NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The meeting of Baptist state statistical representatives on March 12-13 was punctuated by encouragement and training focused on making the Southern Baptist Annual Church Profile (ACP) as effective as possible.
“Our desire is to serve our churches and be good stewards,” said Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research, host of the gathering. Lifeway Research is responsible for networking with state representatives to annually gather quantifiable data, which is reported to the convention.
Since 1918, Southern Baptists have received statistical information from Lifeway on the trends of attendance, giving, baptisms, and Bible study participation of Southern Baptist churches, Stetzer explained.
“This was not an easy task to undertake at the time and it is still not an easy task,” he said. By 1945 a method was being used which streamlined the process through uniformity of materials and cooperation, Stetzer noted.
The ACP “is still about cooperation, not duplication,” Stetzer said. “Information is needed to maintain relationships and indicate relationships. Our focus in gathering data is so we can accurately answer ‘Who are we?’
“Facts are our friends,” Stetzer said. “For many pastor types, faith is our friend – and it should be. But telling facts – the truth – should be our friend to show accurately who we are as Southern Baptists.”
Stetzer pointed out that ACP data is not owned by Lifeway or any entity.
“We steward the ACP process,” he said. “Simply by sharing information together we do it more efficiently. Joint ministry is not possible without cooperation. We believe the ACP matters.
“Churches share information about their leaders enabling encouragement, resourcing and serving together,” Stetzer explained. “When churches do not share these contacts, it limits the invitations, the interaction and real relationships with others in the convention.”
In recent years, the ACP has been stretched because of local emphases, data needs of related processes and fewer resources, Stetzer acknowledged. However, “I’m a believer that scarcity brings clarity,” he said. “We can do more focused work with less.”
Scott McConnell, director of Lifeway Research, spoke on the importance of using proven principles for the ACP in today’s reality of the SBC and led the state representatives in discussions of the value of church participation in the ACP.
“While a lot of situations have changed in our convention (since the introduction of the ACP), there are some common principles that remain,” McConnell said.
First, the best statistical process is efficient for churches, he said.
“It can’t be too lengthy or difficult, and the church should only have to submit information once for all users,” McConnell said. “The ACP process has facilitated this process well.”
Second, the best process demonstrates good stewardship. This is reflected in having one census annually which combines the needs of the churches, associations, states, and national entities and utilizes automation where possible, McConnell explained.
Third, the best survey asks for appropriate items. “When our history is written, we want the things counted to be our relationships,” McConnell said. Through the ACP congregations indicate whether they have a relationship with an association, state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.
“People think the ACP is just about numbers, but most items are really indicators of relationships,” McConnell said. “Churches report how many people have a relationship with their church (members), how many new relationships were established this year (baptisms and other additions), and how many are participating in worship, Bible study, giving, and going.
“It’s all about the relationships,” McConnell noted. “Church response to the ACP can be best encouraged by those who have the closest relationship with the church. That’s why relationships at the associational level and state level are so important.”
McConnell also said the “cooperation we’re talking about is about a give and take. It’s a testimony to this very group that there has never been a year that states haven’t shared data. It’s a testimony to cooperation.
“The ACP process is not the focus of what we do, but its relationships touch everything we do” McConnell said. “This group plays an important role, because you enable this ministry. It’s an important role in Southern Baptist ministry.”
By Russ Rankin, Lifeway Communications