Considerable work has been done over the past year discussing and praying over this question. Work has been done to scan the associational environment and discern trends that are shaping the future of associations across our country. While a full treatment of each of the available trends is well beyond the scope of this newsletter, I can confirm to you that your Association is one of the strongest in the country.
I do have space in this article for one question of consideration: Will we be as strong as we are now ten years from now?
Yes, if we continue to value the importance of our networking, discover the changing purpose of our association, answer the question of membership and recognize our service area is larger than the geographical boundaries of Bradley County. Let's look at a few things for us to recognize.
Perhaps the longest-standing reason for the existence of associational work is networking, thought provoking leadership, community involvement/support and collective action. In addition, it has been suggested we promote local evangelism, mercy ministries, contextual church planting, church revitalization, gospel-centered fellowship for pastors, and collaborative missions and service opportunities. Other associations have found a niche by providing specialized research and consultation, disaster relief training and leadership coaching.
Regardless of future strategic decisions regarding the association's purpose, we are seeking to remember a few important things:
Associations are merely one form of networking open to their partners. Social media outlets, inter-denominational groups, and affinity groups all exist to provide relationship, information, and development to their participants. The days of choosing one or two networks to belong to are over.
Associations cannot rely on their roles as guardians of information. In the past, our State and National Conventions encouraged all of these small county associations to deliver its agenda and information. We now live in a different world. Internet search engines can provide more information at a faster rate than any person or organization. The internet has conditioned people to search for free information first. The past offered fewer curriculum options; today the internet offers an ever-expanding array of curriculum options. In the past, a pastorless church would call a Director of Missions for help searching for its next pastor; now a pulpit committee pulls up Google and searches the Search Committee Guidebook.
Geographically-based associations are not the only game in town. Baptist associations were once solely responsible for the geographic context the state and national convention set for them, but now state conventions and national entities deploy personnel to interact directly with churches, in some cases for the sole purpose of justifying their existence. Multiple networks now exist in a single geographical area.
One of the main questions your leadership team has given consideration is: Do we change the name of our Association so we are not defined by geographical boundaries? For many years we have served churches outside of Bradley County, and the requests by other churches outside our geographic boundaries to join us in our mission work has been increasing. We believe we are living in an era where it is easier and faster to deliver, communicate and serve our partnering churches. We also recognize that, unlike traditional scenarios, we are doing ministry in a day where churches want to partner where they see value.
Would you please pray for your Ministry Development Team, Administrative Team and the Ad-Hoc Team as they consider a name change for our association which will take us into the next decade and beyond. We don't want to sit by and overlook the present needs of the churches in Bradley County and outside our county. The needs transcend the structures created for us 60 years ago. As churches change, so must associations.
Even with the decline of traditional associational purposes, Baptist associations/networks remain the closest entity to the churches. Such a position places Bradley Baptist Association in a position to recognize our strengths and consider moving forward as a stronger partner with our existing partnering churches for the future. We currently have the ability to direct our energies to support the day-to-day ministries of our member churches. We believe by redefining our service field it will only strengthen our creative thoughts and response to God's agenda for us.
Where state and national conventions defined those areas of service in the past, today our partnering churches will ultimately paint the portrait of our future.