Do Associations Have a Future in New-Work SBC States?

If you live in the south, your Baptist association is a different thing than it is here in Iowa. Our state convention has a little over 100 churches, most of which struggle to become self-supporting. Your association is probably larger than our state convention. Some associations in the south have more employees than our state convention, and perhaps larger budgets.

Until recent priority changes from NAMB, our associations had missionaries funded through NAMB. In Iowa, we had 7 associations and 5 DOMS (they change the NAMB designation about every 3 weeks; I can’t keep up with what the current nomenclature is). NAMB is no longer interested in funding associational missionaries and so our local associations in Iowa no longer have the leadership we have had in the past.

My DOM, until assignments recently changed, covered a territory larger than several states – two associations combined. Get out a map and look at western Iowa. Our two associations extend from Minnesota to Missouri along Iowa’s western border and a hundred or so miles in. The DOM’s car has several hundred thousand miles on it.

But in that vast area, there are actually very few churches. Sioux City happens to have two of the larger SBC churches in Iowa but only a handful of the other churches in Northwest and Southwest associations are self-sufficient and able to fund a full-time pastor. Many are bivocational. In total, there are only around 30 churches between the two associations (can’t remember the exact number, but 30 is close).

Since our DOMs have been funded by NAMB, they have been employees of the BCI (Baptist Convention of Iowa). Our recently retired exec, Jimmy Barrentine, worked hard to respect associational authority, but the reality is that DOMs were nationally funded and employed at the state level. Because of that, our associations are not really autonomous, as most associations in the south are. Jimmy tried hard to fight this perception, but we tend to view the association as the local franchise of the state convention.

Associational work in what used to be called frontier areas is a little different than in Alabama, Georgia or Florida, isn’t it? And it is changing dramatically. As I mentioned, NAMB is no longer interested in funding associational (or state convention) infrastructure. I think the new term they use is something like, “Church Planter Catalyst.” Their priority is to fund church planting, and local church health is not part of that. Whether that is a good strategy is obviously a point of debate. But the fact is that we no longer have NAMB-funded DOMs in Iowa.

And Iowa associations generally do not have the financial strength to hire a DOM. A couple of our associations are considering doing this, but they will struggle to put together a respectable salary package. And our western associations simply cannot do it (unless the DOM is willing to give up luxuries like living indoors and eating).

So, the future of associations in Iowa is definitely in doubt. And, to be very frank, I am not sure that associations will survive in Iowa as a viable institution. Beyond dispute, whatever our associations are in the future, it will be a very different thing than what they have been in the past.

I would make the following observations.

1) We liked the old system, but the results were not such that we can refuse to look at new ways.

We have liked having NAMB-funded DOMs in Iowa. They have been encouragements to small, struggling churches and their pastors. We have churches that are 50 miles or more from any other SBC church. Pastor to pastor fellowship becomes unwieldy. But the DOM was able to be a touchpoint, a connection for these lonely warriors. My DOMs have been friends, resources and advisors. One was a very close friend and prayer partner.

But when you look at the overall success of this system over the 22 years I’ve been in Iowa, it is difficult to point to our statistical success and say that it is unwise to change. I am not saying that our system hasn’t worked, but I am saying that it has not worked to the degree that we could refuse to consider the changes being made.

2) Cutting off Baptist welfare may be a good thing in the long run. 

I’ve been in more than one meeting in which the assumption was that we can only do that which NAMB funds. Our state has been living on what some of us call Baptist Welfare. We receive far more CP funds from NAMB than we actually contribute to the CP. Many of our state staff have been NAMB/CP funded as were all of our DOMs. Most of our church plants have been NAMB (or HMB) funded.

Now, NAMB has redirected the flow of funding for infrastructure into church planting. Those funds will actually increase, which is nice. But right now, we struggle to find the established churches that are healthy enough to start other churches to make use of that funding.

In the long run, though, being forced to do things on our own without NAMB funding may be healthy for us. Independence may lead us to trust in God’s provision, not just NAMB funding. That may strengthen our faith and aid Baptist work in Iowa. In the long run…

3) In the short term, there will be pain.

Things are unsettled here now. As funding for our missionaries has been pulled from us, what do we do? Do we disband our associations? Do we seek to hire our own DOMs?

Here is the problem. Iowa gets NAMB funding based on a formula. We give a certain amount and NAMB matches that (they give much more to us than they receive from us). But now Iowa associations are looking at trying to find a way to hire their own DOMs. Where is that funding going to come from? Simple…and tragic. They will likely reduce their CP giving to fund their DOM. It is very likely that several churches are going to defund CP (to some extent) to fund associational work. That will have some negative consequences.

If churches cut CP giving to fund that to which NAMB has reduced funding, our CP giving decreases. When CP decreases, so do NAMB matching funds. Then we have to make more cuts.

Hopefully, church planting efforts will succeed and we will have many more churches contributing and our giving will increase and things will get better. That is obviously the hope. Is it a reality? We will see. But in the meantime, the budget re-prioritization is causing a lot of discomfort and upheaval.

Questions to Consider

1) Is what is happening in Iowa unique or are other new-work states experiencing similar issues?

2) Is funding local associational work a worthy priority, or are we wise in putting all of our eggs in the church planting basket?

3) Are associations even necessary or useful in this scenario?

Two local associational realities impact this question. First, we have a few churches spread out over a large area, making all associational work more difficult. Second, if the associations are really just local franchises of the state convention, do they serve a separate function?

Please note: this post is not meant as some kind of shot against NAMB. They have made decision about their priorities and they believe those decisions are wise. Perhaps they are, especially in the long run. In the short run, the denominational eggs have been scrambled and things are tumultuous. My focus is not so much on NAMB, but on how those of us in new work states can respond to the denominational new world order.


  1. Dave Miller says

    I realize that trying to govern the direction of a discussion here is like trying to nail jello to the wall – and tends to be about as successful. But I’d like this not to be a pro- or anti-NAMB discussion, or focus on the GCR or anything like that.

    I am reflecting on what is happening in Iowa, and perhaps struggles that are taking place in other smaller states as well.

    This may sound strange and be completely boring to those of you in the Deep South. We live in different Baptist worlds.

    My intent was to focus on the question of whether associations are useful or necessary in the modern SBC world. It kind of morphed as I wrote. I may add another piece focusing on those things at a later date.

    • says

      If you make it firm enough, Jell-O can be nailed to a wall :)

      Being in a very rural area here in the South, we are struggling with the purpose and practice of having an association. The space is not as big as yours, but the Southern Baptist population is small enough in this area that we cannot support a DOM.

      So we don’t have one.

      Time will tell if this plan works. We are depending mightily on some people shifting their perception of how an Association works and doing some of the heavy lifting on their own.

      But it’s a county with a population less than 20,000 people. Most of the churches are in ‘plateau’ or ‘declining’ stage and there is not much likelihood of anyone coming to plant a church–and there probably is no reason to do so. We’re trying to take the resources we have and focus our Association on strengthening the existing churches and reaching the lost in the gaps between the small towns. We at least have that, which I know you don’t in Iowa: our towns of 500 and less have churches in them. Not always healthy churches, but there’s a start to work from. Baggage to get over, too, but a start.

      I’m curious how this all ends up working out along the way.

      One thing I hope we’re learning in the Great Commission Convention of Southern Baptists is that our old one-size-fits-all approach really doesn’t cut it: an association in a metro area, a rural area, an unreached area all are going to function differently. Likewise with self-sufficient state conventions or ‘new work’ areas, churched or unchurched. I think we have tried in the past to use prior outcomes in the South to guide what we wanted to accomplish in new work zones, and that just does not work.

  2. says

    It just seems to me that if the local associations are worth having, if they’re serving their purpose, and if that purpose is helping the local churches, that they’d not be a problem to fund locally. IF they’re doing all those things.

    There’s also the fact that God pays for what He wants done, and if there’s not enough money coming in to support a DOM, then we’d have to ask God why He wasn’t funding what WE thought was necessary.

    I agree with your point, Dave .. in the long run, this will be a good thing.

    • Dave Miller says

      The idea of local funding has not been much of a possibility or a priority. Why should we when NAMB was paying the bills. Now, we have to decide if associations and DOMs are a kingdom priority – on our own.

  3. William Thornton says

    You are a seasoned and sensible realist on this, Dave, rather than a myopic and reactionary nostalgist.

    How many denominal layers we need and how they are funded is a good question. For local churches to band together to fund what they see as necessary to their mission looks to me to be a much more natural arrangement and one which should have inherent efficiencies.

  4. says

    I would say that your assessment of the situation in Iowa is very similar to what we have seen in the Dakotas. We have decided to start asking those tough questions over the last year or two and see what needs to be kept and what that should look like. Our state staff is essentially the state Executive Director and two NAMB funded positions that are tasked with the primary mission of planting churches in the Dakotas. Most of the DOMs have left for their former home states or other states and our other state staff have either retired or gone into ministry at a local church in some capacity. Those men did good and admirable service for the Kingdom of God here in the Dakotas, but the times they are a-changin.

    I think that associations will survive in new-work states, but I can say with certainty that they will not look at all like what southern states will recognize as an association from the good old days. We won’t be able to fund personnel at the associational level in the Dakotas for years to come, but those who are willing to volunteer time and energy will enable us to continue to work together in small groups of churches, sometimes across the conventional associational lines that have been drawn in the past.

    Currently, the Dakotas are using a task force (which I am a part of) to work on some of these same questions. More importantly, we are talking about why we do what we do and if we should do things differently, not just because of changes in NAMB policy. There is a mindset growing in the Dakotas that we need to free ourselves from our previous way of thinking that always took into account what NAMB would give money for us to do. Frankly, NAMB could change their minds yet again tomorrow. We are trying to reshape how we think about ministry and how ministry happens here. That will play out at the associational level as well. Actually, it already has been for nearly two years now.

    Some of the associations are larger and healthier and have been able to continue on without much interruption. Some, like mine, are so small that there wasn’t much change simply because we were already disregarded in terms of leadership due to our size (we have/had around 7 churches for most of the time I have been here in ND). Our association found a way to cooperate and coordinate revival services this past summer. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

    I actually think that funding associational work from a national level has likely done more harm than good over the years, so I am not sure that it isn’t better to find a new way. Ideally, that would be helping local churches get healthy so they can think about more than mere survival. Associations are a good thing, when they come from the churches banding together and not from some more artificial means as some have in the past in the new-work areas.

    • says

      Since it has always been done this way (NAMB funding) we sort of assume that it ought always be done that way.

      The painful change, as we have both said, may lead to future progress.

  5. Tommy Rucker says

    Dave, as a fellow Iowa pastor, I would add another key ingredient to our bitter mix. Our State Convention staff has been cut to the bone, with more cuts coming in the next couple years, leaving us with a tiny handful of people to serve our churches. Doug mentioned a seemingly similar situation in his Southern Association, but I would bet he has a State Convention present to help take up the slack. We have also practically lost that blessing as well.
    Our Association in the opposite end of the state as Dave’s has decided to try and make it a go without a DOM, and we’re adopting the philosophy of Indiana Jones, “I’m making this up as I go!” As an officer in both the Association and the State Convention Board, I would welcome any and all constructive advice. In fact, I am begging for some!

    • says

      We do have a State Convention, that is true. As far as taking up the slack, their word to us was that if we wanted to be an association without a DOM, then we were on our own to figure out how to do it.

      So, yes, there’s a state convention, but when it comes to figuring out how to handle associational things, we are making it up as we go as well.

  6. Mike Bartelson says

    Dave, here in Montana we have been this way for the past 1 1/2 years now. One Association (our largest) hired their own DOM. Some have gone to Administrative Team model others to a Moderator Model. There is a wide variety of opinions as to how this has worked. Only one Association has broken up and it was for reasons other than this and last I was told by pastors there, they are working on cooperating once again (minus two churches).

    Based on what I see here, it is a step towards even more NAMB say and control into what our State Office does and promotes. While I do not necessarily agree with the direction that our State Office is going (which IS throwing all their eggs into the church planting basket) I see many churches being left behind by the denomination entities and the autonomy of the churches slowly being taken away because of lack of funding. What I mean by that is that if we were to need assistance, we are now to commit to programs that the State Office (NAMB) determines we must do in order to receive help.

  7. says


    You have raised a very important issue and did so with much grace and dignity. You honored the past and provided challenge and hope for the future.

    I told Bill Dieckmann (COLA Metro – Columbia SC) 18 years ago that there was no real Association. I told him that in most cases the onl two (2) people in a given local church that were even aware that there is such a thing as an Association were the Pastor and the Treasure. The Association did little or nothing for the church except send them letters appealing for more funds for the Association. Many are over-staffed and accomplish little of genuine kingdom significance. Lots of activity – virtually no transformation.

    Having said that I have empathy for DOM’s. They have much repsonsibiity and virtually no authority. The “AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH” has higher standing that the Bible in many places.

    We need a comprehensive, transparent and fully accountable review of this entire structure. It must begin with ending the LIE that we have 16.3 million members. That is driven by one issue – – NUMBERS, bigger is better and biggest is BEST! We must change our theology of church and our theology of redemption. It is more than walking down an aisle or signing a card. I spoke at XXXXXX XXXXXX Baptist in Baltimore last June. A lady came forward and they voted her in as a member. There must be a more comprehensive and credible manner of validating a persons relationship with Christ before we user them in as members.

    Thanks Dave for your thoughtful and substantive post on a needed subject.

    In Grace,
    Tom Fillinger
    803 413 3509

  8. Jim Shaver says

    Dave I served in Montana for almost eight years and experienced the NAMB funded Associational DOM era. Since then I have moved back to Missouri and led the charge in revamping our association and bringing it into the 21st Century.

    In Montana with 100 churches I felt like the associations were basically useless since most of the ministry and missions and programs flowed through the State Convention and involved the entire state.

    Back in Missouri though I see things differently and actually value the local association more than the State Convention. We basically merged two associations into one here locally about nine years ago. We have roughly 35 churches and missions and one Associational Missionary who is full time. Our annual budget is around $90,000 and we do things much bigger than that size budget might suggest.

    We did away with the Associational Office and encouraged the Assoc. Missionary to utilize wifi hotspots throughout the association as his roving office. It works well and we have meetings in all kinds of places as a result and the good news is somebody else besides the Association is picking up the tab for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.

    The other big change was the approach to ministry. We organized the Assoc. based on a team approach and did away with the old structure that was so closely tied to the Convention. We have a Leadership Team, a Missions Team, a Ministry Team, an Evangelism Team and recently added a Technology Team. You don’t get elected to any of those teams – You have to volunteer and we’ve discovered folks only volunteer for stuff they actually care about. As a result we are free to do all kinds of things that we never even considered in the past.

    The final change is still occurring as we encourage churches to give a larger portion of their CP giving to the local Association. We just feel that associational missions are as vital as State Missions and SBC Missions.

    If I had the opportunity to go back to Montana I would take what I’ve learned in the last ten years and attempt to do the same thing “without an Associational Missionary.” We’ve got a good one here in Missouri but I really believe with a Team Approach you can do worthwhile Associational Missions and Ministry without one.

    • says

      I hate to hear things like that you are encouraging churches to give less to CP to fund associational ministry. I understand why churches do that, and I understand that autonomy gives them the right, but I hate to see the already struggling CP absorb the hit.

      • Jim Shaver says

        Dave, I should have added that we believe as Associational Missions are strengthened the State and SBC Missions will benefit as well.

      • Dave Miller says

        My question, Jim, is whether in new work states, the associations and state offices are not somehow duplicating work.

        • Jim Shaver says

          Dave, there is no doubt of that.

          The solution is to find out what the Association does that the State Convention cannot do and do it.

  9. Dean says

    Dave, I think an honest assessment of associations’ necessity must be done. Can a man serving over hundreds of miles to 35 churches invest much in the lives of those pastors, especially if they are bivo and unavailable during the day? Does the associational office honestly keep their churches connected with the state convention and the SBC? Can churches stay connected without the association? In the Bible Belt the association has served well in the past but is struggling to maintain relevance today. Most associations in our state have budgets of less than $10,000 once you remove personnel and the office from them. We spend $120,000 in personnel and the office and $8,000 on ministry items. The DOMS in my life have been some of my greatest friends and encouragers. As much as I love them I think the association in the Deep South is on life support. It seems that is true in other areas as well.

    • Dave Miller says

      As I said, I started to focus on issues like that, but as I wrote the piece kind of moved in a different direction.

      The question: do local associations serve a genuine missional purpose is a real and valid question.

      My answer would be fairly simple.
      Can they? Certainly. There are some fantastic associations doing great work.
      But I am not sure all do. Some associations do little. Some are more about admin than ministry. Others do great kingdom work.

  10. says

    From the desert floor of Idaho:

    So long as church planting and association work is viewed as a means to increase a bottom line of a budget process, the result of a new era of ‘association’ work will produce the same broken ‘product’ the previous era did.

    As long as denominational goals are designed to help small churches look to a denominational head for hope, we’ll find a new era of church planting immune from Holy Spirit born awakening and revival.

    Churches must reject pastors who are dependent upon another man to show him how to ‘grow his church’.

    There are good churches pastored by God pursuing pastors, but they are fewer in number than the norm. But the church of the Living God will advance the gospel banner in spite of the powerless masses who are more in love with money than devoted to a God who promises streams in the desert.

    That’s how I really feel…

    May God send forth the River – not another consultant who is careful to only speak what he has been instructed to speak from a board room filled with statisticians and lawyers. Is not Scripture sufficient?

    An association can be utilized, but please… Someone quit offending the Lord with language when we refer to the institution of the association. The isolated church of the Living God CAN do more that 30 non-profit organizations within a 50 mile radius…

  11. Rick Patrick says

    I must admit an association may not make sense in a pioneer state with only 100 churches, for the simple reason that the State Convention itself IS the association, for all practical purposes.

    Generally, however, we’ve had local associations longer than we’ve had either state conventions or the national convention. To me, that does not suggest they are outdated, but that their relevance was identified earlier.

    Personally, I think they’re here to stay, although the removal of overhead costs described by Jim Shaver makes a lot of sense.

    • Dave Miller says

      Yes, I think that is right. I’m assuming your association is much larger than our state convention, right? I think that trying to maintain southern state structure in a northern state may not be fully workable.

      • says

        I think that’s the key, Dave–unless we see a “New Work” state end up with as many churches giving as much money as an old work state, trying to duplicate the structure does not make any sense.

        Would a better system be for the Iowa State Convention to divide staff among the state to be there for encouraging/strengthening pastors and helping coordinate work and then have NAMB handle the church planting type efforts? Essentially let the North America Missions Board do the Missions aspect and then the internally funded entities handle what is needed for the existing churches? Work out a hand-off plan as new churches mature?

        Otherwise, we’re still doing the same thing we have done for years: doubling overhead without doubling effectiveness. Eventually might be the better plan overall, but especially in areas without the major legacy costs like children’s homes/colleges/etc?

  12. Dave says


    Your question about the place of the association in Baptist life is certainly one we need to ask, and one churches are answering with their giving whether they realize it or not.

    I have experienced both extremes in associational life. Until recently I was a NAMB funded DOM in a western state. I am now serving as DOM for a Bible Belt association. With the obvious needs in the “frontier areas,” I actually believe it is easier to justify the association there. One pastor I know called his southern association, “a colossal waste of time and money.” It served no relevant need that could not be better filled through other means.

    In either setting, I believe that an association that serves its churches based on shared priorities will continue, even if associational missionary positions do not. Where church leaders see value, they will give to it. Where they see waste, they will put those resources to better use.

    Do we need associations? Need is a strong word. I will say that the association has potential for serving the local church that no state convention nor NAMB can offer. Convention consultants can come in for a one-off meeting, but associational partners can walk with a pastor and his people over the long term. The association can offer greater insight into a local ministry context. And while many have discounted the “pastor to pastor” role of DOMs, my pastors from both settings say this is what they most need. So I certainly hope that current and future Baptists see their value.

    Can we afford associations? THAT is another question. God does provide for His ministry, but I personally see economic challenges ahead. In time bivocational ministry will again be the norm. I expect that it will be harder at all levels of denominational life to sustain the staffs that we have had to-date. Even southern associations and conventions will be streamlining their personnel in order to invest in the field. People will not support large “corporate” structures. In the end, churches will face some hard decisions about what to fund both in house as well as within the denomination. So there are no guarantees, other than God is in control.

    My two cents worth.

  13. Thomas Law says

    I think associations are important. Relationships are the essential. We are transitioning in Iowa. The existing DOMs are working with their associations to help re-form the associations around those relationships. Where relationships do not exist we want to develop some. The next two years are going to be a time for us to help strengthen our churches, discover ways to build on existing relationships among the churches, help develop church and associational leadership, and build new relationships. We know that we are going to have to discover new ways of doing things. Learning to “live” on our own is going to be hard but I think it is going to help us grow stronger.

  14. Ron F. Hale says

    The SBC operates on the “Golden Rule” – he who has the Gold rules!

    In days gone by, leaders understood the four historic and autonomous levels of SBC Life – the local church, the local Association, the state convention, the SBC (and her entities). And they worked hard to respect autonomy and not patronize and push people. Not anymore.

    Leaders in the past realized that the address of the SBC was the very address of each local church.

    We have forgotten that the local church funds every ….level and layer… of SBC life.

    There is no NAMB-funded anything. NAMB gets their monies through the local churches who gives through the state convention and on to the Executive Committee then dispersed out.

    I was previewing the Annie Armstrong promotional materials the other day, when looking at their powerpoint, the fourth or fifth slide said that … the Annie Armstrong offering is the main or primary source of funding for North American Missions. No, it is not! The Cooperative Program is the main channel; AA is to undergird. But who cares about CP, when AA is 100% gifts to the entity.

    If Southern Baptists suddenly made the decision to send “ALL” their monies through the local Association (instead of the state convention) then over night the respect of the local Association would rise faster than a Roman candle on the 4th of July. Wise men from the state and national entities would humbly come to pay calls of courtesy. In other words, the Association decides “how much” to send to the state, and the state decides “how much” to the EC.

    All missions is local! Start there … and a real strategy just might develop.

    • cb scott says

      Ron F. Hale,

      Well stated.

      As Lando Sackett said of the Tinker in the Louis L’Amour novel, LANDO: “The Tinker is a learned man,” I shall say the same of you.

      Ron Hale is a learned man.

      • Jim Shaver says

        Ron Hale and CB Scott,

        We are of one mind on this. Much like the Sacketts!

        Due to the structure of the CP – The Assoc – is suffering unplanned obsolescence. In 1925 it wasn’t possible to run CP through the Local Association first – It was logistically impossible. Today it’s a simple mouse click on an Excel Spreadsheet and an electronic transfer to the State Convention.

        Go Local to Go Global.

        • says

          When I was a DOM I advocated for this idea and suggested that we explore the whole restructuring of the CP financial model given the new realities of the 21st century. (Not to open up another area of conversation, but this has been one of the problems with our SBC agencies and their finances – most notably the IMB. They are funding new structures with old financial models.) I also explored the development of software which would allow associations to implement this idea. Three things stood in the way, (1) change does not come easily, (2) most smaller associations are not equipped or inclined to do this, (3) if churches change they opt out, not to a new system of CP giving.

  15. says

    In Iowa we saw two choices (there may have be others and we are interested in hearing about them):

    1. Merge the seven existing associations into three larger geographic areas with each DOM/CPC serving one third of the state. Historically, HMB (NAMB) and the state convention (fellowship) created the associations and restructured them from time to time. Since the DOMs had been “grandfathered” by NAMB they still would have been able to spend 20% of their time with the association while spending 80% of their time in church planting. The state staff would then have been the executive director, an assistant, and a financial assistant.


    2. Take the three CPCs which we will have when the NAMB restructuring in completely implemented in 2015 (one CPC per million population – Iowa has 3 million people) move them to statewide responsibilities but leave them geographically scattered (one in each third of the state). Invite the existing associations to take ownership of their future (rather than the state deciding it for them). We suggested that they might want to restructure into smaller units, we called clusters (in order to use another term other than association), which could be served by a cluster leader (Moderator) who we thought, in all probability, would be the pastor of one of the larger congregations in the area. Those churches in isolated situation would be linked to existing churches who had a heart for ministering to those further away. We also opened the door to creating association based on affinity or progeny in addition to those based on geography. The important elements for us ware that the association control their own destiny and that their future (and strength) be based on existing relationships or new ones to be created. The option for them to continue as existing association has always been on the table, but they would have to fund their own DOM if they decided that is what they needed.

    We opted for number two with the caveat that if something better came along we would be willing to change course. During the two year transition the DOM/CPCs, as well as state staff, would be available to the associations to help them move along the path they chose.

    • Dave Miller says

      Tom, here is the question I have – more theoretical than specific to Iowa or my association here.

      What is the purpose of the association in distinction to the state convention. We have defined the purposes of the BCI – fairly easy to figure out, right? (Implementation is the sticking point). But if you ask associations to define their purposes, they will come VERY close to the same as the BCI.

      So, what is the distinctive purpose, in your mind, of the work of the association that is not doable at the state level.

      I don’t really have a POV here – I’m still trying to think all of this through.

      If this whole process has done anything, it’s made me think stuff through.

      • says

        As CB says you win wars with boots on the ground. The relationships which build strong associations are the same ones that help them coordinate the work among the churches that form the association. We have had an artificial system in place in Iowa where churches were part of an association through an accident of geography. Some churches have worked very well with other churches in their geography (association) but some (maybe even a lot) are on the margins of those relationships because they did not have any “skin in the game” in the creation of the group with which they are cooperating. As churches work with each other, partner on projects together, and learn from each other they grow together and are better able to make a Kingdom impact. (Another direction for discussion which I do not want to open here is our Baptist understanding of church as the body of Christ. We seem to have read the Romans and Corinthian passages as meaning a local congregation, but in both cases they are written to multiple “churches” in a general geographic area. Could Paul be saying that it is as the churches work together that all of the giftedness of the Spirit will be demonstrated, not necessarily in each local congregation?)

        In Iowa, the state convention has to a large extent served as a statewide association, creating smaller units (associations) to address local matters. When NAMB no longer was willing to pay for this system it began to unravel, but in reality it has been unraveling for a while. Louisiana DOMs were state employees until a few years ago when they transitioned to having the associations hire their own DOMs. What we are trying empower the churches, gathered around natural relationships and passions, to address the issues most critical to them. The state convention serves as a resource to the churches and the associations as they address those needs.

        While the association is focused on its geography or affinity the state convention (in SBC life) has a wider focus (the entire state or states). The state convention’s role is to help the churches think beyond their local geography or affinity, to see the needs in the whole state and how those can be addressed through a wider (statewide) cooperation so that no one or place falls through the cracks. In SBC life the state convention also serves as the link between the local congregation and the wider SBC body and agencies.

        The local church relates to each group independently. Unlike what it has been in Iowa (where NAMB pays most of the DOM salary and the state is their supervisor), historically there has not been an organic link between the association, state, and national entities. Each comes out of the local congregation and partner with the other in order to minimize duplication and conflict.

        We are trying to capitalize on this heritage which made Baptist one of the most dynamic and flexible denominations for Kingdom expansion.

        • cb scott says

          “We seem to have read the Romans and Corinthian passages as meaning a local congregation, but in both cases they are written to multiple “churches” in a general geographic area. Could Paul be saying that it is as the churches work together that all of the giftedness of the Spirit will be demonstrated, not necessarily in each local congregation?)”

          Thomas Law,

          I think you are truly on to something here. A few years ago, after having debated ecclesiology with Dave Miller and David Rogers on multiple occasions, David Rogers entered something into the debated identified as the “City Church Paradigm.”

          I began to make an effort to learn what I could of that concept. I found that the Church at Ephesus gave much credibility to the idea of the City Church Paradigm. I also think your statement about the Epistles to the Romans and the Church of God at Corinth may be very credible.

          Thomas Law, maybe the association is not as dead as some leaders have stated. Of course, some of those who have been most vocal have never had a true baptism in associational missions and ministry. They have only been sprinkled and think they got the real thing. 😉

          • Thomas Law says

            Good word CB. I did not use the term City Church because in some SBC circles it has a bad image, but it is some we should consider (or consider again).

          • Frank L. says

            Assemblies of God use a “city church” approach, I think. They have one per city, at least in small cities.

            They don’t use the “one on every corner” approach.

            Mormons use a “city church” type strategy it seems to me.

            Protestants are simply not as monolithic, in general, as the early church seemed to be.

          • Dave Miller says

            One of my favorite authors (an Iowa pastor named Dave) has written a lot on the fact that there are three NT iterations of what the One True Church. There is the universal Body of Christ. There is the local congregation gathered to worship. But there is also a clearly identified “city church” in Paul’s writings. All the local congregations/house churches in a city were viewed as one church in a city.

            That is why we, as Baptists, even when we believe our churches are the closest to biblical truth (why would we be Baptist if we did not?), we still need to fellowship with the larger Christian world in our cities.

        • Dave Miller says

          Tom, I should probably throw this to you in a private email, but I wish we could have discussions like this in our state. I think it would be productive and move us forward. I thought about trying to start a more private blog which would only be available to Iowa pastors/church leaders (and staff) where we could discuss stuff and share prayer needs and build relationships. Tommy Rucker wanders by here, and perhaps a few others lurk in the background. Would be an interesting thing, I think.

          Blogs do (when done right) build relationships. I am going to Israel in March with Doug Hibbard and Jeff Musgrave. I consider these guys friends, though I have never met either of them in person. CB Scott is someone I consider a close friend, but we’ve been in the same space very little – at SBC Conventions.

          I’d love to see an “Iowa Baptist Blog” (not open to the public and moderated to prevent nasty stuff) to talk over issues.

          • Thomas Law says

            As we designed the new website we added a member login feature. We hope to use this as a means to carry on conversations about issues of interest to Iowa. We don’t have it fully functional but will be.

          • Thomas Law says

            Frank L, when we talk about City Church we usually talk about all of the Christians in a community regardless of denomination and the need for us to relate together as parts of the body of Christ.

          • Frank L. says

            Thomas, our church is actually in the process of launching a “city church.” It’s actually called, “CityWide Fellowship.”

            Our primary target is 20 somethings that do not even have “church” on the radar. It is a neighbor by neighbor, block by block approach that will try to follow the pattern of the primitive church.

            This is nothing new. It has many names. It has caught on in other countries, but not in the U.S.

            I’ve actually had the website up for almost five years. It needs a little work but it allows me to give a video overview of the philosophy and strategy.

            I’m praying God will bless it greatly.

            We are also participating in another “city church” in Tucson with an old classmate of mine from college. We have to do something. The world is passing most churches by without even a glance.

            The old “institutional model” is showing it’s age–much like those of us who are its custodian.

  16. Ron F. Hale says


    Here are a couple of questions:

    1. What is the most important entity in reaching Iowa with the Gospel and starting more churches? I think we can agree that it is the local churches in Iowa. They have been given the Great Commission.

    2. Forgetting money for a minute, who will be your next …most important partner?

    If you determine as a group of autonomous churches and associations that you need all your local Associations, then dissolve the current state convention. Return to a Fellowship of churches in Iowa for the purpose of reaching your state with the Gospel and sowing it down with congregations. Give through the local Associations and each autonomous Assocation can decide how much to send to the EC while also promoting Lottie and Annie.

    Personally, I wouldn’t worry about forming a state convention until you have at least 250 congregations. While state conventions are valuable for a statewide strategy, they can be too big a load for pioneer areas with few churches and few dollars.

    The biggest hurdle is seeking the Father and seeking to be true to what He is telling you do for Iowa. If other enities want to help you do that, then allow them to help you. But you have to remind them that they are your servant and their purpose is to help your local churches.

    • cb scott says


      When a group of local churches come to a consensus as to the will of God related to the fulfillment the Great Commission within their cultural structure, that group of local churches are far better equipped to jointly meet the challenge than a state convention or a national entity.

      Boots on the ground conquers and maintains far better than a fly-over bombing and air-dropping pamphlets afterwards.

    • says

      Our focus is on helping our churches become strong equipping churches that develop disciples that develop disciples who develop disicples. As part of that strategy we are helping these churches join together for Kingdom advance, letting the churches decide how that will be done. Our role is to be a resource to the churches to help them accomplish what Jesus commanded us.

      • cb scott says

        Thomas Law,

        Are you guys considering divesting yourselves of real estate and and unnecessary overhead so you can more effectively undergird the churches who have made the decision to “develop disciples that develop disciples who develop disciples”?

        • says

          CB, the only real estate the convention owns is a suite of offices in Des Moines. We are evaluating whether we should do something else (go to a fully virtual office and rent/borrow space as needed). We have not come to any conclusions about that. As for staff we have trimmed and have plans to trim additional staff (retirements). We are also looking for ways to cut our overhead (operations).

          • cb scott says

            Thomas Law,

            That is good to read, in my opinion. Bravo for you progressive thinking guys . . . and gals.

            I think that in this day of cell phones, laptops, Ipads and extended cab pickup trucks, associational missions can be better accomplished by returning to the concept of the “Circuit Rider” missionary rather than continuing in the Church Model or Missionary Compound that has become the norm in SBC life.

  17. Joe McGee says

    Speaking as a DOM, I see the situation from within. There are several reasons why associations are struggling; 1) The economy, 2) No vision, 3) Not relative to the ministry of the church, 4) Independent minded pastors, 5) Decrease in finances from larger churches that once relied on the work of associations and have less need today, or the church or pastor see the other churches as competitors and prefer to send their mission money elsewhere instead of assisting their competitors, and 6) Pastors direct more finances to the cooperative program and less to the association as a way to impress the Convention folks who may some day make a recommendation on their behalf.
    Dave I take issue with some of the negative comments by some who combine all associations into one group and pronounce them all in a negative light. Some probably do not back their association because they have never been involved or they prefer to go their Independent ways. Associations are for Kingdom ministers who provide help and finances to the association to either receive help or that sister churches receive help to train the leadership, provide mission opportunities, and to work with one another to minister and evangelize people within their geographical region.
    Dave, in the beginning of associations, the DOM was not full-time, he often help start new churches in the geographical area. What is wrong with a man starting churches and growing them until their ready for another pastor to take over and the DOM starts another church. You shared that one of the problem is the lack of churches in an association. The DOM could spend his Sunday morning at the mission church and plan a mid-week service during the week on some night other than Wednesday. He could spend his Sunday evenings and Wednesdays visiting and ministering to the church within the association. The mission church may provide some of his support and the churches within the association may provide additional support by inviting him to preach once or twice a year at their church, or even to invite him to train the church or preach revival. If the churches would provide a honorarium for such service it would also supplement his income.

    Just a thought

    • cb scott says

      Another excellent comment.

      One thing I would like to inject here. Rather than being called Directors of Missions or Executive Director of Missions there was a time in the not so distant past that they were called Associational Missionaries and . . . they were . . . missionaries. Thankfully, some still are.

    • Frank L. says

      Number 5 seems a particularly “now” kind of problem. I’ve only been in ministry about 40 years and I’ve seen a consistent and steady decline of collegiality (sp?) among pastors at the Associational level.

      Perhaps that is just an inevitable trend in the life of a denomination.

  18. Dale Pugh says

    I was working on an Associational staff in Washington when the Northwest Convention transitioned to a regional network in place of the associations. Some associations worked through the change and survived, albeit without the luxury of a local DOM. The regional leaders were the former DOM’s and a few church planting strategists. I’m really not sure that the new approach has worked all that well, but then the associational model wasn’t working all that well in many areas.
    When I was pastoring in Oregon (1986-2000) we had an excellent association. Our DOM’s were helpful, responsive, and caring men with a sense of passion for their job. I loved that association, and that’s one reason I even considered going into associational ministry back then.
    My local association here in Texas is useless. I’m unable to be involved because of my bivocational status. All the meetings take place at times when I can’t attend. We have no DOM after the last man retired (And he did little as a DOM except shake hands, tell jokes, and slap his buddies on the back). There is no common work or mission among our churches.
    My one year experience in the association taught me several things. Foremost among those is that I am not cut out to be a DOM. It requires the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon. Unfortunately, I tend to be a little more confrontational than is prudent at times. As a DOM, I’m afraid I’d feel like Si Robertson:

    • cb scott says

      “All the meetings take place at times when I can’t attend. We have no DOM after the last man retired (And he did little as a DOM except shake hands, tell jokes, and slap his buddies on the back). There is no common work or mission among our churches.”

      Duckman Dale,

      You have identified one (of many) of the differences between a Director of Missions and an Associational Missionary.

      BTW, although I have never met you face-to-face, it seems to me you would make a fine Associational Missionary rather than the stereotypical DOM.

      • Dale Pugh says

        Let me just say that the great majority of DOM’s I have worked with fit the Associational Missionary type and are good at their jobs. I agree with your DOM/Associational Missionary distinction, SEC CB. And it’s good to keep that distinction in mind.

        • cb scott says

          Duckman Dale,

          You are right. Many are good at their job. I stated that somewhere above.

          Before NAMB divested itself of the Associational Initiatives Department (a mistake in my opinion) that department worked to help local associations to return to the historic purpose of Baptist associations.

          The goal was to help associations cease to be what had become known as the “church model” and return to a true resource entity to help local churches their missional purpose.

          With the development of the mentality of a “Director” of Missions came a top-down concept of associational missions, very similar to what has taken place in most all state conventions. The mentality became that of hierarchical approach to missions and ministry. The “Maintain the Compound” mentality poisoned the well spring of associational missions. The same disease has been diagnosed in other SBC entities. However the radical surgery necessary to cure the disease was avoided in favor of a “programatic serum approach.”

          Result = sick, anemic, and dying churches and associations, while overweight state conventions and SBC boards, agencies, and institutions try to provide a cure by telling those churches and associations the cure is for them to go on a diet.

          • Dale Pugh says

            An interesting diagnosis, doctor. Some things I’ve observed as well. I truly enjoyed the good associations I’ve been a part of. I count a few associational missionaries as friends and mentors in my life. They were extremely helpful to me. And some of my friendships with other pastors couldn’t have happened without the association. Funny, I’m closer now to the local Church of Christ minister than any other. I only know one other SBC pastor in my association.

          • cb scott says

            Duckman Dale,

            That’s interesting. When I was in Pennsylvania, I developed a good relationship with a Nazarene pastor. The local Baptist association was graveyard dead and waiting on the undertaker’s hurst to haul it away.

  19. Steve says

    In my corner of Montana we are using our Administrative team to carry out the work of the Association – actually have done it that way for some years, even with a DOM. Our A-Team meets regularly, prays for churches/pastors, serves as a near-hand resource for churches, and regularly help our churches engage in missions. Next week our Association will host a Pastor’s/Men retreat (an annual event). Dr. York from Southern Seminary will be helping us sharpen our preaching skills. I do see a future for Associations, but the reality is that our previous model was financially unsustainable.
    Steve in Montana

  20. William Thornton says

    Seems there is as much appetite here for a look at associations in mature, legacy states as there is for such in new work areas.

  21. Adam Embry says

    Don’t know about the future of associations, but I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with the director here in Jefferson Co. who’s been very kind to me. Met the director for the association just south of us in Nelson Co., and can say the same thing about him. It’s good to spend time with mature, seasoned SBC men. I hope we’ll always be able to connect young guys like me with these men.
    Adam Embry

  22. Joe McGee says

    Earlier, I referred to myself as a DOM. That because this was the national designation given by NAMB about a dozen years ago. Within my association I am referred to the association missionary. Outside, I refer to myself as DOM since many are used to that terminology.
    I noticed that some of the bi vocation men are being left out since most meeting are held during a time that they are at work. We had faced that issue and resolve to meet at night so everyone may be involved.
    Sometimes it better to inform your association that you would participate if they could plan meeting around the schedule of the bi-vocation pastors. You may be amazed with their decision.

    • Dale Pugh says

      I work at night. There’s no easy solution, and not everyone will be able to get involved. It’s just the way it is. I would like some level of involvement in our association, but it just isn’t possible. Requesting that they try to accommodate me doesn’t seem logical. Add to it that the association in my area is rather pointless, has no DOM, and isn’t very active and I choose to put my time elsewhere.
      Believe me, if I thought it was worth the effort, I’d do something about it. I’m not complaining at all, just stating the realities in my area.

  23. Dan says

    We are experiencing similar issues in Michigan. I’ve been doubtful about the Church Planter Catalyst idea since we first heard of it a couple of years ago. I voiced that the CPC should be field tested before it is put in place. And my suggestion was that Kevin Ezell should field test it. He should refuse his NAMB pay, move his family to Michigan, Iowa, or Minnesota, and assume the job description and pay of a CPC for 2 years. If he, who has never planted a church, is successful. I’ll be less skeptical.
    You make very good points in your post. I’ve been saying for years, Michigan should have been self-supporting years ago. But we bought into the Lifeway/NAMB welfare mentality for too many years.

    • Dave Miller says

      I assume you are addressing this to me, not to Mike. I also think you are being a little facetious in part of your comment. But testing something in one state before you roll it out everywhere might be a smart thing.

  24. Dan says

    Yes, Dave. Addressing you. Facetious? Maybe. I just think too often these decisions are made by people with little to no experience in church planting in a new work/frontier/emerging region. They lay out expectations that from the perspective of those who have lived and worked in those regions seem a little far fetched. Plus, it makes no sense to me that current CPC’s (in Michigan at least) are being offered a salary that is only $2K or $3K more that what was offered in Michigan in the 1980’s! OK, guess I’m not begin facetious at all. Someone calling the shots in Alpharetta, come and prove to us it will work! But use the resources within the state. No calling back home to AL, GA, MS for assistance.

    • Dave Miller says

      Due to economic realities and the decline of CP giving in the SBC, NAMB funded personnel have not been seeing much in the way of raises through recent years. If CP giving would increase, I’m guessing CPC salaries would increase.

      Just a supposition.

  25. John Guillott says

    It is interesting to read the debate regarding the importance and/or relevance of associations. I agree with previous posts – the effective association is one that has strong relationships among the churches and pastors. Now – this probably won’t happen – but if somehow the Southern Baptist Convention imploded – the state conventions faded away – I think the first entity that would resurface among the churches would be a local association.

    I serve as a Bi-vocational pastor, a bi-vocational DOM – and a CPC with NAMB in southern Arizona.

    • Dan says

      John, I agree because historically there were associations before there were conventions (state or national).

  26. Pastor Al Brodbent says

    I have to look at it from 3 ways. Having retired from business, I know, as Tom Peters says: “If your not changing 20% a year you will be out of business in 10 years” From the business aspect, what NAMB has done makes good sense for the long run.

    Having been in church planting, I don’t know what I would have done for fellowship had it not been for DOM’s like Bob Brindle and Merwyn Borders in Vermont. They were truly a blessing. They were the people as well as the state convention people that supported us in the field.

    As a pastor (being contested by the state and SBC) i am also looking at the economics and what is being delivered by the association in the south. Most of what I see is piggy tailing on what a church is doing for minimal economic involvement coming from them. The state puts together a program and the assoction piggy tails on it for minimal expenses.

    In an analysis, that I did, I found that between 65 and 85% of budgets in our area is for salaries and benefits. We are using a system that in 100 years old of dividing by counties. Most state conventions feel there is “barbed wire” running along state lines and if another entity from another adjoining state wants to work on a project with us the state gets involved to put a stop to it.


    A realization that all the structures that we have worked with over the last 100 years “MAY NOT” be needed. Do we really need an SBC, State Convention, and local association? Could we not have two to accomplish the work. I’LL LET YOU DECIDE WHICH TWO???? lol

    Businesses have been moving toward “regionalization” for many years and it has been cost effective and efficient for them. some states have put “field” people out hoping this would catch on but there is a lot of opposition to that.

    With the longer lives, I believe the immediate solution for Iowa and states like that is to find a retired person, whom is interested in still accomplishing things for the Lord, and attract them.

    any solution is going to have pain to someone. AM I WILLING FOR IT TO BE ME??

    • Dave Miller says

      It is not that easy to find retired pastors who want to come and freeze in the north. Trust me. We’ve tried.

      • says

        Actually, the exciting thing is that we have a number of people interested in coming to Iowa. We are involved in over forty conversations about church planting in Iowa. Many of these are from outside of Iowa whom God is calling to minister here alongside us. I am excited about what God is doing in Iowa.

    • says

      One solution we suggested is that the associations restructure into much smaller units (we called them clusters) of three to five churches that could be attended to by a part time, volunteer, retired, or Moderator type system. As Dave pointed out in the initial document our current structure basically divides the state into thirds with a person trying to take care of a huge geographic foot print. I don’t think that model is viable.

  27. Jim Shaver says

    Our Association here in Missouri had a Strategy Review Meeting on Jan 27-28.

    This Blog Site and this Discussion was referenced several times during the meeting.

    Our conclusions at the close of the meeting was that 1) We were on the right track – Team Approach 2) To move to the next level we need to a) Get more Lay People to “buy in” b) phase out the Executive Board Model many are still clinging to.

    Obviously in no 2 the a has to happen before the b is possible.

    We remain excited about what we can accomplish through our local association.