In 1993, the last time Southern Baptists gathered in Houston, 17,768 messengers tripled this year's total.
SBC Registration Secretary Jim Wells said he foresaw a lower attendance this year, citing the flailing economy for the turnout. However, the 35 percent drop was short of his pre-convention guess of about 7,000 attendees. This year's 5,103 was just 151 over 2011's annual meeting in Phoenix, when 4,852 messengers gathered for the lowest-attended annual meeting in six decades.
"Church budgets are tight," Wells said. "People evaluate everything that's going to go on at the convention and make their decisions. Some have said there's just disinterest, but I really attribute it to the economy."
He added that the fact it was not an SBC "election year" and there were few controversial issues also contributed to the drop in attendance. Messengers June 11 re-elected Fred Luter Jr., pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, to a second term as president of the SBC without opposition, hence the non-election year. The most debated item of the Annual Meeting, a resolution regarding the Boy Scouts of America and their new policy to allow homosexual members, was overwhelmingly adopted.
As expected, Texas churches turned out in force for the meeting in their backyard; their 1,026 messengers represented the largest number from any state.
Next year, with the convention headed northeast to Baltimore, Wells said he is reluctant to provide an estimate of 2014's attendance.
"It's going to be a presidential year," he said, "but we don't have a lot of churches ."
The unofficial state-by-state messenger registration numbers are as follows: Alabama, 258; Alaska, 12; Arizona, 186; Arkansas, 186; California, 112; Colorado, 41; Connecticut, 2; Delaware, 3; Florida, 256; Georgia, 311; Hawaii, 12; Idaho, 8; Illinois, 7; Indiana, 63; Iowa, 7; Kansas, 39; Kentucky, 226; Louisiana, 383; Maine, 1; Maryland, 66; Massachusetts, 3; Michigan, 10; Minnesota, 6; Mississippi, 293; Missouri, 181; Montana, 2; North Carolina, 276; Nevada, 30; New Hampshire, 1; New Jersey, 17; New Mexico, 45; New York, 28; Ohio, 71; Oklahoma, 195; Oregon, 2; Pennsylvania, 17; Puerto Rico 3; South Carolina, 144; South Dakota, 5; Tennessee, 379; Texas, 1,026; Utah, 9; Virginia, 173; Washington, 12; Washington, D.C., 11; West Virginia 15; Wisconsin, 5; Wyoming, 11. There were 24 messengers that were approved through the credentials process but were unaffiliated with a state convention.
Wells was first elected registration secretary in 2002 and was re-elected to another term June 12. He serves as the Missouri Baptist Convention's Cooperative Program missionary for strategic partnerships.
Brian Koonce is a staff writer for The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com) newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
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