Some associations of churches call themselves “networks” now. And their directors of missions insist it's more than just a trendy change in terminology.
As missions director for a West Texas area that included both Midland and Odessa Baptist associations, Wayne Keller observed a steady decline in parti-cipation in associational life. About two years ago, he decided the associations faced a choice—change or die.
“I went to the area committee and told them, ‘I don't want to stick around to buy the tombstone,'” he recalled.
Keller set up a barbecue lunch meeting at a “neutral site” between Midland and Odessa. He invited church staff members from churches in both associations to attend and talk about how churches in the area could relate to each other in a meaningful way. The meeting drew 65 people who talked for two and a half hours, he said.
Out of that meeting, the two existing associations decided to dissolve and create Basin Baptist Network. Keller will serve as its coordinator until he retires Dec. 31.
“We didn't merge,” he explained. “When you merge, you just take your old stuff and my old stuff and put it in a new place. We created something new.”
The network adopted new governing documents. It eliminated the associations' 22 committees and replaced them with five teams empowered by the churches to take rapid action.
One team coordinates the network's cooperative ministries—traditional associational programs such as crisis centers in Midland and Odessa. Other teams focus on missions and evangelism, professional development for ministers, lay leadership development, and fellowship and partnership between churches.
An administrative team composed of the leaders of the other ministry teams and the officers of the network handles budget and finance, personnel, property, calendar and prayer strategy.
“It's a much smoother operation,” Keller said. “It's a completely new organization that has more credibility with the churches.”
The Waco (Texas) Baptist Association officially became Waco Regional Baptist Network last October after a two-year process, Director of Missions David Hardage explained.
“We think the network terminology is more reflective of what we actually do,” Hardage said. “The word ‘association' is a great and comfortable term for me, but for many who are just entering the Baptist world, they are more familiar with the ‘network' term and they resonate more with the idea of networking.”
Like Basin Baptist Network, Waco Regional Baptist Network eliminated 24 committees, councils and task force groups, replacing them with five teams.
“It's a more streamlined, more manageable operation,” he said. It also is more flexible, and it's easier to adjust processes and procedures—a considerable benefit for an operation Hardage characterizes as “a work in progress.”
A more accurate description of its identity was the rationale for a change to network status by the Baptist association in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
“I think it's more than a name change,” said Stephen Welch, executive director of the NorthStar Church Network. “Our change reflects our intent that we are not a denominational entity. We are a network of churches.”
The former NorthStar Baptist Association was itself a merger of two older associations, and the new network includes 170 congregations in the capital's sprawling suburbs.
Becoming a network didn't significantly change their organizational procedures, Welch said. “We still consider ourself an association of Baptist congregations,” a description that is included in all of NorthStar's publicity materials, he noted.
But Welch said NorthStar's churches affiliate with a number of national, regional and local Baptist entities, and associations sometimes carry with them an impression of a specific denominational link.
“We want to help our churches network with the affiliations they feel fit their needs,” he said. “We're not a broker for the national affiliates: we're an advocate for our churches. And we want to try and connect them.”
— Robert Dilday contributed to this article.