Like national Baptist bodies, state convention meetings also may need to change to remain viable, leaders of Churchnet (the Baptist General Convention of Missouri) believe. The organization has tried two or three approaches to its annual gathering to keep it relevant for its members.
“There is less interest in the old general convention meetings…not just from the general public but also from leaders,” Churchnet Executive Director Jim Hill said.
“It’s clear when you look nationally. All the states I’ve talked with…are looking for different ways [to conduct annual session]…. The old meeting with an old agenda just doesn’t work anymore.”
Younger generations are no longer interested in “marathon business sessions” or in “preaching marathons,” he added.
The group does not do much business during the annual sessions. “We’ve tried to minimize the business content only to what is really needed,” Hill said. Most business is conducted through the organization’s board of directors and its teams.
Hill believes that, at 10 years old, Churchnet has the flexibility to adapt its annual gatherings to meet needs. “We’ve tried to make them something of value to the churches…rather than helpful to the convention,” he said.
A few years ago, Churchnet moved business to its Saturday breakfast and started offering workshops, enlisting partner churches and institutions to lead them.
The organization wants to try to keep a fresh perspective. “It must be functional, meaningful and bring something valuable to the churches,” he said.
Leaders generally evaluate each annual gathering, held in April, to consider other possible options. Multiple sites could be an option, but that approach might make conducting the business that must be handled more difficult.
Breaking the gathering into sections — with the mission banquet at one place and time, the business at another place and time, and workshops in different locations — also might be a possibility.
“We focus on churches to help them carry out their missions and ministry, and we help any church whether or not it supports Churchnet financially,” Hill said.
Any organization has to struggle to maintain a fresh, dynamic ministry. Churchnet has tried to do that having members rather than messengers and changing membership requirements. It has not had to conduct annual meetings in the same way each year, and it helps congregations of other denominations.
“We take a fresh look every year…. The less bureaucracy we build, we will be able to stay flexible for a longer period of time,” Hill said.