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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is term referring to both the denomination and its annual meeting of delegates, both at the national level and local levels. The SBC is the largest Baptist group, and the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, claiming 16 million members. According to the Religious Congregations Membership Study, the Convention had 15,922,039 members in 41,514 churches in the United States in 2000.

Because Baptist churches believe strongly in the autonomy of the local church, the SBC is a cooperative organization by which churches can pool resources, rather than as a body with any administrative control over local churches. It maintains a central administrative organization based in Nashville, Tennessee, which has no authority over its affiliated state conventions, local associations, or individual churches or members. Its "confession of faith", the Baptist Faith and Message (2000 edition), is also not binding on churches or members (see "SBC Beliefs" below).


Baptists arrived in the southern United States near the end of the 17th century. The first Baptist church in the south was formed in Charleston, South Carolina under the leadership of William Screven, a Baptist preacher and shipbuilder who arrived there from Maine in 1696.

The first associations formed in the South were the Charleston Association (org. 1751) and the Sandy Creek Association (org. 1758). Baptists in the South participated in forming the first national Baptist organization in 1814 known as the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions or the Triennial Convention which met every three years.

The Southern Baptist Convention was formed May 8-12, 1845 in Augusta, Georgia. Its first president was William Bullein Johnson (1782-1862), who was president of the Triennial Convention in 1841. The immediate, though not the only, cause for forming the SBC was the controversy over slavery between Northerners and Southerners within the Triennial Convention and the Home Mission Society. Though the bodies were theoretically neutral, some Baptists in the South did not believe the assurances of neutrality. They knew several leaders were engaged in abolitionist activity. To test this, Georgia Baptists recommended James E. Reeve, a slaveholder, to the Home Mission Society as a missionary in the South. The Society did not appoint Reeve, presumably not on the basis of his being a slaveholder, but because the Georgia Baptists wished his appointment specifically because he was a slaveholder. Baptists from the South subsequently broke from this organization and formed the new Southern Baptist convention.

Another issue that disturbed the churches in the south was the perception that the American Baptist Home Mission Society (org. 1832) did not appoint a proportionate number of missionaries to the southern region of the U. S.

It is also evident that Baptists north and south preferred a different type of denominational organization: the Baptists in the north as a whole preferred a loosely structured society composed of individuals who paid annual dues, with each society usually focused on a single ministry, while the southern churches preferred an organization composed of churches patterned after their associations, with a variety of ministries brought under the direction of one denominational organization.

SBC Beliefs

The general theological perspective of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention is represented in the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M). The BF&M was first drafted in 1925, then revised significantly in 1963 and again in 2000, with the latter revision being the subject of much controversy.

The BF&M is not considered to be a creed along the lines of historic Christian creeds such as the Nicene Creed; members are not required to adhere to it nor are churches required to use it as their "Statement of Faith" or "Statement of Doctrine" (though many do in lieu of creating their own Statement). Despite the fact that the BF&M is not a "creed," missionaries who apply to serve through the various SBC missionary agencies must "affirm" that their practices, doctrine, and preaching are consistent with the BF&M; this affirmation has also been the subject of controversy. For details, see Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.


  • Baker, Robert. ed. A Baptist Source Book. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1966.
  • Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States, 2000. Glenmary Research Center
  • Baker, Robert. The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1607-1972. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1974.
  • Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists: Presenting Their History, Doctrine, Polity, Life, Leadership, Organization & Work, Knoxville: Broadman Press, v 1-2 (1958), 1500 pp; 2 supplementary volumes 1958 and 1962; vol 5 = Index, 1984.

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