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. 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 entities, 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 entities.
2. They connect us.
State conventions have been helpful in connecting 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 from this church planter and perhaps he will benefit from me.
They also connect us with our national entities. Pastors often don't know the leaders of the SBC's entities. 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 entities through the assistance of their state convention.
Our state convention just partnered with LifeWay Christian Resources for a special event for pastors and wives. It brought new connections between ministers and also to this large national entity. 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 either will 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.
In my state convention of Illinois, our church has been helped with everything from estate planning to Vacation Bible School. They have helped us organize our people for disaster relief teams and counseled our staff on retirement planning. And I cannot tell you how many times they have provided personal encouragement to me—often exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it.
State conventions also do some of their 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 any more than are our national entities. 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.
Doug Munton, online at dougmunton.com, is first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O'Fallon, Ill.