On falling attendance at the NC Baptist Convention (Part 1)

I'm hardly an expert here. I've been in North Carolina for just under two years. I had no exposure who what was going on with North Carolina Baptists before I moved here in February 2008. There are, no doubt, many who are more qualified to speak to this issue. But here goes anyway... (aren't blogs great?)

This year's BSCNC total attendance was announced as 2,053, compared to 2,373 in 2008. According to @njameson, editor of the NC Baptist state newspaper, the 2008 number was low itself. Playing off a question he asked me ealier in the convention about officer nominees, I asked back if the declining attendance numbers were a sign of unity or apathy. My answer to that question is its probably some of both.

The state convention is partially, if not primarily, a business meeting. We all know that business meetings normally only get interesting when people start arguing with each other. That may be sad, but I think its true. There is now a great amount of unity among those active in BSCNC. This equates to most votes being uncontested, with little discussion. In other words, the business sessions are going to be boring. Which leads to... apathy.

Most people who might attend realize their vote is probably not going to matter. They plan on not approaching a microphone to debate. It appears as if the convention assembles to rubber stamp what the various committees recommend. (And this isn't necessarily a bad thing when committees are making good recommendations!) People understandably take the attitude that "my attendance doesn't make a difference." And they are pretty much correct. Sure, if I were to attend, it would help the attendance numbers and help the conference hall look a little more full, but these are hardly compelling reasons to drive a few hours and stay two nights in a hotel for the convention.

Attending the state convention meeting does help someone stay informed about what is going on among NC Baptists, but not enough to cause someone to attend. I can stay home and watch the video feed to help stay informed. I can follow blogs and the state newpaper to stay informed. I can talk with other pastors to stay informed. All this on top of the fact that staying informed about state convention activities is nowhere near the top of the priority list for most pastors, let alone church members.

To Hear Good Speakers
The sermons at this year's convention were very good. But as conferences go, the lineup at most any state convention meeting is going to fall flat. Take one local example. In February 2010, three months away, SEBTS is hosting the 20/20 conference. The speakers are Danny Akin, Matt Chandler, J. D. Greear, David Platt, and others. We don't have time to do everything, and if my schedule forces me to choose either the BSCNC or 20/20, there really isn't any question which one I'm going to attend.

To Hear Good Music
I think the convention did a great job of representing different musical genres and getting some very talented musicians. But I can listen to good music on my iPod. The draw for music at a convention/conference is the opportunity to engage in a corporate worship experience. Its hard to cultivate an atmosphere of worship with one song, then a vote, two songs, then a report. When music is used like that, it becomes much more entertainment than worship. And I can pretty much guarantee that a Baptist state convention is not going to entertain well enough to make me drive 4 hours. (Though the web design video was pretty funny.)

To Catch Up with Old Friends and Meet New People
The convention is a good time for this kind of thing and is definietly an added bonus of choosing to attend. But again, its not enough to get me there.

Convention Hall Exhibits and Breakout Sessions
The exhibits are something else interesting and useful, just not compelling. Its fun to walk about and see all the booths set up and talk with the people involved in different ministries. It's a great way to find some ideas and resources. Breakout sessions are another good addition to the convention experience, but as with the other things I've mentioned, aren't enough to make me want to attend.

I'll post a part two that puts all of this together and then offer some suggestions for what might make an event that more people would make a priority to attend.

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