Ten years ago, American prophet and all-time dean of church consultants Lyle Schaller wrote one of my favorite of his 96 books. From Geography to Affinity: How Congregations Can Learn From One Another was a prescient look at the fundamental shift in collective church life. He foresaw shifts from denominations and programs to networks and intentional communities. He put his finger on the pulse of what was emerging in 2003 has proven to be indisputably true in 2013: that we no longer organize around location but around shared interest, and that a congregation’s source of guidance is no longer programs from denominational headquarters but from targeted, focused peers. The most important source of spiritual “capital” is no longer intellectual but relational.
If you work for a denomination or are part of one, this shift from geography to affinity, from having your friends based on zip code to having them based on shared purpose in ministry, from denominational brand to targeted network … all of this comes either as terribly threatening news or as a fantastic opportunity. I have to pause and give thanks that the BGAV heard Schaller’s 2003 forecast, saw the trend early, and created the Spence Network soon afterward to build the new connective tissue in our tribal body.
Already Schaller’s forecast has sent major shock waves across local associations, state conventions, and national denominations. Each either has to figure out how to work with the new way churches do life together – or they will not last long.
The next frontier for how this trend will play itself out in the Baptist General Association of Virginia is a subtle but important one. Already, leader John Upton has cast vision for planting BGAV churches in 50 states by 2020 through V3, the partner network strategically mobilizing churches for new church starts. That wider-than-Virginia vision is a taste of things to come.
We are fast coming to a day when our tribe will no longer refer to itself as “Virginia Baptists.” Soon we will call ourselves the “General Association.” We’ll be “General” because we are not limited to the geography of the Commonwealth. And we’ll be the “Association” because we are not “Conventional.” It might not title “Baptist” but it embodies a very Baptist idea: churches and leaders choosing to associate out of shared ministry passion to advance the Kingdom.
Bring on the General Association!
John Chandler is leader of the Spence Network, www.spencenetwork.org.