Overall, I believe associations led by effective leaders are gaining influence and proving their effectiveness to their pastors and churches as well as to state convention and SBC leaders.
But many people are understandably frustrated with the present and profoundly worried about the future. This includes our pastors and even ourselves, at times. David Franklin, a fellow Georgia AMS says, “Our pastors are stressed.”
I believe all of us were thrown for a loop by COVID-19, the shutdown, the conflicting medical guidance, etc. We started with, “What do we do now?” Then we had to pivot to “How can we be of help to our pastors and churches?” Most associations then began to find ways to assist and resource pastors and churches in how to do Zoom meetings/Bible studies, etc., offer counsel about drive-in services, livestreaming services, then best practices in how to reopen, and when, etc. I believe God has used this crisis to show our pastors and churches the value of associations and associational leaders.
However, despite that, some associations have had to cut - or plan to cut - their budgets by 25-30%. Many are holding their own financially this year, but are anticipating 10-15% reductions next year.
I have read several sources that say COVID-19 is going to be an accelerator of things that were already happening. For example, the closing of more retail stores and malls, the use of Zoom and apps, the closing or merging of churches, online giving and church viewing. Most of our churches were plateaued or declining before COVID-19. I believe we will see some churches close or merge sooner rather than later, and some pastors and associational leaders retire sooner rather than later.
Some associations may need to go from a full-time leader to a bivocational leader, or from bivocational to a volunteer leader. Some associations would be wise to consider merging and forming a new, bigger association. That is what the Henry and South Metro Associations did seven years ago. Two associations next to each other decided to disband and form a brand-new association on the southside of Atlanta – the Southside Baptist Network, that I am privileged to lead and serve. It has been such a blessing to all involved. I often hear pastors say that our association is one of the best. I hope your pastors say that about your association. A merger can enable more adequate funding to retain effective leadership, as well provide adequate funds for ministry.
Here are some perspectives from some other Associational Mission Strategists.
David Stokes, KY: The difficulties surrounding the pandemic created an opportunity for associations to show their value and relevance. Those associations that responded with timely, informative, encouraging, localized content have found themselves stronger for it and better positioned for the future.
Next Steps: Don't put back on the shelf the flexibility, responsiveness, and creativity it took to help churches during this Pandemic. Make it the norm.
Kevin Carrothers, IL: Pastors are experiencing new levels of stress with the dilemma of COVID-19.
- They are navigating unchartered waters.
- They are trying to lead diametrically opposed groups.
- They are seeking both the spiritual and physical welfare of their people, knowing that a large percentage of them will be unhappy and resistant by his decisions.
- They need a sounding board, a confidant to whom they can speak freely without judgment.
The relevance of the local association has risen to the forefront during this COVID season.
- AMS is seen as the filter of reliable and relevant information for the pastors.
- Virtual pastors’ gatherings have been invaluable in conversation, encouragement, prayer and commiseration.
- Marginal and unengaged pastors in associational life have sought counsel from the AMS and other pastors.
During this season Associations and churches both have an opportunity to innovate and change some areas such as:
- Updating policies and procedures
- Streamlining expenses
- Evaluate ministries/programs
- Create alignment with mission
- Develop small group ministry
- Implement an online ministry presence
Random thoughts expressed by our pastors:
- A return to normal (pre-COVID) is a return to our comfort zones. We will miss the opportunities to change for effectiveness that God is giving us.
- It’s still about the mission of God. How will we engage lostness?
- What is God saying to the church during this season?
- Whose voices are we listening to?
- We have the message of hope in Jesus Christ that is being proclaimed beyond our reach.
- We are learning that the mission first and foremost is telling people about Jesus!
- This is a season of preparing the church for the future, especially small group ministry.
Mark Millman, WI: I would say the association has been of greater value than ever before during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some ways associations have been serving churches during the crisis:
- Our stewardship team has called through all of our churches several times asking how they are doing and how we can help.
- We have helped several churches get started with online giving.
- We have been the conduit for our state convention’s disaster relief team to distribute masks, cleaning product, and other information.
- We have hosted numerous Pastor and Leader Open Forums on reopening. These forums have been well attended and we have had a lot of positive feedback.
- We have purchased one-year Zoom subscriptions for numerous churches to help them with online streaming and leadership team meetings they are conducting.
- Our association in Milwaukee is giving monetary grants to our church plants and churches in need.
I could probably keep going but I can say unequivocally that associations are rising to the occasion to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.
Jason Lowe, KY: I believe COVID-19 has presented multiple opportunities for associations to show their value to their member churches. For the most part, I think the association has become more valuable to churches during the pandemic. From the research I completed in May (see post here), local churches turned to their association for help more than any other SBC entity. Furthermore, 46% of Senior Pastors surveyed indicated that their association was more valuable to them now since the pandemic started, while only 1.3% indicated that their association was less valuable to them now.
Overall, I think the majority of associations have risen to the challenges of COVID-19, while a few have not.
Do you agree with these assessments? Why or why not?
Your brother in Christ,
Quotable Quote: Procrastinating on something important is choosing to delay a better future. Which areas of my life are in maintenance mode? Which areas are in growth mode?
James Clear, 3-2-1 Thursday, 7.30.20