Callam proposes merger of Baptist Congress and Youth Conference

Baptist World Alliance General Secretary Neville Callam has proposed that the Baptist World Congress and the Baptist Youth World Conference be merged. Both are planned by the BWA and are held at five-year intervals, normally two years apart from each other.

Callam made the proposal amid concerns of declining attendance at the two global events. "Over the years, attendance at these international events has been less than encouraging," he told the BWA Executive Committee. "The relatively small attendance has severely strained BWA financial resources and has had the effect of diverting attention of BWA staff from other pressing aspects of the BWA mission."

Callam provided statistics to back up his concern.  The congress had more than 20,000 participants at the 1980 meetings in Canada. In 2010 in Hawaii, attendance was 4,400.

The youth conference had an attendance of approximately 7,000 in Scotland in 1988 and 8,000 in the United States in 1998. In 2013, just about 2,700 youth attended the event in Singapore.

"I believe that sound stewardship needs to be exercised in our approach to conceiving and planning future international conferences beyond 2015," the BWA leader said. Plans are already at an advanced stage for the 21st Baptist World Congress in Durban, South Africa, in July 2015.

"It is important to note that what I am asking us to consider is the transformation of both the congress and the youth conference through their integration into one vast opportunity for interaction among Baptists," he told the Executive Committee. "This transformation does not affect only the youth conference, but also the congress. The driving force behind this appeal is the firm desire to preserve the opportunities these two quinquennial events afford."

Callam believes that "thoughtful planning should preserve the opportunity for the youth to share fellowship with each other and to experience worship in ways that reflect the admissible values they hold." Similarly, "careful planning should also offer to adults and children the opportunity for meaningful encounter with each other and with the youth population of our churches."

Callam envisages that the 2020 global meetings "could be a great gathering in which children, youth, young people and adults in the church community across the worldwide Baptist family have the opportunity to experience a first great gathering in which the best features of both the youth conference and the congress are brought together in an appropriate way."

Such an "international gathering will provide BWA with an opportunity to respond to the challenge to preserve some of our best mission consciousness-raising opportunities, to facilitate extensive networking among Baptists worldwide, and to offer worship and fellowship opportunities using a flexible, effective, and sustainable vehicle," Callam declared.

Callam indicated that any future planning of global conferences and meetings should take into account technological developments, especially in international communications. "As is well known, ways of understanding what it means to be together have changed," he told the group of Baptist leaders from around the world. "Although not all aspects of the change are welcome, we need to bear this development in mind when we are planning international meetings."

The Executive Committee approved the establishment of a General Secretary's Special Commission to consider the possible design for such an international meeting.

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© March 6, 2014