Note: For a PDF of this post, click here.
One of the hallmarks of Southern Baptists is our commitment to cooperation. We believe we are #BetterTogether. But this isn’t just a catchy slogan or trendy hashtag. It is a foundational distinctive. It’s who we are. More than 47,000 churches finding ways to partner and help each fulfill the Great Commission locally and globally.
As much as churches were already partnering together, this pandemic has elevated the value of partnerships to even higher levels. Over the past several weeks, pastors and church leaders have faced significant challenges as they were forced to quickly shift their approach to ministry. This drastic shift left many churches in desperate need of resources and information to help them navigate these challenging days. And Southern Baptists quickly rose up to meet those needs. Help was made available to local churches from every level of denominational life including local associations, state conventions, national SBC entities, as well as other local churches.
While we have witnessed many examples of cooperation already, we recognize that churches will continue to face unique needs throughout the pandemic. In order to learn how best to provide assistance for those needs, a survey was created to understand how churches have been helped thus far as well as their current needs. While originally designed to assess the effectiveness of local associations in helping their churches navigate the pandemic, the survey was expanded to include all levels of denominational life.
The survey was open from May 7-24, 2020, and every level of Southern Baptist denominational life was represented in the 271 responses. The breakdown of respondents was as follows:
- 59% were Senior Pastors
- 22% were Associational Leaders
- 6% were Pastoral Staff Members
- 6% were State Convention of SBC Entity Staff
- 6% were Laymembers
- 1% were listed as “Other”
While the survey revealed many interesting observations, there were five primary takeaways:
#1 – Local Connections Matter
Church leaders were asked to identify any assistance they have received from local, state, and national SBC organizations thus far during the pandemic. Those Senior Pastors surveyed overwhelmingly indicated that when it comes to resources, local connections matter:
- 51% received help from their local Baptist association
- 44% received help from their state convention
- 28% received help from other local churches
- 21% received help from Lifeway
- 18% received help from NAMB
- 16% received help from other Baptist associations
- 15% received help from Guidestone
- 9% received help from other parachurch organizations
- 6% received help from ERLC
- 5% received help from IMB
- 1% received help from one of the 6 SBC seminaries
As you can see, the bulk of assistance came from the local Baptist association, state convention, and other local churches. When the crisis hit, SBC churches turned to local connections for help.
#2 – Pastors Need Encouragement
The pandemic caused the majority of Americans to slow down, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. However, that hasn’t been the case for most pastors who have been busier than ever. From making necessary adjustments to get their church online to fielding questions from concerned members to trying to figure out how and when to safely return to in-person worship services, this pandemic has been exhausting for pastors.
When asked to identify any current needs that they still have, the most popular response for Senior Pastors was “encouragement/personal soul care,” coming in at 40.2%. This was the most popular response in churches of all sizes, except for those churches with less than 50 in worship attendance prior to the pandemic. For those small churches, the most pressing need at the moment is online steaming training and resources.
Pastors across the SBC have stepped up in some incredible ways during this crisis, but the research is showing that they cannot sustain this pace. They need to be encouraged by their congregations as well as denominational leaders. And they might need a nap as well!
#3 – Rural Outliers
One of the most statistically significant findings from the survey was that rural churches reported less assistance than churches in other geographic settings (small town, suburban, or urban). Specifically, rural churches reported less assistance from their local association, state convention, other local churches, and other parachurch organizations.
It is unclear whether these rural churches were not aware of the resources and assistance at their disposal, or if they chose not to utilize those resources. What is clear is that rural churches stood out when compared to churches in the other geographic settings.
#4 – Variety of Resources
As noted earlier, churches turned to their local association and state convention more than any other SBC organization. While there are several reasons why this is the case, one of the reasons is because these two ministries provided a variety of resources, as opposed to just specializing in one or two.
If a survey respondent indicated that they received assistance from a particular SBC organization or entity, they were then asked a follow-up question to identify the specific types of assistance. They could check that they received assistance with online giving, small group curriculum, or church regathering resources, just to name a few. Overall, they could check up to 9 different types of assistance for each SBC organization.
In order for any of the 9 different types of assistance to be designated as a primary resource offered by the SBC organization in question, at least 50% of those who checked that they received some type of assistance had to indicate that they received the particular type of assistance. For example, in order for church regathering training to be designated as a primary resource offered by Guidestone, at least half of those who received some type of help from Guidestone had to check that they received church regathering training.
The following breakdown shows how local associations and state conventions compared to the other SBC organizations:
- 7 out of 9 topics met the criteria for local associations
- 6 out of 9 topics met the criteria for state conventions
- 3 out of 9 topics met the criteria for other associations
- 3 out of 9 topics met the criteria for parachurch organizations
- 2 out of 9 topics met the criteria for other churches
- 2 out of 9 topics met the criteria for IMB
- 2 out of 9 topics met the criteria for the seminaries
- 1 out of 9 topics met the criteria for ERLC
- 1 out of 9 topics met the criteria for Guidestone
- 1 out of 9 topics met the criteria for Lifeway
- 1 out of 9 topics met the criteria for NAMB
In other words, churches received help on a variety of topics from associations and state conventions, but they primarily turned to organizations like the ERLC or Lifeway for assistance in a very specific area.
#5 – Increased Value
When churches needed help, Southern Baptists stepped up. And for many church leaders, they rediscovered the incredible value of cooperation. It’s no surprise then that those organizations that provided the most help have become more valuable to pastors and church leaders. When asked how their perception of each SBC organization has changed since the pandemic, a large percentage of Senior Pastors say that four organizations are more valuable to them now than before: their local association (46%), their state convention (42%), other associations (42%), and other parachurch organizations (46%). It should be noted that these are the four organizations that also provided the largest variety of resources as well.
While the preceding points are the primary takeaways from the survey, there were other observations worthy of note:
- Church leaders who are not Senior Pastors indicated that their most pressing need currently is regathering resources.
- Smaller churches still need help with online streaming and online giving.
- Associations overwhelmingly turned to their state convention to receive help.
- Outside the SBC family, associational leaders turned to local organizations and government officials for help.
- Associational leaders have a good understanding of how they were most helpful to their local churches.
- Associational leaders are still looking for quality regathering resources for their churches.
These survey results are encouraging as they show the incredible value of cooperation at all levels. Truly, we are better together. But this pandemic is far from over, and Southern Baptists will continue to creatively partner together to reach a lost and dying world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.