ST. LOUIS -- As part of ongoing efforts to encourage racial diversity in the Southern Baptist Convention, two dinners held Sunday night at the annual Southern Baptist conference in St. Louis were geared toward motivating Asian and Hispanic Baptists to increase evangelism and leadership efforts.
This year marks the beginning of the implementation of recommendations made to the convention by two advisory councils, one Hispanic and the other Asian, said Frank Page, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.
The 80-member committee recommends budgets, takes care of public relations and distributes monetary contributions to the convention, according to the committee website.
The advisory councils submitted reports with suggestions for improving outreach efforts to minority groups, and some members will transition over to a permanent convention advisory council, Page said.
Convention President Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor at Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, said that in addition to the advisory council, he hopes that future presidents will do as he did in appointing more people from minority groups to committees.
"As we appoint more diverse leadership, we develop a bigger heart for the ethnicities of the world," Floyd said.
He said 20 percent of his appointments were to non-Anglo people and that he hoped this would increase conversations surrounding diversity within the church.
To further promote those conversations, Floyd encouraged attendees at both dinners to attend the entirety of the business portion of the conference Tuesday.
Hispanic leaders, who gathered before a projected picture of the Gateway Arch with the word "Bienvenidos" (Welcome) emblazoned across the bottom, were encouraged to nourish existing churches because those churches have the most potential for growth, Floyd said.
"If we are going to be relevant in the 21st century, we must be sensitive to Hispanic groups in our church and in our culture," he said.
Hispanics represented about 3 percent of the almost 2,000 Southern Baptists surveyed in a 2014 Pew Research Center study.
There are about 15.3 million members of the Southern Baptist Convention, according to the 2015 Annual Church Profile Statistical Summary.
The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that about 17 percent of Americans are Hispanic.
Floyd also spoke to the Hispanic group about the power of prayer to stop racial discrimination.
"It's time that all racism ends in the United States, and the church is the answer to that," he said.
Prayer was a theme that crossed over to both dinners. Page spoke to attendees at the Asian American Fellowship event about their special role in the church as people who "understand what other ethnic groups have yet to understand -- the power of prayer."
Floyd urged those in attendance to continue increasing involvement in the convention.
"We need you," he said. "You make us a lot better, not simply because you are Asian but because you love Christ."
The Pew study shows that less than 1 percent of the Southern Baptist population is Asian, while about 5 percent of the U.S. population is Asian.
Floyd also told the church leaders at the event to "stop easing up on baptism."
The Southern Baptist Convention experienced about a 3 percent decrease, or a drop of about 10,000, in the number of baptisms between 2014 and 2015, according to the Annual Church Profile.
In addition to the two dinners, Floyd said he will address the racial tension in the U.S. during his presidential address Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday, there will also be a panel on racial unity in the U.S.
"History is going to be made in that room, and you don't want to miss it," Floyd said.
Metro on 06/13/2016