Being a multi-mission partner church

When describing our church family at First Baptist Pensacola, I usually tell folks that we are a “multi-mission partner, multi-worship service, and multi-generational congregation.”

 Each of those “multi” dimensions presents a unique set of dynamics. Offering multiple worship services means that we need to be intentional about being one church with multiple styles and opportunities for worship. Being a multi-generational congregation means that we are attempting to equip and minister to different age groups with each group being of equal importance.  Being a congregation with multiple mission partners requires a new level of networking that demands discernment from both the ministry staff and congregational leadership.

 I am especially interested in the proliferation of missional partnerships in recent years and the specific challenges and opportunities that proliferation presents.  Multiple mission partnerships seem to be the new norm among many churches, and especially churches who network with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  A quick survey of the list of CBF churches indicates that far fewer than 10% are exclusively identified with CBF.  Over 90% of churches who partner with CBF are networking with multiple mission partners, and the vast majority are supportive of missions through both CBF andSBC.

Is it worth the hassle of additional meetings and extended conversations to develop a missions portfolio that supports these multiple missional partners? A growing number of Baptist churches are re-visioning what it means to be “cooperative” and reconsidering exactly who needs to be in our portfolio of partnerships.

The concept of multiple mission partnerships is not a new reality, just an expanded one. All of the Baptist churches I served early in my ministry had multiple mission partners.  Back then, however, the largest portion of a Baptist church’s mission budget went to one central clearinghouse called the Cooperative Program.  Partners receiving additional mission gifts included the local Baptist association, the Baptist Children’s Home, campus ministry organizations, the Gideons, and the American Bible Society, only to name a few.

Across the years, the number of partners requesting to be in the church’s missional budget has grown dramatically.  I have observed at least four reasons for that increase:

1. The number of missional organizations, institutions, and societies has grown exponentially.

2. The Cooperative Program has undergone a significant process of reallocation.  A majority of Baptists continue to contribute to this unified portfolio, but the included entities and the leadership of those entities have been re-aligned. Agencies that were important to many Baptists were defunded.  For example, for many years the Baptist WorldAlliancewas included in the Cooperative Program budget.  A few years ago theBWAwas eliminated from the unified portfolio, but not without considerable dissent.  Therefore, those churches who choose to send missional support to theBWAmust do so through an additional partnership. This is one of many examples of reallocation.

3. The economic recession has compounded the requests for partnerships.  For example, more missionaries in cooperative networks, includingSBCand CBF, are required or encouraged to raise a portion of their financial support independently from churches and individuals.

4. There is a growing sense of independence and autonomy among Baptists that is reflective of American culture.  For example, individual Bible study groups want to choose “their” curriculum and individual churches want to choose who is in “their” missions budget.

After serving churches with a growing number of mission partners for the past few years, here are a few insights that could help those navigating the course:

  1. Have strong laity-led committees and teams, especially the Missions Committee and the Finance Committee, and keep them informed about the work of all mission partners.
  2. Invite representatives from your major mission partners to speak to your congregation.  For example, at our church we intentionally invite speakers fromBWA, CBF, andSBC, since those are our major partners.
  3. Establish accountability with all mission partners, learning their missional objectives up front, and requesting reports of how funds were used to evaluate and determine future support.
  4. As a pastor, show fairness and balance to all partners, accenting the strengths of each partner, while realizing that each partner will also have weaknesses.
  5. Determine which partnerships are short-term (annual) and which partners will be long-term (multi-year commitments).
  6. Lead the congregation to provide prayer support, financial support, and ground support through short-term mission trips.  Those who work with our missionaries on site become our strongest advocates for missions.
  7. Create a culture of call wherein teenagers and adults are challenged to consider whether they are called to “go” to the mission field or to “support” those on the mission field.

The process for creating and assimilating the mission portfolio of a local congregation has changed across the years, and in some ways is more complex.  However, what has not changed is Baptists’ love and passion for missions.

To advance the kingdom, Baptists must learn to network in a world where communities of believers have a common core faith but diverse understandings and practices.  A spirit of cooperation propels missions.  A re-hashing of tired conflicts subverts missions.

In the movie, “Field of Dreams,” the thematic phrase about the construction of a baseball field is, “if you build it, they will come.”

When it comes to Baptists and missions, if you provide the information and the opportunity they will “give” and they will “go.”

Barry Howard

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Barry Howard serves as senior minister of the First Baptist Church of Pensacola.

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