By Zach Osowski
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
For the first time in almost 100 years, Anderson will not host the annual Church of God Convention.
The ministry announced Monday that Oklahoma City will be the new site for the 2014 convention and General Assembly meeting. Anderson will serve as a satellite location.
Jim Lyon, the ministry’s general director, said the main reason for the move is people are not showing up. The convention grew up around an annual meeting of the Church of God’s General Assembly, the decision-making body comprised of the ministers and leaders of the various churches. For many years, the church’s former weeklong international convention drew thousands of people here, filling the campgrounds adjacent to Anderson University with recreational vehicles and campers.
Over the last 10 years in particular the number of General Assembly members attending the meeting has gone down significantly. Lyon said they have been averaging only 4 percent of the 11,182 voting members of the General Assembly at the recent conventions.
This is because Anderson just doesn’t have the capacity to hold that many people. Lyon said as a culture people are no longer willing to camp or stay in dormitories at Anderson University and hotels are just not readily available in this area.
“Maybe part of the reason (for low attendance) is there is no place for them to stay,” Lyon said.
Mary Baker-Boudissa, chief of strategic communications for the ministry, said the demographic for the Church of God has changed.
The church started in northern Indiana and long remained dominant in the Midwest but has since spread out across the country.
“The number of churches in the West has grown over the years,” Baker-Boudissa said.
She said a third of the Church of God’s membership now reside in the western region of the country. She said this shift made it harder for people to travel to Anderson for the convention.
Lyon said of their 30 largest churches, 11 of them are near the West Coast, two are in Anderson and their biggest is in Boston.
This is a move the General Assembly has been discussing for a couple of years now. They made a decision in 2012 to include a satellite location for the 2014 convention, they just didn’t realize at the time Anderson would be that location.
Ultimately, they chose Oklahoma City because the church there has a facility capable of accommodating 6,000 people. They were willing to let the convention meet there free of charge.
Lyon said that coupled with the central location of the city along with the massive amount of hotel rooms available for people led the assembly to choose Oklahoma City.
Baker-Boudissa said they view this move as an opportunity to reach more people.
“We’re trying to reach a broader audience,” she said. “Change is necessary. It can be painful but it is crucial.”
Lyon agreed this is a big move for the ministry moving forward and that there are a lot of unknowns with the change of venue.
“This is a huge step into uncharted territory for us,” he said. “It is a big risk, but it could open a lot of opportunities for us as well.”
Because of the rich history of the Church of God and Anderson, the city was chosen as a satellite site. Baker-Boudissa said all of the events going on in Oklahoma City will be broadcast live to Anderson so people can see what is going on and join in.
It is a move Lyon said he hopes will bring more members of the assembly to the meeting and convention.
“We had 6 percent of the members attend last year,” he said. “If we could triple that number this year I would be ecstatic.”
The 2014 convention is June 23-26. Lyon said everyone is welcome to attend the event that will feature musical guests and speakers such as Sandi Patty, Sidewalk Prophets and Anne Graham Lotz.
Follow Zach Osowski on Twitter @Osowski_THB or call 640-4847.