By Lane Corley, LBC church planting strategist
In Louisiana, there are 32 Associations of Southern Baptist Churches. Each Fall, my job as Church Planting Strategist with the Louisiana Baptists allows me to attend 6-8 of their annual meetings. This year, I attended meetings in several different parts of the state. I love Associations & Associational Annual meetings, because I love LOCAL. And it’s in the local that you can get a glimpse of the Southern Baptist Convention at the ground level. For those of you who don’t know, Associations are basically regional networks of Southern Baptist churches that affiliate based on their geography. We have associations with as few as 15 churches and as many as 120 in Louisiana. Each Association has a Director (the DOM), a slate of officers, and ministry teams that have various functions from church revitalization to disaster relief. Each Association has 2-3 Executive Board meetings each year. Executive Boards are made up of pastors and members of local Southern Baptist churches. Each Association has one Annual Meeting, usually in the Fall, where business is conducted and budgets are set for the following year. Churches voluntarily give a set amount or percentage of their budgets to the local association.
Here’s a few encouraging observations after attending about 15 Associational Annual Meetings over the last few years:
Young Pastors are showing up, serving, and asking questions when they have opportunity.
Two of the largest associations in our state had moderators that were under 40 last year. Younger pastors seem not only interested in, but excited about being part of what’s happening locally and in supporting their local association.
The Southern Baptist Convention is growing at the Associational level.
Every Annual Meeting I attended this year had new congregations affiliating and being voted in as member churches. The Association is where you join in Southern Baptist life. Connecting at the national and state levels is through voluntary financial contributions. It’s great to see churches choosing the deeper connection and accountability that local affiliation provides.
Strategies are not monolithic and that’s OK with everyone.
Each association seems to go about the work a little differently. Some are more institutional, other are more organic and network like. Some are more pastor focused, others are more missions focused. Interestingly enough, they all work when the people agree and engage. There’s no sense of competition or “why don’t we do it more like…” among associations.
Much great work is being done that you and I will never know about.
The southern baptist association is not a big conference topic and the small church pastors, or big church pastors in smaller towns, that are usually more engaged in associational life, may never write a book or speak at a major conference. However, the innovation and creativity and passion for the local mission always amazes me when I’m able to gather with a local association.
Generational gaps in methodology appear to be closing.
A few years ago, there seemed to be present among younger and older pastors an “us” vs. “them” mentality toward the how to’s of church and outreach and ministry. That gap appears to be closing. The older generation is amen-ing and cheering on the younger. The younger generation are asking question of the older. All are seeing the culture changes shaking our foundation as bigger than fighting for my preferred methodology or philosophy.
Local churches are meeting each others needs through their associations.
When churches experience conflict, face property damage, pastors experience debilitating health issues, churches experience the loss of a pastor, etc., it’s beautiful to see the local associations of churches work toward providing for their sister congregations.
There are questions about the future, but the Local Association is not going away.
Attendance at associational meetings seem to be growing, not shrinking. Shifts are taking place to make associations more nimble and flexible for the sake of the mission. Thom Rainer reports that there are only 575 out of 51,000 southern baptist churches that have over 1,000 in attendance. Dr. Chuck Kelley reported that 90% of all SBC churches have 250 people or less attending worship on any given Sunday. Nearly 70% of all SBC churches have 100 or fewer in attendance each week. It’s these churches that need and are seeking the fellowship of fellow pastors and missions leaders at the associational and state level. Institutions are adjusting. There are questions about the future, but these networks do not appear to be going anywhere.