This is Part 2 in a three-part series discussing the results of the 2017 Baptist Associations Survey.  You can read Part 1 here and you can download the full report here.   In my first post (and a follow-up post), I shared the key findings from the survey which are as follows:

  • There is a significant number of church leaders who do not perceive their local association as relevant or valuable to their church.
  • Perceived value is the primary factor in determining the involvement of the church and Senior Pastor in the association.
  • The Senior Pastor’s personal involvement in the association corresponds to the church’s level of involvement in the association.
  • On average, associational leaders are older than church leaders.
  • Associational leaders generally have a better opinion regarding the effectiveness of the association than the church leaders within the association.
  • Most church leaders do believe that associations can have a future, if significant changes are made.
  • The most common way that churches participate in their association is through monthly financial contributions.  Furthermore, smaller associations have a higher percentage of churches that financially contribute compared to larger associations.
  • Associations are most effective in providing fellowship/networking and leadership development opportunities for their member churches.
  • Church leaders are in favor of the cooperative efforts/ministries that associations provide for their member churches.

In this post, I want to try to make sense of these key findings (incorporating other findings from the report as well).  After spending much time in prayer, analysis, and discussions with others, I believe that this research does provide a pathway to a bright future for Baptist associations.

Symptoms vs. Sources

When asked to identify the one thing that most frustrated them about their local Baptist association, church leaders and associational leaders agreed: the most popular answer was “Lack of Church Participation” for both groups.  While lack of church participation is certainly an issue, it is only a symptom of the real problem.  To discover the source of the problem, I had to dig deeper into the data.  What I discovered was fascinating.

When just focusing on the Senior Pastors who responded to the survey, “Lack of Church Participation” was:

  • The #1 frustration for Senior Pastors who are Extremely/Very involved in the association.
  • Tied for the #1 frustration for Senior Pastors who are Moderately involved in the association.
  • The #12 frustration for Senior Pastors who are Slightly/Not at all involved in the association.

A lack of church participation is a frustration for those who do participate, but not so much for those who do not participate.  In order to discover why those churches don’t participate, we need to find out what frustrates them as well as what would motivate them to increase their participation and giving to the association.

When asked about their frustrations, the most popular answer among Senior Pastors who are Moderately, Slightly, or Not at all involved was “Lack of strategy, vision, or purpose.”  When asked what would motivate their church to increase their financial gifts to the association, the most popular answer among all church leaders (especially in churches that are Moderately, Slightly, or Not at all involved) was “A clear vision and strategy.”

While there are other findings from the report that would further support this observation, the above examples should be sufficient to show that a lack of involvement is primarily due to a lack of perceived value in the association.  And the lack of perceived value is due to a lack of a clear vision and strategy for the association.

Pathway To An Effective Association

Based upon this research, I believe that irrelevant and struggling associations can become effective once more and relevant associations can continue to thrive by understanding the following pathway: a clear associational visionary strategy leads to an increased perceived value and relevancy in the association which leads to an increased level of participation in the association which leads to greater kingdom impact both locally and globally.

Or, to state it more simply:

Visionary Strategy –> Perceived Value –> Church Involvement –> Kingdom Impact

Trying to make a cooperative kingdom impact without the involvement of the churches within the association is an exercise in futility.  Trying to increase the involvement of the churches in the association without increasing the relevancy and perceived value of the association is also an exercise in futility.  And trying to increase the relevancy and perceived value of the association without developing, communicating, and implementing a clear vision and strategy for the association is also an exercise in futility.

So, a clear, visionary strategy is essential to seeing the revitalization of struggling associations and the continued effectiveness of more relevant associations.  In my final post next week, I will outline some of what this visionary strategy needs to include, based upon the research.

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