Ten Facts You Should Know about the Southern Baptist Convention

Sam Rainer

June 11, 2017


I’m in Phoenix this week sweating it out at the annual meeting for Southern Baptists. In essence, the gathering is a giant, two-day church business meeting with thousands of people. Robert’s Rules of Order keeps the chaos at bay. Every year I’m here, ballot in hand. I love my tribe.

Many of my readers may not be familiar with the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s understandable—there are plenty of other networks, associations, and denominations that do kingdom work. For this post, I’ll share ten key facts about the SBC.

  1. The SBC is often called “America’s largest Protestant denomination.” However, in all technicality, we’re a convention not a denomination. The SBC does not have a top-down denominational structure. We’re a collection of ministries supported by a cooperating network of churches.
  2. Every church within the SBC is locally autonomous, meaning each church makes their own decisions about staff, budget, programs—everything. Since each SBC congregation is self-governing, there is no head office in Dallas, Nashville, or Atlanta giving orders to churches. The cooperation of churches within the SBC is completely voluntary.
  3. With almost 50,000 churches, the SBC is not geographically bound to the American South. We have churches in every state.
  4. Most SBC churches cooperate at the local, state, and national levels. The local association level is typically a small group of churches in one area focused on community-specific needs. The state level helps fund a broader work, such as children’s homes. The national level includes eleven agencies, such as seminaries and mission boards.
  5. The funding mechanism for mission work is called the cooperative program, a “mighty river” that is way too complicated to explain in a blog post.
  6. Baptists in general, and Southern Baptists specifically, have a history of being a “contentious lot.” We tend to fight, mainly over non-essentials. The crazy uncles make our annual meetings more fun, since anyone can approach the mic and say whatever they want.
  7. The SBC receives direction once a year at the annual meetings. Representatives from churches, called messengers, gather for two days to hear reports from agencies, vote on budget allocations, and elect agency trustees, among other items.
  8. In 1814 Baptist across the United States came together in the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination, often called the Triennial Convention, since it met every three years. However, by 1844 the Southern Baptists and Northern Baptists were split over the issue of slavery. When the Northern Baptists would not send Southern missionaries who held slaves, the Southern Baptists formed their own convention in 1845. It’s a terrible part of our history, but we’re righting our wrongs. In 1995, we adopted a resolution apologizing for our racism. In 2012, we elected our first African-American president, Fred Luter. And in one of my favorite SBC moments, we adopted a resolution in 2016 against the Confederate Battle Flag after a bold stand from James Merritt.
  9. From the 1960s to the 1990s the SBC went through a major transition—away from liberal theology and towards conservative theology. The struggle was called the Conservative Resurgence by supporters and the Fundamentalist Takeover by detractors.
  10. The SBC has a legacy of evangelistic zeal, but this fervor is fading. For several years in a row, SBC baptisms have declined. The main reason is the waning of evangelism and discipleship in SBC churches.

To all my SBC readers, see you in Phoenix!


10 comments on “Ten Facts You Should Know about the Southern Baptist Convention”

  1. Edward Lane says:

    Excellent discussion!

  2. I’m enjoying my time in Phoenix getting to know DOM’s at the SBCAL conference. DOM stands for “Director of Missions.” These men serve Southern Baptist churches gathered in association with each other to better fulfill their mission.

  3. Thom S. Rainer says:

    Regarding the “fun” of open mics in number 6: That, my son, is a matter of perspective.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      I enjoy awkward moments at your expense.

      1. Tom Jamieson says:


      2. Dave says:

        Gotta love “family” discussion on the blog!

  4. Steven Earp says:

    11) Anonymous internet trolls who use SBC hashtags and say things that are mean, disgusting, or ignorant, are likely not Baptists or even Christ followers.

    – That’s one thing I’d like my non-Baptist friends to know.

  5. Ervin (Buster) Gilliam says:

    I’ve been a southern baptist most of my life and I’m 70 now. I was blessed to be able to attend Southern Seminary in Louisville because of the Cooperative Program. I receive ed both my Masters and Dictoral Degrees there. I was honored to serve in Baptist churches as pastor for over 25 years. I very much appreciate my friends in the SBC.

  6. Zoe Campos says:

    It’s interesting to know that fights over non-essentials are considered normal in the Baptist Church. I’m thinking of reflecting on my beliefs and I feel like being part of a real organization can help. I’ll try to check online and see if there are nearby Baptist churches that I can visit in person.

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