Dockery (2011) believes that because Evangelical theologians have focused so much attention on issues relating directly to scripture and scriptural interpretation, they have simultaneously failed to give necessary attention to “articulating a theology of the church” (p. 21). The resulting drift of churches within and across their networks, and the loss of understanding regarding how denominations are designed to interact with their churches, prompts Dockery to predict ecclesiology will gain increased attention in the coming decades.
Ecclesiology is at the heart of several discussions impacting the future of the association. How churches organize themselves from a methodology perspective may not affect their membership within associations, but it frequently influences the relationships between the church and their state convention(s) and national entities. State conventions and national entities may support brick-and-mortar institutional church plants over simpler models, such as house churches, many of which do not hire full-time staff, file paperwork to be recognized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit religious organization, or have a permanent mailing address beyond the pastor’s private home. Associations, state conventions, and national entities determine autonomously whether a particular church counts on the membership rolls, as some organizations will count simple church models as churches and others will not, referring to them as Bible studies, home groups, or discipleship groups instead. How the SBC relates to various church models is a significant driver in the future of the SBC, and associations are no different. The topic of varied methodologies will be addressed in other sections, but an additional assumption of this study is that future associations will be faced with how to determine membership status for any interested churches regardless of their ecclesiology. Therefore this study will not directly address or distinguish all of the possible methodologies, choosing instead to note that associations will likely be faced with this dilemma in the future.