Organizers were disappointed in the aggregate turnout for the multi-site New Baptist Covenant II Nov. 17-19. With sites scattered coast to coast, they hoped for even more than the single-venue 2008 total of 15,000 in Atlanta.
They now report that this latest version of the effort to link diverse Baptists and mobilize them to address justice and social issues in local communities, states and across the country drew 1,700 participants, give or take a few.
Conventional wisdom suggests that 15,000 would make a greater impact in cooperative efforts to impact communities and the nation than barely a tenth of that number.
That's not necessarily so.
The 2008 event was promoted well in advance and held in conjunction with a pair of well-attended National Baptist conventions' annual meetings. It was heavily promoted well in advance. And it was held in late January and early February, a time of year when it was not likely to interfere with other events.
The 2011 incarnation had none of those factors working in its favor.
The 2008 event was primarily that — an event. While new cross-denominational relationships were formed between national leaders, pastors and others during the meeting, joint issue-oriented efforts at the local and state levels have been relatively limited.
Expect a more aggressive approach by this year's participants.The St. Louis venue, for instance, focused on ongoing racism concerns and local urban issues like youth violence and drug addiction, and ministries to HIV/AIDS victims and to the poor. Coordinating efforts between churches in various Baptist denominations should enable such concerns to be addressed more effectively and with greater success.
The St. Louis event's point person, Scott Stearman, senior pastor of Kirkwood Baptist Church, believes participants also will get even more involved in addressing the payday loan industry and proposed legal limits on such loans, often requiring 400 percent interest or more in Missouri.
The event in Oklahoma City focused heavily on the explosion of the payday loan industry as an issue on which diverse Baptists can agree to work.
The results of these city meetings also have the opportunity to help churches in smaller cities and towns that deal with the same or similar issues and want to address them in their own setting.
In St. Louis, participants experienced unity in worship. Many of them will be emboldened by a unified approach to impact their neighborhoods and cities.
It was clear in St. Louis that these Baptists from varying traditions have a lot to learn from each other. Many are already listening, joining hands and beginning the journey.
What began as a dream leading up to the 2008 national meeting has the potential to come to fruition at the grassroots level. Historically, few Christian movements start anywhere else.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.