Note: This is the final part in a three-part series discussing the results of the 2017 Baptist Associations Survey. If you haven’t already done so, please read Part 1a, Part 1b, and Part 2. You can also download the full report here.
As I described in my last post, the results from the Baptist Associations Survey revealed that there is a pathway for associations to be relevant and effective. That pathway can be summarized as:
Visionary Strategy –> Perceived Value –> Church Involvement –> Kingdom Impact
Out of the four markers along this path, associational leaders really only have control over the first marker. The other three are dependent upon the development and implementation of a clear visionary strategy. It’s kind of like a domino effect. If an association has a clear visionary strategy and begins to implement that strategy, it will lead to an increase in the perceived value/relevance among church leaders which will lead to increased church involvement in the cooperative efforts of the association which ultimately leads to greater kingdom impact. If an association lacks implementation of a visionary strategy, the perceived value/relevance among church leaders will decline which will lead to decreased church involvement which will ultimately lead to less kingdom impact.
So, the big question is if the research revealed any particular elements that need to be included in the strategy of most (if not all) Baptist associations? While it is certainly true that every association’s context is unique, the research did reveal a few common elements that church leaders want to see as a part of their association’s overall strategy, regardless of context.
Element #1: Local Evangelism and Community Engagement Strategy
As has been previously reported, when asked what would motivate them to increase their church’s financial gifts to their local Baptist association, the most popular response among church leaders was “A clear vision/strategy”. This same question revealed that the most desired element of that strategy is for the association to increase their local evangelism and community engagement efforts. The details of how that looks for each association will be unique in each context, but church leaders want to partner with other churches to engage their local communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one is better suited to coordinate those local efforts than the local Baptist association.
Element #2: Local Church Planting Strategy
Church leaders indicated that the association should lead, assist, or at least support local church planting efforts. While a small number of church leaders indicated that they wanted their association to spend less time in local church planting efforts, a far greater number of church leaders indicated that they wanted their association to spend more time in local church planting efforts. Most church leaders wanted to see their association take the lead on the establishment of new churches in their geographic area, while others indicated that they wanted their association to be (at the very least) supportive of local church planting efforts. Again, the details of this strategy will vary from association to association, but the research reveals that an element of local church planting should be included.
Element #3: Missions Strategy
In addition to local evangelistic efforts, church leaders indicated that they want their local association to assist in planning and coordinating missions opportunities beyond their local geographic region. This could include the development of an associational Acts 1:8 missions strategy in which associational churches can partner together to pray, give, and go on mission both locally and globally.
Element #4: Leadership Development Strategy
As has been previously reported, one of the most effective ways that local associations serve their member churches is through providing leadership development opportunities. It should be noted that the research did not indicate that associations need to add a leadership development element to their overall strategy, but this is most likely due to the fact that many associations already have a leadership development component. However, associational leaders need to make sure that they continue to provide opportunities to equip, train, and strengthen church leaders.
Element #5: 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 they are doing so through multiple communication channels. Social media, newsletters, brochures, websites, and onsite church visits are just a few of the ways that associations can communicate with their member churches.
Possibly More, Not Less
It is certainly possible that local Baptist associations can include more elements in their strategy than those listed above, but they shouldn’t include less. The research shows that these elements are what church leaders are saying that they want their association to provide. If associational leaders (including myself) want to increase our perceived value/relevance, church involvement, and kingdom impact, we would be wise to listen.