In my last pastorate, I served as the Moderator of one of three rural associations in South Georgia who shared an Associational Missionary employed by the state convention. Each association was totally separate, but we shared an associational leader whose salary was jointly funded by the associations and the state convention.
In my first role as an associational leader, I served two associations in Northwest Georgia with churches in three Georgia counties and two Alabama counties. We had two Executive Committees and annual meetings, but shared some pastor/leader conferences.
In my second associational leader role, I served one association in west metro Atlanta with churches in three counties.
In between my second and third associational leader roles, I served on staff at a mega church in northeast metro Atlanta, and was that church’s representative on the association’s Executive Committee. I also served as Chairman of the Search Committee for an associational leader during that time.
In my third associational leader role, I served one association in south metro Atlanta with churches in one county.
In my fourth and current role as an AMS, I serve a multi-county, multi-cultural association of 80+ congregations in seven counties in south metro Atlanta. The Southside Baptist Network was birthed on March 1, 2013 from two former associations who voted to disband and form the new association. I had been the leader of one of the two former associations.
The Southside Baptist Network was basically a merger of two associations who were struggling somewhat financially. The goal in forming the Network was to form a bigger, better association, and to be a model association, not a mediocre one. The new, larger association has been able to add value to the churches and minister more effectively in a fast, focused, flexible, and friendly way. Our pastors often describe our association as “refreshing” and “the best association I have ever been in.” I hope your pastors say that about your association, too.
Why should associations consider merging?
- To provide more resources for associational missions and ministry
- To provide for a full-time Associational Mission Strategist (AMS) versus part-time
- To be able to do ministry with more excellence than mediocrity
- To serve the churches more effectively
- To streamline and eliminate redundancies
- To add greater value to the churches
When should associations consider merging?
- When an associational leader retires or resigns, that association - and neighboring ones - should be open to the possibility of merging
- When the association is pulling from savings regularly to pay staff
- When the association is facing the possibility of having to go from a full-time to a part-time associational leader
- When two or three associations already share an AMS, and they realize that this arrangement is not the best stewardship of resources for kingdom advancement
- When associational leadership “redreams the dream” and realizes that they are not able to carry out their purpose effectively by themselves – and they need help
What are some obstacles to associations merging?
- Pride and ego
- Control issues
- Possible loss of a representative on the state Executive Committee
- Transitioning from relating to churches in one or two counties to connecting and relating to churches in multiple counties
In our situation, the loss of a state Executive Committee member was not a big deal to us. Thankfully, tradition, pride, ego, and control issues were minimal. There was some concern about me going from serving churches in one county to serving many more churches in a multi-county model, but we prayed about it, the Lord blessed abundantly, I felt up to the challenge, and it has worked out well for us.
When we formed the Network, we agreed that for the first 18 months, all ministry teams would have equal representation from the two previous associations, and after that, it would go away. We have not had any problems regarding representation, but we do keep geography in mind.
I want to emphasize that I know some very effective bi-vocational AMSs. They are some of my heroes. An AMS' full/part-time status is not equivalent to his effectiveness in ministry - and this goes both ways.
SBCAL - and myself as President - are here to serve all associational leaders - volunteer, bi-vocational, and full-time. Merging associations is not for everyone. But I believe, especially in the South, that associational mergers should be carefully and prayerfully considered as an option capable of producing the most fruit for the Kingdom.
What other answers would you give to these questions?
Your brother in Christ,
Quotable Quote: Are you a leader or a doer?
Doers respond to what’s happening. Leaders make things happen.
Doers can take direction and execute someone else’s vision, but they will require energy and follow-up that a leader doesn’t require.
A leader is a catalyst— creating change, momentum, and progress. You want to build your teams around people who make things happen.
Carey Nieuwhof, 1.23.21, How to Tell If a New Volunteer Is Truly a Leader (Or Simply a Doer)