I shared key findings last week from the survey that looked at how Southern Baptist associations are viewed by church leaders.
The survey showed a significant number of church leaders who do not perceive their local association as relevant or valuable to their church.
The 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.
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 road map 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 snior pastors who responded to the survey, “Lack of Church Participation” was:
· The No. 1 frustration for senior pastors who are "extremely/very involved" in the association and for those who are "moderately involved."
· The No. 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, slight 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 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.
Roadmap 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 principle: a clear associational strategy & vision 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:
Vision, Value, Involvement, 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 vision and strategy is essential to seeing the revitalization of struggling associations and the continued effectiveness of more relevant associations. In my final post, I will outline some of what this clear vision and strategy needs to include, based upon the research.