As I have made very clear in the last few posts, I believe in the local association. In fact, I think it is the most valuable component of the Southern Baptist Convention other than the mission boards and the cooperative program that funds them. The local association accomplishes something that no other denominational entity can do; they are on the ground with the local churches. This close connection with the local churches gives the associations a leg up for the future.
The multisite movement has taken the church world by storm, and we are better off because of it. Yes there are weaknesses with the movement, but overall I think it is going to benefit the church in the long run. The local associations should take notes on the multisite movement and borrow some principles from it. I’m not saying that associations should become multisite churches or that there should be a bishop-like director of missions that has ultimate authority of the churches in his region, but I am saying the fellowship of churches should be closer than it is now. I am going to call this connection church networking.
There are two major factors that will contribute to the success or failure of such a movement. The first is associational leadership and the second is church cooperation.
The position of director of missions or associational missionary must be given high priority! I believe that this position, while it is currently not emphasized, is going to play a major role in the future of the church. We must fill these positions with great men of God with strong vision and leadership. It does not matter how good the idea is if the man who pulls the trigger is not able to make it happen. In order for the association to have any future the leadership positions must be filled with capable individuals who are ready to take the organization to the next level. Without this factor there is no future for associations in church networking.
The second factor is church cooperation, and this is easier said than done. For Baptist churches, autonomy is a sacred right and to even think about questioning it is a hangable offense. I do agree that autonomy is healthy and necessary, but we cannot make it an idol. In the system that I am suggesting, unlike in the multisite system, each church would remain autonomous, but the bond between them would be much tighter than it is now. Churches are who say they are going to be autonomous or die, are going to do just that. For the future we are going to have to forfeit some personal privileges for the sake of the Kingdom. 30 churches in one association who are all completely separate in every way from one another but are doing the same exact things is just not going to work anymore. They must work together, and rather than creating a new system, we should rework the one we already have. The local association could be a great commission networking center promoting the health and future of local churches to the glory of God.