Scenario: Alzheimer’s

The Star City Baptist Association (SCBA) is a moderately sized association consisting of about 75 churches, which range in size from 10 to 3,500 in attendance. The association is located in a medium-sized mid-western city, which has steadily grown over the years thanks to local industry and two small colleges. The annual association meeting is well attended, and the association offers a variety of county-wide programs and direct interaction with churches. The DOM has two additional paid staff members and an army of volunteers that cover the administrative tasks of the office and interact with the state convention in the areas of disaster relief, men’s ministry, and the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU).

Baptists have been present in this city for decades. It even hosted the SBC annual meeting once. The association office is a large suite in a downtown high-rise. In fact, the Methodist Conference of that area has a suite in the building, as does the region’s Habitat for Humanity. The ground floor has a large open area, a Starbucks, and the city’s best deli. The central location makes it easy for SCBA pastors to attend the annual meeting, and they love the proximity to Starbucks.

Behind the scenes, the staff of the SCBA calls it the EBA:  “Egalitarian Baptist Association.” Everything about the association seems to be average. It’s not located in the southern Bible belt, nor in the largely unchurched northwest. Their fair city isn’t New York or Chicago, but it’s not Gainesville, TX either. And the churches all have an equal share in the future of the association. The association plants churches, teaches English to immigrants, adopts a local elementary school every year, and conducts an annual clothing drive for the downtown homeless shelter. And all SCBA churches give about the same amount of financial contributions.

The SCBA had six full-time employees twenty years ago, and four full-time employees just ten years ago. The city’s economy was not crushed by the recent recession, but it has not bounced back to its historic norms either. Some doubt that it ever will. SCBA churches felt the impact of the economy, but most continued to give something to the association even through the hard times.

The real problem was the reality that steady declines, even if gradual, all end up in one place. SCBA churches were good churches. There just seemed to be a lot of good things to support out there. Some SCBA churches were self-sufficient missions agencies unto themselves: they were taking mission trips, sending missionaries to the places they visited, and starting fresh-water wells and elementary schools in the places their missionaries served. Some SCBA churches were so responsive to the prompts of their members that they divided their missions budget across more than a dozen worthy causes. Some SCBA churches had so little to give that their continued giving or lack thereof would have minimal impact on the association. At one time, the association was a primary player and influencer for ministries across the city. It just seemed that now the glory days of history were fading further and further away.

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