The 2021 annual gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention set to take place in Nashville, Tennessee, next month could be its largest one since 1995 if all of the more than 12,500 pre-registered messengers show up, according to Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the denomination’s Executive Committee.
“At the time of this article’s release, we have 12,542 pre-registered messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting on June 15-16 in Nashville,” Floyd noted in a statement released Wednesday.
Only four other conventions have attracted at least 10,000 messengers since the year 2000, he said, and the 2021 pre-registered numbers outstrips them all.
“This could be one of our largest gatherings since 1995 in Atlanta, when we had 20,654 messengers,” he wrote.
This year’s convention comes after a turbulent season when the novel coronavirus pandemic prevented the gathering of messengers in 2020 while nationwide protests and deadly riots erupted over racial inequality and police brutality and triggered fault lines in the denomination over controversial efforts to discuss critical race theory and intersectionality.
Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia, and one of three candidates seeking to become the next president of the convention, recently proposed that the denomination completely condemn critical race theory just two years after messengers acknowledged it in Resolution 9. Several high-profile black pastors have since left the denomination over the debate. The division on the role of women in the church has also been hotly debated in recent months with high profile Bible teacher Beth Moore leaving the denomination.
“With these unprecedented challenges piled upon us during this season, our Convention is struggling. Some predict we will decline our way into irrelevance, while others say we will destroy one another,” Floyd wrote.
“Some of our churches question their trust in us because of statements made or persuasions shared in news accounts, articles, or conduct occurring on social media. Some of these things may be true, but we must also recognize some is rhetoric, and perhaps some of it misrepresents the situation. Regardless, we need to operate always with the highest level of integrity and with the highest skill possible,” Floyd said.
He added that if messengers would focus more on what unites the denomination instead of on the matters that distract them from their mission of spreading the Gospel, they are likely to operate in a more unified manner.
“As we come to Nashville for the first time in two years for an annual convention, we need to come with great expectation that God will meet with us, that God will lead us to face our challenges with objectivity and hope, and God will empower us to rally around our shared mission in a Christ-honoring manner,” he said.
“When we get our eyes back on sending missionaries, planting churches, mobilizing people, and reaching the next generation, we will not have time nor the desire to chase after every whim or debate one another over every detail before a world that needs Jesus. Southern Baptists, please hear me clearly: Nothing is more important than reaching every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state, and every nation. To this vision, we give our lives,” he ended.