What difference does it make if your church is part of the local Baptist association?
That’s an important question for church leaders and director of missions to ponder. Yet, apparently, they see things somewhat differently.
“In an effort to be the best possible stewards of their time and resources, Southern Baptist church leaders are evaluating the networks and organizations with which they choose to partner in order to fulfill the Great Commission, and associations aren’t except from that evaluation,” according to Jason Lowe, director of missions for Pike Baptist Association. Lowe has done an extensive analysis of a recent survey of approximately 450 Southern Baptist leaders, gleaning key insights from a massive 208-page report on their attitudes regarding the work of associations.
“(I)n personal conversations that I have had, there are some who question if the day in which associations are a relevant and vital partner to local churches has passed,” Lowe stated. “In other words, there are some who question if the local Baptist association has a future.” As a director of missions in Kentucky for the past four years, Lowe, of course, believes the association can be a relevant ministry partner to the local church, but he also realizes not everyone shares this view.
No real surprise here. In fact, the survey found that the level of a senior pastor’s personal involvement in an association often determined a church’s involvement. “If the senior pastor sees value and participates in the association personally, his church is more likely to be active as well,” Lowe explained. To the contrary, church leaders who were slightly or not at all involved, when asked to identify the association’s most exciting aspect, were likely to reply, “Nothing.” Of some comfort, though, should be that 90 percent of church leaders who said they were very involved saw the association as a strategic partner in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Yet, these findings shouldn’t really shock us. If you don’t go, you won’t know. But, of great concern should be the fact that nearly one-third of church leaders do not think their local association is a strategic partner in helping fulfill the Great Commission. Even more disturbing is that only 58.5 percent of church leaders think their church would be negatively affected if the local association ceased to exist.
Another finding that shouldn’t come as a surprise is that associational leaders generally are older than church leaders. “According to the research, nearly 6 out of 10 senior pastors (57.7%) surveyed were under the age of 50, while only 1 out of 10 association directors of missions (10.4%) were under the age of 50,” Lowe reported. “Furthermore, the majority of DOMs are between the ages of 60 to 69, while most senior pastors are between the ages of 30 to 59.” But, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, pastoral experience and counseling wisdom matters in dealing with congregational conflict and ministerial family issues.
Among other insights highlighted for the Western Recorder:
* According to the associational leaders, slightly more than half of SBC churches are represented at their association’s annual meeting (57.3%), and 53.2% of SBC churches participate in events offered by their association.
* The research also showed an inverse relationship between the size of the association and the percentage of churches that financially contribute to it. “In other words, smaller associations have a higher percentage of their churches that financially contribute to the association than larger associations,” Lowe noted.
* Associations are most effective in providing fellowship and networking opportunities between the churches in their geographic area. When asked how the association has effectively served its churches within the past three years, the most popular answer among church leaders (58.4%) and associational leaders (87.1%) was “Fellowship/Networking” opportunities. Another popular answer among church leaders (46.2%) and associational leaders (79.3%) was “Leadership Development & Training” opportunities.
However, when asked to describe what they found to be the most frustrating aspect of their association, many church leaders responded, “a lack of association strategy, vision or purpose.” But, in knowing that, there may be a ray hope. “The research showed that most church leaders do believe that associations can have a future,” Lowe said. “That is, if significant changes are made.”
“Church leaders are definitely in favor of the opportunities for cooperative ministry that local associations provide,” Lowe concluded, drawing upon the insights he plans to share in a follow-up blog this week (https://jasonalowe.com). When asked to identify the most exciting aspect of their association, the second most popular answer was “Cooperative Efforts,” he noted, adding, “So, the belief that we can accomplish more together for God’s kingdom than we can do on our own is alive and well in our churches and associations.” That’s a relief!