The nation's largest Protestant denomination does not appear to be changing a 27-year-old conservative direction steered by powerful leaders. But the Southern Baptist Convention's new president is promising broader participation from the ranks of its 42,000 churches.

Frank Page won a surprise first-ballot victory over two better-known candidates at the SBC's annual meeting, held June 13 and 14 in Greensboro, North Carolina. 

"I'm not talking about broadening the tent theologically, simply numerically," said Page, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina. "There's a huge number of people who have been kind of kept out because they're not in a big enough church or whatever."

Observers credited Page's surprising victory to his church's support of the Cooperative Program. The voluntary giving plan supports the SBC's six seminaries, along with agencies such as the North American Mission Board (namb) and the International Mission Board (IMB).

Page's church gave the program 12.4 percent of its undesignated receipts last year. Two Rivers Baptist in Nashville, pastored by presidential candidate Jerry Sutton, gave 1.8 percent. Candidate Ronnie Floyd's First Baptist of Springdale, Arkansas, contributed 0.27 percent.

"I think it turned out to be a Cooperative Program affirmation convention," said Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. "That's not all bad."

Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, called the outcome of the first contested race in 12 years historic, with a broad-based coalition carrying a low-profile pastor to victory.

"I think this is a transitional moment in the history of the SBC," George told CT, "partly because it ...

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