Most of the 2,400 churches of the Kentucky Baptist Convention have chosen to belong to an association of churches. Generally speaking, each association exists to provide support and assistance to member churches. But, the specifics of how that is done and what it looks like is up to each association and its member churches to determine for their context.
For years, associations have been able to assist member churches, and many of them without any real strategy in place. But times are different today and every association should have a strategy that is understood and embraced by member churches. It is estimated that 60-70% of associations exist in a rural or town and country setting, and they too, need a strategy that guides their work.
According to the 2017 Baptist Associations Survey conducted by Jason Lowe, the second-most frustrating aspect of rural/town & country associations (according to church leaders) was a lack of clear vision/strategy. It’s interesting to note that the greatest frustration was a lack of church participation. Perhaps there is a lack of participation because there is no associational strategy. Additionally, it’s encouraging to note that according to the same survey, the top reason among church leaders in rural/town & country associations for why they would consider increasing their church’s financial contributions to the association was if the association had a clear vision/strategy. The survey shows how important it is that every association develop a strategy that church leaders can embrace.
Research provided in The State of Baptist Associations report did reveal 5 common elements that church leaders indicated that they wanted to see in their association’s strategy. Those strategy elements were shared by Jason Lowe in a breakout session during the 2019 SBCAL meeting in Birmingham. Here they are:
- Local evangelism and community engagement strategy –the most desired element of an associational strategy was to increase the association’s efforts to assist member churches in evangelism and community engagement. While the details of how that looks will be different in each context, church leaders want to partner with other churches to engage their communities with the gospel. Associations should take the lead in studying spiritual & social demographics of communities and coordinating efforts to mobilize churches on mission locally.
- Local church planting strategy – while some church leaders would prefer that their association spend less time in church planting efforts, the majority of church leaders would like to see their association spend more time in leading, assisting, or (at the very least) supporting local church planting efforts.
- Missions Strategy – in addition to local evangelism efforts, church leaders want their association to assist in planning and coordinating missions opportunities beyond their local area. This could include state, national, or international partnerships or mission projects led by the association.
- Leadership Development Strategy – associations need to make sure that opportunities are provided to equip, encourage, and strengthen pastors and church leaders. Consider developing a Leadership Pipeline, especially if your association has difficulty in identifying enough pastors to serve in your churches. Partner with your state convention to provide workshops and conferences that assist in developing leaders.
- Communication Strategy – when asked to identify what would motivate them to increase their church’s financial contributions to the association, one of the most popular answers was an increased awareness of the association’s ministry efforts among church leaders and lay members alike. Therefore, associational leaders must not only implement a clear strategy for helping churches partner together to advance God’s kingdom, they must share the message of how it is being done through email, newsletters, social media, etc. And it must be clearly communicated frequently and consistently.
Association’s that have an effective strategy to guide them will prove value to member churches and bring benefit to themselves. If your association doesn’t have a clearly defined strategy, now is the time to develop one. For assistance in developing a strategy for your association, contact your state convention or an associational mission strategist.