BALTIMORE | Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention pledged a spiritual awakening through a united front Tuesday amid the congregation's decline in membership and shuttered churches.
"We can bemoan where we are ... we can bemoan where we are in the country, but it's past time to pray," newly elected SBC President Ronnie Floyd said at the church's national meeting. "We need the next great spiritual awakening. It's time for us to come together, to come together in a visible union, to come together in extraordinary prayer. It's been more than 100 years since the United States experienced the last great movement of the Lord. We're overdue."
The two-day national meeting, "Restoration & Revival Through Prayer," is being held at the Baltimore Convention Center. More than 5,000 people are registered from churches across the country to attend the event, which includes exhibitions, elections, status reports and worship services.
Among the first orders of business was to elect a new leader to succeed President Fred Luter Jr., senior pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans — the first African-American president of the SBC.
Mr. Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, won nearly 52 percent of the convention votes.
Wearing a gray-striped suit with an orange tie, Mr. Floyd confidently told reporters that he is committed to uniting Southern Baptists of all ages and would be using social media to connect with members from anywhere in the world.
"The Southern Baptist Convention is a cross-generational denomination of people," he said. "Southern Baptists need to start having a conversation. We need to come together and learn to trust one another, not [talk] about one another. We need to get the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth."
But before the convention can reach the far reaches of the globe, declining membership must be addressed within the United States.
According to the North American Mission Board, an average of 1,000 churches disappear each year from the convention's database. Baptism numbers have continued to fall from 350,000 members in 2009 to 315,000 in 2012, according to the most recent statistics.
"We must focus on church revitalization," said Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board. "We're at a very critical time. When you look at the whole landscape of Southern Baptist churches, we now have 10 to 15 percent of churches considered healthy, 70 to 75 percent have plateaued or declined, and 10 to 15 percent are near death or at risk."
According to the North American Mission Board, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, new churches need to be started at a rate of 15,000 every decade to keep up with population growth and to offset the 1,000 churches lost each year.
One way to address this, Mr. Ezell said, is through the Send North America program, which has identified 32 "send cities" where church planting will be focused. The cities, which include Baltimore and the District, were recognized for their influence in business, education, culture and faith.
A send-city coordinator has been placed in each of the 32 cities to spearhead a plan for church planting and to work as a link between local church leaders and convention leaders.
Church planting has been successful, the mission board reports showed. The board began monitoring church planting differently in 2010. That year, the convention planted 943 new churches with a special identification number, which would be tracked over time.
Since 2010, 856 churches, or 91 percent of those planted in 2010, are still operating. Those churches also saw a 20 percent gain in membership between 2011 and 2012.
The churches planted in 2010 also excelled in attendance numbers compared to the rest of the country. Between 2011 and 2012, attendance went up 11 percent among the plants, compared to a decline of 3 percent across the rest of the nation's countries.
"We have much to celebrate," Mr. Ezell said. "But there is still much to be done."
Earlier Tuesday, former convention Vice President Wiley Davis proposed a motion for the convention to join an effort to impeach President Obama. The convention's committee on Order of Business determined the proposal was "outside the scope of duties" of the convention and ruled it "not in order."
The committee also declined to bring to a vote a resolution denouncing the Washington Redskins mascot as racially insensitive.
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