There were many empty seats in Houston’s convention center right before the official beginning of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual business meeting last month.
Granted, it was early – SBC President Fred Luter banged the opening gavel at 8:10 a.m. And it was a poorly attended meeting, with the lowest number of registered messengers in a Bible belt city since 1944.
But seven or eight rows from the front of the convention hall were two familiar Illinois faces: Jack and Wilma Booth.
The couple, members of Calvary Baptist in Elgin, were two of 95 reported Illinois messengers at this year’s convention. Wilma is currently on the SBC Executive Committee, and Jack is a member of IBSA’s Board of Directors. In Houston, they were a reminder that “being there” is valuable, even in a year without contested elections or decisions.
Not that there weren’t some crowded meeting rooms in Houston. A North American Mission Board luncheon focused on church planting hosted a reported 3,500 people. And younger leaders crowded into after-hours sessions hosted by 9Marks, a para-church organization based in Washington, D.C.
In fact, the Houston meeting may well be remembered as “the denim convention,” for the tendency of younger convention-goers to dress casually…and to be there. More than any year in recent memory, the SBC annual meeting seemed to actually skew younger.
The next generation of Baptist leaders is something to be excited about. They appreciate the previous generation that fought to return the SBC to its doctrinal roots. They’re concerned about delivering biblical truth in love. They understand new churches are an evangelistic force to be reckoned with. They crave face-to-face, genuine, redemptive relationships.
But they could also learn something from Jack and Wilma Booth, because “being there” will be more and more important as Southern Baptists carve out their identity in a changing world. And not just at youth-oriented meetings, but in the convention hall too, even at 8 a.m.
Southern Seminary President Al Mohler said as much at a 9Marks gathering in Houston, when he talked about how some cities draw a bigger convention crowd because families have the opportunity to vacation in the area. “I’m not saying that’s even bad stewardship…What’s bad stewardship denominationally, is to not show up when it appears less interesting to you.”
As the denomination looks toward its 2014 meeting in Baltimore, the influence of younger leaders will be interesting to watch. They’ll help elect a new president, and take on leadership roles themselves. But to do those things, they’ll need to be there.