Virtual Participation at the 2020 Northwest Baptist Annual Meeting

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In January 2020 I recommended virtual participation, including remote access to voting, for the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). My suggestion was not greeted with enthusiasm by some at the time, then came Covid-19 and the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting was cancelled for the first time in 75 years. Had virtual participation been established canceling the meeting would have been unnecessary.

The purpose of recommending virtual participation was not in anticipation of something like what we are currently experiencing. Rather, it was intended as a means to involve more people in the SBC, particularly those for whom finances and work schedule prevent traveling to a distant SBC location. I believe the SBC will be stronger and our support greater if we involve more churches and pastors in the decision-making process.

That said, Covid-19 has provided many Associations and State Conventions the opportunity to test the concept of virtual participation in their annual meetings. Some churches have done the same with business meetings, and nearly all churches have developed some form of online worship participation.

The Northwest Baptist Convention (Washington, Oregon, and north Idaho), which I serve, had our first virtual participation Annual Meeting on Nov. 10, with the initial feedback overwhelmingly positive. More than 330 registered as messengers and guests. Messengers provided their names, church name, church SBC ID number, and an email address. Votes were cast on six items, including one concerning the possibility of borrowing $5 million in short-term funding for relocating NWBC facilities. The votes were recorded in real-time through an on-line polling system, and the results of the votes were announced during the meeting. Virtual participants were able to ask questions through an online “chat” feature, and their questions were read and answered publicly in the meeting.

We shortened the meeting to 2 ½ hours, which provided time for reports, business, worship, as well as encouraging messages from President Barry Campbell and myself. While a virtual meeting didn’t satisfy the fellowship needs of participants, it did enable us to conduct business and address pressing matters. Moreover, the cost of doing the meeting online was quite reasonable. While we desperately desire face-face meetings in the future, I anticipate enabling virtual participation is something we will seriously consider, even when the Covid-19 disaster is over.

An SBC that was programmed with virtual participation as a primary method would offer intriguing opportunities. I believe Southern Baptists will increase support of SBC missions by enabling virtual participation in our Annual Meeting. We can no longer expect churches to support Southern Baptist missions out of obligation or because “they’ve always done so.” We must make engagement with the SBC easier using modern tools or expect a continued decline in concern and financial support of our cooperative mission. Just think about the possibilities virtual participation affords! Missionaries overseas could serve as messengers from their home churches in the U.S.A. Bi-vocational pastors, lay leaders with limited vacation, and others unable to physically attend, but whose churches faithfully support Cooperative Program missions, will have input through the voting process. Covid-19 has removed all doubt that the time has come for virtual participation in the SBC.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

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