“The passage of the Baby Boomers will mark the end of an era, the end of the membership association as we know it” (Sladek, 2011, para. 8).
“We are slowly dying, but refuse to admit that we are even sick” (Akin, 2009, p. 271).
“If denominations are to continue, it will largely depend on how their existence can be justified in relation to local churches and mission Dei: can they enable the former, promote the latter, and be subject to both?” (Stetzer, 2011, p. 38).
“If associations are going to have a chance to thrive, we must be able to question our community’s most orthodox beliefs” (de Cagna, 2012, slide 7).
“If our conventions are not careful to take into account a shift in the landscape, we shall find ourselves inessential after all” (Chapman, 2009, p. 241).
Searching the Internet using the term “future of associations” yields approximately 11,000 entries of which a large number are dire predictions warning that member-supported associations are nearing the end of their existence. Other entries forecast the end of associations unless their leaders institute drastic changes, while some stipulate that the purpose of associations will live on in future, even if associations as they exist now do not. A minority of entries tout the near future as a time of opportunity for associations to recruit the next generation of leaders and thereby thrive for years to come.
The overarching question of this study is, “Are the dire predictions correct?” Should associations be present in the future, what will be their purpose? How will they operate? What services will they provide? Associations were once vibrant places of collaboration, and a road may exist taking associations to a new place of relevancy for generations to come. The purpose of this study is to survey the issues, factors, drivers, and trends determining the future of Southern Baptist associations in the U.S. and offer some insight about how to intentionally shape future associations into relevant, thriving, vision-casting entities.