Converge (Baptist denomination)
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Converge, formerly the Baptist General Conference (BGC) and Converge Worldwide, is a (US) national evangelical Baptist body with roots in Radical Pietism in Sweden and inroads among evangelical Scandinavian-Americans, particularly in the American Upper Midwest. From its beginning among Scandinavian immigrants, the BGC has grown to a nationwide association of autonomous churches with at least 17 ethnic groups and missions in 35 nations. The current president of Converge is Scott Ridout.
The Baptist General Conference adopted the new movement name of Converge Worldwide in 2008, and was renamed to Converge in 2015.
The Baptist General Conference grew out of the great revival of the 19th century, but its roots can be traced back to Radical Pietism in Sweden. In 1852 Gustaf Palmquist emigrated from Sweden to the United States. Forty-seven days after his arrival, he and three others organized a Swedish Baptist church in Rock Island, Illinois. Fredrik (F.O.) Nilsson, who was instrumental in leading Palmquist to Baptist views, arrived in America the next year with 21 immigrants. Some of these united with the Rock Island church, while others organized a church at Houston, Minnesota. Nilsson traveled widely, founding and strengthening churches. Anders Wiberg was another pioneer among these churches from 1852 until 1855, when he returned to Sweden as a missionary.
Christian experience was a major emphasis among these Swedish Baptists, and they prospered from the awakenings in the 19th century. Immigration, aggressive evangelism and conversion through revivals brought rapid growth to the denomination. John Alexis Edgren founded the Swedish Baptist Seminary in Chicago, Illinois in 1871.
In 1879, when the Swedish churches had grown to 65 in number, they formed a General Conference. The members of these churches assimilated into American society and gradually lost their separate ethnic identity. By 1940, most churches were English-speaking. In 1945, the Swedish Baptist General Conference dropped "Swedish" from its name and became the Baptist General Conference of America. Swedish Baptists had maintained an alliance with the American Baptist Publication Society, American Baptist home and foreign missions, etc., and later the Northern Baptist Convention. Some Swedish Baptists expected to merge with that body, but the groups moved toward different developments of theological emphasis. The conservative Swedish Baptists pulled back from growing liberalism of the Northern Baptists, and in 1944 formed their own Board of Foreign Missions. This moved them toward independent existence, which they have maintained to the present.
This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (April 2017)
The Baptist General Conference operates the Bethel Theological Seminary and Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minnesota near St. Paul, and maintains business offices in Arlington Heights, Illinois. The primary headquarters are now in Orlando, Florida. The official periodical is Converge Point, and Harvest Publications offers a wide range of Christian education material. The Conference labors in national and world missions, with missionaries in Central America, South America, southern Europe, former Eastern Bloc nations, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Asian Pacific rim. Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church, and John Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, leader of Desiring God Ministries, and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, are perhaps two of the most well known BGC ministers in the 21st century. Bethlehem Baptist Church was organized as the First Swedish Baptist Church of Minneapolis in 1871.
In 2006, the BGC had 194,000 members in 950 churches in the United States. These churches are also organized into 11 regional bodies: Northwest, Southeast, Great Lakes, Heartland, Minnesota-Iowa, MidAtlantic, Converge MidAmerica, PacWest, Northeast, Rocky Mountain, and Southwest. There are a further 105 churches in Canada organized into 5 district bodies. These congregations cooperate nationally through the Baptist General Conference of Canada.
The BGC cooperates with the National Association of Evangelicals led by President Leith Anderson (who also previously pastored the BGC Wooddale Church), the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and the Baptist World Alliance, and was a charter member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
According to a marketing statement the denomination describes itself as "a movement of churches working to help people meet, know and follow Jesus ... by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide. For over 165 years Converge has helped churches bring life change to communities in the U.S. and around the world through church planting and multiplication, leadership training, coaching and global missions."
- Glenmary Research Center. Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States, 2000
- McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness
- Olson, Adolf. A Centenary History as Related to the Baptist General Conference
- Wardin, Albert W. Jr. Baptists Around the World
- Converge - official website