Is Associationalism Dead?

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The following is a guest post from Stan Albright, the national director for associations for the North American Mission Board.

Is Associationalism Dead?

Stan Albright

Recently, I read an eye-opening and challenging article written by Matthew Spandler-Davison.  Matthew is a young Southern Baptist pastor from central Kentucky. The article was entitled, “Don’t Pull the Plug on Your Association Yet.”

Here is an out-take from his article.

“Many say the local Baptist association is dead. It may have once been the bedrock of Baptist cooperation, but why submit yourself to another mind-numbing meeting about irrelevant committees? Let’s pull the plug. It is time to end the misery.

Not so fast! I just left a meeting in which I was developing a plan for a church plant in an area of our county that has no gospel witness. We strategized together about training pastors in the Philippines. We discussed church revitalization in Scotland.

Was this a strategy session with my elders? No, it was a meeting of the Nelson Baptist Association.

You will be forgiven for having a hard time believing me. I have sat through many association meetings over the years. I have been as frustrated as you have been. I have been tempted to throw my hands up in the air and disengage. But I am glad I did not. Here’s why.


The Nelson Baptist Association has forty-three churches from three counties in central Kentucky. I came to this area ten years ago and was struck by the lack of health in many churches. It was messy stuff. There was suspicion, distrust, and theological apathy. Yet the association today is a long way from that. How did this turnaround happen for us so quickly?

1. A group of pastors has committed to each other.

In and through this local Baptist association, a group of pastors have established strong relationships with each other. Pastors are praying, encouraging, exhorting, and, on occasion, rebuking one another. Pastors are fighting alongside each other, not against each other.

2. We recognized the need for change.

Increasingly, there was dissatisfaction with the way things were. Funding was dwindling, attendance at meetings was pitiful, and the association was struggling to come to terms with what its purpose was.

3. We’ve been blessed with renewed leaderships.

Our association has a new Director of Missions who is an energetic, kind-hearted, well-respected man. He is a bridge-builder, but is not afraid to contend for the faith. And he is willing to come alongside pastors and invite them to be a part of the process of change.”

You can read Matthew’s complete article by clicking on this link: Don’t Pull the Plug on Your Association Yet

This is an awesome testimony for the association and their visionary Director of Missions!

Did you catch Matthew’s closing remark?  He said the [Director of Missions was] “willing to come alongside pastors and invite them to be a part of the process of change.”  I have a couple of remarks concerning this quote.

First, the willingness of the Director of Missions to be inclusive by allowing his pastors to become a significant part of the change process is huge.  Too many times we attempt change from a “silo” mentality.

Our intentions may be good, but a silo perspective is usually tainted by personal bias, incomplete information, or fear of the change itself.  By inviting associational leaders to the table, it reveals trust, vulnerability, relevance, authenticity, and a far better perspective in the decision making process.

Second, many times leaders fail to seek the input of others because they do not know where to begin in evaluating their current ministry and strategizing for the future.  Associational IMPACT can help.

Associational IMPACT has a two-pronged approach in helping associations to evaluate their current direction, while providing a platform for the association to include their church leaders in the process.

 Associational Assessment

Associational Assessments is a strategic diagnostic process for associations to help them prepare to successfully design and implement a sustainable strategy that expands and extends the Kingdom. IMPACT, in coordination with the local Director of Missions and association, will conduct an assessment and diagnostic of the association through a process that includes strategic interviews with local church leaders.

The interviews will gather information of the current missional readiness of the churches in the association, giving the association a snapshot of needs to be addressed and priorities to pursue.  The information becomes a vital part of the development of a relevant strategy for the association.

Strategy Review / Development

Most associations have developed some form of strategy plan.  Unfortunately, many of their plans are either out of date or non-functioning.  Strategy Review is a “phase one” process where IMPACT will work with the local association’s leadership to evaluate the effectiveness and relevancy of their current strategy.

Often, plans are “tweaked” allowing the current associational strategy to stay the course of effective ministry.  However, many times after the review is completed, the association may determine that they need to develop a new strategy instead of just “fine tuning” their current strategy.

Strategy Development is “phase two” of the process.  IMPACT will lead the association’s leadership to seek God’s direction in designing a new strategy for the association.  Although there are times when elements from an association’s current strategy are retained or upgraded into the new strategy plan, strategy development is a time of looking “deep” into the organization with the purpose of making significant change in purpose and direction.

If your association is interested in learning more about the Associational Assessments, as well as the potentiality of conducting a Strategy Review or Strategy Development process, contact the Associational IMPACT office at the North American Mission Board.  We can be reached by calling (770) 410-6247, or email Cathy Cumming at [email protected] or Stan Albright, [email protected] We look forward to serving you and your association.

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  1. Posted May 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this encouraging article. I have served now on both sides of the fence in association ministry. It is refreshing to hear others state what I have felt in my heart for many years. I believe association ministry can make a huge impact for the Kingdom when leaders & churches unite in prayer for Revival. May God send awakening to our Nation & may associations unite in prayer & repentance and labor together for the Gospel!

  2. Brenda Rick Smith
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Got to name some names here — the DOM of the Nelson Association is Stan Lowery. Matthew’s description of him is excellent. Stan is “an energetic, kind-hearted, well-respected man. He is a bridge-builder, but is not afraid to contend for the faith. And he is willing to come alongside pastors and invite them to be a part of the process of change.”

    It’s really exciting to see an association like Nelson modeling excellence. Why? Because in many ways, Nelson looks like many of our Kentucky Baptist associations. The churches are small to medium sized, the location is rural, the number of churches is not exceedingly large.

    The take-away for me: when we join together to commit to a well-defined purpose, things get exciting. Thanks to Nelson association for setting a great example.

  3. James E Clark
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Mrs Brenda Smith, I too know Stan Lowery and I knew the Nelson association before he took over as D.O.M. Stan is a leader and has vision for the association he serves and once you have direction you can move forward. As a Pastor in dying association, myself and a hand full of other Pastors have come together to weigh this very question. The answer we came up with is simple as a working body of believers we can do more coming together than by standing alone. The leadership and vision are key to any association the sad thing is most church members in our association do not what the association is for. Education and direction is needed as well as leadership someone to take ownership as MR Lowery has done. We are in the process of these two principals now and as the old proverb says, do not throw the baby out with the bath water.

  4. Posted May 19, 2012 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    Thanks for a great article and for picking up on what is happening in Nelson Association. I’ve attended various meetings in Nelson Association and appreciate the great spirit there. Most recently I participated in the association Women on Mission Dinner and program featuring Rachelle Starr, director of Scarlet Hope. There is great energy and excitement about the work in all areas. We also have some other dynamic Baptist associations in Kentucky. I am grateful for associational WMU leaders who are working with their DOM’s and other association leaders to fulfill the Great Commission locally and beyond.

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