NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—In 350 days, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bart Barber will drop the gavel at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to open the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting. With preparations underway, leaders are promising it to be a gathering that accomplishes all the necessary business with a healthy dose of laissez les bons temps rouler.

“I couldn’t be more excited to help show off the kingdom work happening in the New Orleans metro area,” said Jay Adkins, lead pastor of Westwego, La., First and chair of the local arrangements committee. “All the history, music, art, food and good times are waiting. So are the souls of those my brothers and sisters will engage with the Gospel for those days in June of 2023. Please be praying now for fertile ground as you look forward to joining us in the ‘northernmost Caribbean city.’

Visit NOLA website provides messengers and guests information on activities, restaurants and family entertainment options as well as missions and ministry opportunities. It also includes background on the city and a welcome from Jamie Dew, president of New Orleans Seminary (NOBTS).

The 2023 SBC Annual Meeting and Pastors’ Conference are scheduled for June 11-14, 2023, at the convention center on the bank of the Mississippi River and Port of New Orleans. Hotel reservations open in October.

Executive Committee (EC) members voted April 28 to move the 2023 Annual Meeting from Charlotte to New Orleans due to the growth in attendance of recent gatherings.

When messengers voted in 2016 for Charlotte to host in 2023, attendance had averaged 5,700 the previous five years. Messenger registration easily eclipsed that mark in 2018 in Dallas (9,632) and Birmingham in 2019 (8,183). The 2020 meeting was canceled due to COVID, but last year registration soared to 15,726 messengers and 21,474 total attendees at the Music City Center in Nashville.

This year’s Anaheim gathering saw 8,133 messengers and overall attendance pushing past 10,000. California, not surprisingly, led the way with 1,126 messengers. The last time Southern Baptists met in the West—2017 in Phoenix—5,015 messengers gathered with 2,063 guests.

“We’re expecting 10,000-12,000 messengers in New Orleans next year and possibly (more than) 15,000 in total attendance,” said Jonathan Howe, EC vice president for communications. “The original selection of Charlotte reflected the annual meeting attendance at the time. The change to New Orleans simply reflects the current math.”

New attendees are driving much of the increased interest.

“Approximately 45 percent of those who attended in Anaheim were at their first or second annual meeting,” said Howe, who added that similar statistics were reflected in Nashville’s attendance in 2021. “It’s exciting to see a new generation of Southern Baptists engaged in the annual meeting.”

Locations scheduled through 2028 are in line with current attendance projections, he said.

Fred Luter’s election to become the Convention’s first Black president marked the historic 2012 New Orleans annual meeting, the last time Southern Baptists gathered there. Luter is in his 37th year as pastor of New Orleans, La., Franklin Avenue.

Dew joined other Baptist leaders in expressing his excitement for next year’s gathering.

“NOBTS is thrilled to welcome Southern Baptists to our great city in 2023,” he said. “We want to encourage Southern Baptists to come early or stay late to take in the rich food and culture of New Orleans. We can’t wait to have you here with us and show you all what God is doing on our campus and in our city.”

Howe, a Louisiana native, said “The Road to New Orleans” will premiere in January. The 20-part video series will provide greater insights into the annual meeting’s setting as it did in 2021 with “The Road to Nashville” and this year’s “The Road to Anaheim.”

Local Baptist efforts in preparation won’t slow down, Adkins said.

“(Executive Director) Jack Hunter and (business manager) Alex Brian are hard at work organizing our New Orleans Baptist Association of Churches (NOBA) to be ready to help host next year’s convention,” he said. “We are looking forward to sharing about our five medical clinics and our numerous local ministry and mission sites.”