NASHVILLE (BP) -- People involved in compiling denominational data have a desire "to serve our churches and be good stewards," Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, told Baptist state statistical representatives during a two-day meeting in Nashville.

Since 1918, Southern Baptists have gathered statistical information on trends in attendance, giving, baptisms and Bible study participation in Southern Baptist churches, said Stetzer, who leads in LifeWay Research's role of networking with state representatives to gather quantifiable data for the Annual Church Profile, which is reported to the Southern Baptist Convention.

"This was not an easy task to undertake at the time and it is still not an easy task," Stetzer said. By 1945 a method was being used which streamlined the process through uniformity of materials and cooperation, he noted.

The Annual Church Profile (ACP) "is still about cooperation, not duplication," Stetzer said. "Information is needed to maintain relationships and indicate relationships. Our focus in gathering data is so we can accurately answer 'Who are we?'

"Facts are our friends," Stetzer continued. "For many pastor types, faith is our friend -- and it should be. But telling facts -- the truth -- should be our friend to show accurately who we are as Southern Baptists."

ACP data is not owned by LifeWay Christian Resources or any other entity, Stetzer pointed out.

"We steward the ACP process," he said. "Simply by sharing information together we do it more efficiently. Joint ministry is not possible without cooperation. We believe the ACP matters.

"Churches share information about their leaders, enabling encouragement, resourcing and serving together," Stetzer explained. "When churches do not share these contacts, it limits the invitations, the interaction and real relationships with others in the convention."

In recent years, the ACP has been stretched because of fewer resources, various local emphases and data needs of related processes, Stetzer acknowledged. However, "I'm a believer that scarcity brings clarity," he said. "We can do more focused work with less."

Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, spoke on the importance of using proven principles for the ACP and led the state representatives in discussions of the value of church participation in the ACP during their March 12-13 sessions at LifeWay.

"While a lot of situations have changed in our convention , there are some common principles that remain," McConnell said.

First, the best statistical process must be efficient for churches, he said.

"It can't be too lengthy or difficult, and the church should only have to submit information once for all users," McConnell said. "The ACP process has facilitated this process well."

Second, the best process entails good stewardship, McConnell said. In having one census annually, he noted that it combines the needs of the churches, associations, states and national entities and utilizes automation where possible.

Third, the best survey asks for appropriate items. "When our history is written, we want the things counted to be our relationships," McConnell said. Through the ACP, congregations indicate whether they have a relationship with an association, state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.

"People think the ACP is just about numbers, but most items are really indicators of relationships," McConnell said. "Churches report how many people have a relationship with their church , how many new relationships were established this year , and how many are participating in worship, Bible study, giving, and going....

"Church response to the ACP can be best encouraged by those who have the closest relationship with the church," McConnell said. "That's why relationships at the associational level and state level are so important."

McConnell also said the "cooperation we're talking about is about a give-and-take. It's a testimony to this very group that there has never been a year that states haven't shared data. It's a testimony to cooperation.

"The ACP process is not the focus of what we do, but its relationships touch everything we do," McConnell said. "This group plays an important role, because you enable this ministry. It's an important role in Southern Baptist ministry."

Russ Rankin writes for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net