Conservative re-engagement among factors producing a 25-year-high in Annual Meeting attendance

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By Raegen Hain

June 18, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – More messengers registered for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Meeting this year in Nashville than have done so in 25 years. The total number of registered messengers reached 15,726 messengers, which along with 3,856 guests and 1,892 exhibitors totaled 21,474 people in attendance.

“We are better when we have more churches involved in this process,” said Ronnie Floyd, SBC Executive Committee president, speaking positively on the number of pre-registered messengers.

When the Executive Committee met Monday morning, June 14, Floyd stated that “Southern Baptists both want and need to be together” after an unusual two-year gap between meetings due to COVID-19. At the time of the Executive Committee meeting, numbers of pre-registrants had already passed 17,000. Floyd noted that attendance tends to rise in years of presidential elections and also credited the strength of the location of the meeting, saying that Nashville’s recent reduction of COVID-19 restrictions contributed to the large turnout of Annual Meeting attendees. 

Nashville last hosted the Annual Meeting in 2005, and attendance that year reached 11,641.

Messenger registration numbers began the week at 10,036 by Monday afternoon, quickly progressing to 15,549 Tuesday afternoon, and finally reaching 15,726 on Wednesday. 

Messengers stand along the edges of the convention hall to cast their vote for president during the SBC Annual meeting, June 15 | Photo: Carter Jurkovich

The messenger count for the 2021 meeting is the highest since the 1995 meeting in Atlanta, when registration totaled 20,654. Since the 2000 Annual Meeting, the number of messengers has averaged 7,000-8,000 people. 

Leading up to the first day of the 2021 Annual Meeting, June 15, the pre-registered messenger count continued trending upwards, breeding a discussion of the reasoning behind the 13,291-person increase from the 2019 Annual Meeting total attendance in Birmingham, Ala.

The turnout was well-received among Southern Baptists.

Malachi O’Brien, pastor of The Church at Pleasant Ridge in Harrisonville, Mo., and former SBC second vice president, believes “Southern Baptists want to make a difference,” suggesting the rise in messengers is due to Southern Baptists realizing their “need to become deeply involved in the Convention.”

“That’s why they’re here together, and I really believe that we are going see a great spiritual awakening because people are seeking the face of God,” O’Brien said.

Conservative Baptist Network Steering Council member, Rod Martin, agreed that the increase in attendance signaled a surge in re-engagement among Southern Baptists but further specified the engagement as a conservative one.

“It was a clearly a conservative re-engagement,” Martin said. “The people in the room in Birmingham who passed resolution nine clearly supported Ed Litton, and clearly rejected Al Mohler. That was the composition of the most recent prior conventions. Mike Stone came in a strong first on the first ballot, and had he flipped just 300 votes, would be the president today. That demonstrates clearly that in record turnout, the highest in 25 years, the difference was conservative Southern Baptists who want a different future for their convention.”

Rod Martin speaks to a standing-room-only crowd at the Conservative Baptist Network breakfast event, June 15 | Photo: Carter Jurkovich