The Southern Baptist Convention is organized through state conventions. (Though some of the “state” conventions combine multiple states.) I suggest to you that these state conventions play a helpful, but underappreciated role in the work of our faith and denomination.
I’ve heard people predict or even advocate the demise of state conventions for years now. Are they necessary? Do they add a level of redundancy? That sort of thing. While I always appreciate efforts to make our work more effective and efficient, there are some benefits to the work of our state conventions that ought to be considered. Here are just a few.
1. They keep us locally focused. I appreciate a big picture approach to SBC life. But that big picture is made up of many smaller portraits. State conventions have the pulse of churches in their region that national entities can’t. No one knows more about the needs of my state better than my own state convention staff. The very fact that they live and worship here allows them to understand our needs in church planting and revitalization and discipleship in a way that is difficult for others.
Their local focus forces them to understand our churches because local churches are the ones supporting them. They are accountable to their local churches in a way that national agencies, by their very nature, can’t be. But a local focus does not negate a national and international strategy. I’ve found most state convention leaders to be kingdom focused and team players within our denomination. They care deeply about our denomination as a whole and not just their part. And do note that our state conventions have been on a slow but steady increase in the percentage of cooperative program receipts they send on to the national agencies.
2. They connect us. State conventions have been helpful to me in connecting with me with other pastors and church leaders. Whether through training events or special activities or just personal contact, they can help churches and ministers connect. A state convention staffer just connected me with a church planter in my state. I will benefit from learning about from this church planter and perhaps he will benefit from me.
They also connect us with our national agencies. Pastors often don’t know the leaders of our national agencies. We know about them but may not know them personally. Our sheer numbers prohibit that. But pastors can easily know their state convention staff. And, they will certainly get a return phone call. Ministers can discover how to connect with NAMB and the IMB and our seminaries and other agencies through the assistance of their state convention.
Our state convention just partnered with LifeWay for a special event for pastors and wives. It brought new connections between ministers and also to this large national agency. Win/win.
3. They support us. If I need training in my church I know that I can find out how to get it through my state convention. They will either provide it or show me the resources by which I can find it. My state convention will sponsor training in discipleship, evangelism, church planting, church revitalization, small groups… well, you get the picture. If I need help, they will help me be helped.
The state convention does some of its best work more individually. They do it by supporting a struggling pastor who needs some encouragement or advice. They help a transitioning church to see new possibilities. They help pastorless churches find leadership.
No, our state conventions aren’t perfect anymore than are our national agencies. Perhaps there are ways to increase efficiency. Maybe you can help them become more effective. But don’t lose sight of their benefit and the blessing they have been and can continue to be.