Associations support churches in missions efforts, provide vital local partnership

As Southern Baptist churches strive to fulfill the Great Commission, associations as diverse as the regions that define their boundaries provide the support needed to increase their Kingdom impact. 

“Associations should assist their churches in their mission to reach their community for Christ and in fulfilling their Great Commission responsibility,” said Rick Barnhart, director of the office of associational missions and church planting for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM). “They are the front-line support and missional structure present to assist the churches in cooperating together.”

Support and resources

Associations serve churches in various ways with associational staff providing support, resources and training whenever needed. Associational mission strategists (AMS) — also known as associational missionaries or directors of missions — uplift pastors and meet with them regularly to provide encouragement. Programs and projects round out this vital partnership. 

Most associations hold annual meetings in the fall to report on association business, hear from SBOM and convention entity representatives and enjoy worship together. Some meet more often. 

For example Alabama-Crenshaw Baptist Association conducts quarterly meetings sponsored by the association’s Woman’s Missionary Union leadership team and offers a missions-focused message, reports on associational missions and food and fellowship for those in attendance.

Some associations work together to further increase their ability to reach their neighbors. That’s the case with the 38 churches in the Bethlehem and Pine Barren Baptist associations which share an AMS, Steve Dunn. 

“Churches in an association are geographically close and simultaneously called to the Great Commission,” Dunn said. “The mission calls us to cooperate for greater effectiveness. The sharing of gifts, resources and opportunities among the churches helps the churches when a need arises to have a built-in channel for help.” 

‘More the merrier’

Charles Autery, pastor of Christian Way Baptist Church, Camden, in Pine Barren Association, said the old saying “the more the merrier” applies when it comes to associations. 

“The more help we have the more we can make an impact in our community,” he said. “The association reaches out to us and helps to support our ministries.” 

The associations have combined to host men’s and women’s ministry events, a college student ministry, weekly pastors luncheons, a recovery program, prison/jail ministries, an Oklahoma missions partnership, a recovery program, Spanish-language Bible distribution and missions projects like roofing the local Christian school. 

‘Advancing the Kingdom’

Projects like these are not headed by the association but rather are sponsored by a church and the association helps to facilitate the cooperation of sister churches, Autery said. 

Terrell Boyd, pastor of Lakewood Baptist Church, Huntsville, in Madison Baptist Association, noted how important associations are to both large and small churches but especially to smaller congregations.

“Together we are able to make a larger impact than we can by ourselves,” he said.

“The goal of our association is to assist churches in fulfilling their mission and provide them opportunities for fellowship and to work together in advancing the kingdom of God,” said Charlie Howell, executive director of missions for Madison Association. 

Cooperative projects within the association include prayer conferences, evangelism training and events, disaster relief, a missions partnership with Sibiu Baptist Association in Romania, Camp MACOBA and a youth summer service and worship week known as Rocket City Missions. 

Madison Association also supports a prayer and evangelism team, a church revitalization ministry team and a new works team involved with church planting. 

“Church planting is a difficult undertaking with no guarantee for success,” Howell said. “These men need our prayers and support as they lead their new churches to fulfill the Great Commission. We work in conjunction with SBOM in this area of ministry to assure that our church planters get full training and support as they start new churches in the Huntsville area.”

The SBOM office of associational missions works with associations to provide resources, financial assistance, guidelines, training, mentoring, personal development and conferences throughout the year, Barnhart said. 

“Our office assists the associations in training and follow-through with church and community ministries, hunger ministries, multicultural needs, deaf ministries and architectural issues,” he said. “We work with associations in partnering with other offices throughout the SBOM missionary family.”


Associational Missions Emphasis Week moved from May to October, name changed

Some big changes related to Baptist associations happened at the SBC annual meeting in June 2018. Messengers accepted a recommendation from national Woman’s Missionary Union and the Southern Baptist Convention Associational Leaders (SBCAL) to move the Associational Missions Emphasis Week from May to October and change the name to Week of Prayer for Baptist Associations. 

Members of SBCAL also voted to adopt a new title, associational mission strategist.

The new name for the week of prayer clarifies the focus of the week as a time for churches to remember and pray for the vital support role associations play in each church’s ministry. The change also aligns the name with other focus weeks in Southern Baptist life, according to the recommendation.

Week of prayer

This year’s Sunday to Sunday week of prayer will be Oct. 20–27. The new dates will coincide with many associational meetings taking place during October and will enable associations to more effectively promote the focus without the need to schedule around Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and graduations.

Because some associations may hold their week of prayer at a different time, undated promotional materials also are available. The office of associational missions at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions is available to assist in producing promotional materials. For information, call 800-264-1225.