Southern Baptists on Tuesday approved shifting resources away from their strongholds in the South to concentrate in parts of the U.S. and the world where they can gain more members.
The 10,000 Baptists attending the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the
in Orlando voted to divert more money and manpower overseas and to Northern states.
"What it will do is help us to be more focused on meeting the needs around the world rather than spending it on ourselves," said the Rev. David Uth, pastor of
The decision to restructure the denomination was not without debate and division. Retiring President Morris H. Chapman urged rejection of the recommendations, which he said would drastically change the way churches give to the various boards, missions and agencies within the Southern Baptist Convention. Chapman said too much emphasis was placed on money and organization and not enough on spiritual renewal.
"The recommendations are about moving the chairs on the deck of the Titanic as the ship goes down into an icy, watery grave," Chapman said.
Supporters of recommendations made by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force said that changes were needed to bolster membership and baptisms
Membership has leveled off at about 16 million members since 2000, and the number of baptisms in 2009 was about the same as in 1989.
One recommendation, intended to expand the denomination's reach beyond the South, narrows the focus of the North American Mission Board to creating Southern Baptist churches in cities where none now exist, such as Seattle, Chicago and Boston.
Another recommendation broadens the reach of the International Mission Board, which has been restricted to evangelism in foreign countries. The international missionaries can now proselytize to ethnic groups and nationalities within the United States, such as foreign-born Hispanics and Haitians in
The increased emphasis on the International Mission Board, supporters contended, returns the denomination to its origins in 1845, when foreign missionary work was a primary goal of Southern Baptists.
It also allows Southern Baptists to respond faster and more efficiently to disasters worldwide as a way of introducing their religion to non-Christians, Uth said. "It helps us to take the hope of the gospel to ends of the earth, literally."
The Southern Baptists will conclude their meeting Wednesday.