The Gotham Baptist Association (GBA) is one of the oldest associations in the SBC. It predates some of the state conventions to the west and has enjoyed long relationships with many of the churches that founded the association over 100 years ago. The annual meeting is like attending a family reunion. Some of the messengers are following in the footsteps of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who were also messengers to the annual meeting. The association held its first meeting in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in the presence of seven pastors who served as messengers. During the first ten years of the association, Main Street Baptist Church and Trinity Baptist Church joined the association. They were once small churches but now both run over 2,000 in attendance.
The GBA is considered a dynamic association by the annual influx of 10-20 new church planters that obtain coaching and assistance from the association. The GBA has led the SBC in new church plants each of the last four years, particularly in ethnic church plants, no small feat for an association outside of the southern region of the U.S. Church plant pastors come to the association building frequently. Some have meetings with consultants, some are learning how to plant new churches themselves, and some are there just to drink coffee, use the free Wi-Fi, and borrow an occasional book from one of the staff members. The association building is small, but a hub of activity from open to close.
The coffee, the Wi-Fi, the plush couches in the lounge, and the state-of-the-art video equipment used by pastors throughout the association are just some of the perks of association membership. The association staff are entrepreneurial thinkers, so they understand that the new pastors lead churches that cannot afford to provide for these services to their pastors independently. Some new church plants contribute $25 a month, but when the church is located in the city slums and ministers to the homeless, that’s a large sum of money to them.
The association could never hope to be the church planting association it is without the support of its longtime members. First Baptist, Main Street, and Trinity alone contribute approximately 50% of the association’s annual receipts amounting in more than $500,000. The megachurches participate in association programs and offerings occasionally, usually serving as a host venue for training. The pastors and the DOM have a good personal relationship. The DOM was once a megachurch pastor himself, so they speak the same organizational language, are roughly the same age, and are all products of Baptist seminaries. In short, they have all been Southern Baptists most of their lives.
Therein lies the problem. The DOM had just been informed by his business administrator that the fourth largest church in the association, River Baptist Church, had just sent in a revised pledge amount for next year’s budget: they would only be contributing $10,000. In many other associations, that size of gift would be substantial, but the GBA had five churches contributing over $75,000 each, and that number just decreased to four churches.
The DOM was afraid this might happen. Every time an older pastor retires or moves on and a younger pastor replaces him, the association contribution takes a dive. Sometimes the new pastor had no denominational heritage, and diverts the mission fund to causes he is more familiar with. Sometimes the change happens in the interim before the new pastor is hired, when well-intentioned committee chairs who fret about budget shortfalls in the absence of a pastor and who are unfamiliar with the association see an opportunity to trim the budget. New pastors generally don’t ask about historical giving patterns to the association, and the change can go unnoticed.
River Baptist Church utilized a contemporary model, but was a very missional church, and they had hired a young, missional pastor. The pastor became a Christian during college through the ministry of Young Life, and his previous church was known for church planting across the country and for coaching young leaders. The DOM would have no problem building a relationship with the young leader, but proving why the dynamic church needed the association would be a far tougher task. The church could clearly plant churches without the association, but the church could never hope to penetrate the areas of the city with the speed and contextualization of the association’s smaller church plants.
The sudden decline in contribution would not ruin the association, but the effects would be obvious and instantaneous. The pastor might come around, and he might prevail upon his finance committee to change their contribution, but the process would take time. And in that time, what if another megachurch pastor retired?