Regional Associations Essay example

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Regional Associations: The Shape of Things to Come
Greg Spears, Missions Strategist

Missiology: Two Perspectives

For some years now myself and many pastors and other denominational leaders have been asking some tough questions about the future of the local association. These questions generated other questions regarding the SBC in general, the state conventions, our institutions, boards, and other agencies. Our conversations led us to realize that the problems facing us could not be effectively dealt with by compartmentalized thinking, but rather required a systemic and comprehensive approach looking at the totality of how Southern Baptists do Kingdom work.

The answer to “why a regional association?” is fundamentally a missiological (doctrine of missions) answer. If we were to imagine that SBC missionaries arrived upon the continent of North America today to evangelize this nation what would be our missiology? Upon a comprehensive study of the geography and demographics of the nation it would be readily apparent that the mass of the inhabitants were clustered around major metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). We would observe that more than three out of four people resided in one of these MSAs.

Upon closer observation we would realize that these MSAs form the heart of what might be called regions. It would further be observed that these regions are characterized by similar attributes: (1) A major center-city where transportation corridors converged into a developed economic-industrial infrastructural hub(s). (2) A continuous pattern of urban-suburbanization radiating outward in concentric circle fashion around, over, and through the multiple satellite cities and towns in the surrounding region. (3) A plurality of different people groups, cultures, languages, and religions (4) A comprehensive and integrative regional media identity transcending but in sync with the individual communities of the region.

Such regions, it would be noted, occur naturally as indigenous entities unique to their environments. The form and shape of these regions would be flexible and open and constantly adjusting to the patterns of life in and around it. Some regions would be super-regions encompassing a significant geographical area, others would be smaller but all would be natural growing organisms reflecting a unique cultural, economic, and socio-political identity.

Our missionaries would further observe that the inhabitants of this land had formed other entities called states, counties, and cities. These entities are legal jurisdictional areas with recognized political authority structures each distinct from the others. These entities are defined by imaginary lines drawn on maps. These lines create boundaries between the different entities at times overlapping but meant to separate the various layers of the civilian governments.

Let’s further imagine that in crafting our missiology, our missionaries would default into two different schools of thought leading to the establishment of two different models of association. One group would want to follow the naturally occurring population patterns of the process of regionalization in developing its strategy. The other group would craft its strategy in the recognition of the jurisdictional entities represented by the imaginary lines on the map.

Group one would argue that missionaries should penetrate the center-city evangelizing and establishing churches and then spiral outwards hitting all the satellite cities and towns preaching the word, evangelizing, and establishing new congregations as they went. They would seek to use the media apparatus and regional identity as a means of connecting, coordinating, and communicating their work both among themselves and to the inhabitants of the region.

As the work of this model progressed, the churches would form into an association of autonomous churches. These churches would work with…