptist messengers that he had a growing concern over the “plateauing” and declining number of baptisms in the 16-million-member denomination. Draper further explained that younger Baptist leaders were neither interested nor engaged in the workings of the larger church – a trend he described as the “Frog in the Kettle” phenomenon.

After his challenging statement, Draper wrote a series of articles in Baptist Press in regards the issue, and furthermore launched a discussion board for young Southern Baptist leaders to respond.

LifeWay then scheduled a series of eight dialogues across the nation, designed for LifeWay and state convention staff to hear the concerns of young leaders. The discussions will culminate in June 19 with a Young Leaders Celebration during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting.

At the Riverside event, the young leaders spent most of their morning brainstorming solutions to issues organized around five areas: missions and evangelism, creative and innovative approaches, convention renewal, biblical diversity and inclusiveness and healthy relationships, according to BP. After lunch, participants discussed some of the solutions they had brainstormed.

“I think Dr. Draper has done a great thing by opening the door of dialogue on these matters,” said John Montgomery, 39, an associate pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif. “I think this is a great start as he gives a voice to this important issue.”

Solutions revolved around a need for older leaders to mentor younger leaders, with some suggesting the possibility of setting up a list of older pastors willing to take their time for the younger leaders.

In a larger sense, the leaders voiced their concern that the “growing gap between those ministering in a postmodern context and those ministering in more traditional environments might be difficult to close,” according to BP.

Ultimately, the leaders realized that continued dialogue were crucial in coming to a solution.

“I think just raising the issues and talking about them is a success,” Draper said. “I don’t know that we will have all of the answers, but at least communicating together will help us come through”