Read part one in this multi-part history here.
Both a zealous commitment to congregational autonomy and a strong impulse toward cooperative ministry underlie the organizational history of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Throughout the history of the denomination, Southern Baptist leaders have carefully navigated the principle of congregational autonomy as they have sought to develop cooperative ministries.
In the SBC, congregations own their own property, call and ordain their own clergy, and conduct business independent of denominational control. Considered autonomous churches, these congregations freely associate with the SBC (a national body), other national Baptist bodies, state bodies (generally known as state conventions), and local bodies (generally known as associations). In general, churches choose to associate with the SBC (or any of the other Baptist bodies) because it allows them to cooperate with other autonomous congregations to accomplish shared goals: mission efforts, public witness, theological education, etc. The present form that this cooperation takes among Southern Baptists emerged semi-organically over the last one hundred and fifty years.
From its birth in 1845, the number of congregations affiliating with the SBC grew through the nineteenth century, and by 1900 the denomination had become fairly large. In addition, by that time, the SBC governed several entities including the Foreign Mission Board (FMB), the Home Mission Board (HMB), the Baptist Sunday School Board (BSSB) and Southern Seminary (SBTS). This growth led to two challenges. First, it became increasingly difficult to conduct all the convention’s business at the annual meeting. Second, the increasing number of ministry entities associated with the SBC created the turn-of-the century version of “donor fatigue” in the convention. Both issues needed to be addressed.