On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists commandeered commercial aircraft as weapons, using them to strike at the heart of America. New York represented the economic prowess of our country. The Pentagon is a symbol of military might. The plane that went down in Pennsylvania reportedly was headed for the White House or the Capitol, the seat of America’s government. All of the targets were premeditated. No planes were headed for a church. Sadly, our spiritual power does not draw the attention of those who hate our nation.
On the Sunday following 9/11, many churches were packed. People sought spiritual solace in a time of calamity. Only eternity will show if the church responded well.
In March of this year, an unseen enemy struck the United States. COVID-19 began to take lives by the thousands. The elderly and those with underlying health issues were the most vulnerable. Commerce, travel and even public worship stopped. For weeks, people were asked to stay home. Churches scrambled to figure a way to minister to people. Electronic communications stepped to the front. Zoom became a common means of virtual gathering. Time will tell whether the church responded well.
Your state convention shifted from in-person events to an online presence. More was needed. I knew that the SBTC needed some retooling but thought it would wait a year or two. Someone has said that a crisis reveals needs. Crisis also accelerates the need for change. After much prayer, I asked a select number of SBTC staff to serve on a vision team. They were tasked to help us not just navigate through the COVID-19 crisis, but to reposition the SBTC to better serve the churches during and afterwards.
The SBTC last went through a detailed analysis of our ministries in 2012 under the “Refocus Plan.” The purpose was to evaluate and adopt structure, staffing and services in response to the Praying and Listening sessions that had taken place across the state in the prior year. Now, eight years later, we again looked at the ministries of the convention and needed to address the question of how to best accomplish our ministry purposes.
In order to gain input from the churches, the Vision Team sent surveys to over 500 individuals representing a wide cross-section of SBTC constituents. Responses were received from almost 40 percent of those contacted. The questionnaire included matters such as: the purpose and effectiveness of the convention’s ministries and major events; the importance of diversity and next generation engagement; how to measure success as a church and convention; the importance of the convention’s office building; and the purpose of a state convention. In addition, the Vision Team contacted several other Baptist state conventions. Common themes in those discussions included varying levels of staff working remotely and the importance of building relationships in order to accomplish ministry.
From the data, 10 observations for actions were noted. You can see them on page 3 in this issue of the TEXAN. Most notably there was no desire to change the DNA of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. We remain a confessional fellowship of churches around the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. The convention staff continues to serve church with a kingdom focus. The central funding vehicle is the undesignated giving channel, the Cooperative Program. This will not change.
Methodology will change. Heightened attention to church health and leadership, enhancing digital capabilities and communication, renewed commitment to church planting and evangelism, and supplying resources with a relational component will take a different form in 2021. Some staff assignments will change. Practical matters like reducing facility cost, having some staff serve remotely and increased outsourcing are all a part of the plan.
Vision 2021 is not the final product. Your SBTC staff regularly evaluates how we best can serve the churches. Although COVID-19 has been a life-altering experience, we have the opportunity to adjust to advance the gospel in a new and fresh way.