The writing had been on the walls for a few years. The annual North American Convention of the Church of God, held in Anderson for about a century, was losing attendance.
Two years ago, the faith movement began surveying its membership about the apparent shift in the importance of the gathering — a meeting that defined the movement for decades.
The Church of God took root in Anderson in 1881. The movement grew quickly, and individual members felt they should gather in one spot each year to confirm their unity of spirit. The camp meeting, as it became known, gave members a stronger sense of identity and family.
Campers from around the country came to Anderson for a week of worship and praise. Their presence helped identify Anderson as a place that respected faith and welcomed visitors.
That experience — for both visitors and local residents — lasted decades, until the advent of a new millennium. Contemporary society was changing in the way it shared information.
Organizers were seeing a decrease in attendance among younger members; the sense of family was losing prominence. Some individual churches stopped stressing the importance of the meeting. Much of the convention was being streamed live via the Internet. Indeed, why attend when you can watch it at your home church or at your own residence?
A study was conducted two years ago to find ways to make the gathering more relevant. Options centered on moving the location of the gathering and rescheduling the gathering to every two or three years. This week, it was announced that the convention will move to Oklahoma City for 2014, bringing the gathering closer to the West, where a third of the members now live.
During the announcement, some leaders indicated Anderson might have been part of the problem. Hotel rooms, some said, weren’t plentiful enough to host a big convention.
Most living here would disagree. This city has certainly been large enough to host the gathering for nearly 100 years. Hotel rooms are more available now than ever.
More pressing would be the always shifting demographics of faith movements. And the Church of God, which will keep its headquarters here, is attempting to address that by moving its “camp meeting” out West.
It was inevitable that the convention would make major changes.
Anderson residents can be thankful that we had so many fruitful years with the convention. Now, let’s hope the Church of God can continue to find fruitful years in meeting its members’ needs.
In summary Losing the Church of God convention is sad but may help the faith movement.