5 Reasons Affinity May Trump Geography
Previously in this series, we’ve seen the history of local associations, their value, and when it’s helpful for a church to connect. In this post, I’ll share five reasons an affinity-based network may be more beneficial than a more traditional geographically-based association. What Do I Mean By Affinity?
First, though, what I mean by affinity is something more like the Pillar Network then say, the Baptist Association of Your City.
The Pillar Network is a group of Southern Baptist churches scattered all over the country who share a similar philosophy of ministry: theologically reformed, gospel-driven, committed to planting churches, and committed to the Southern Baptist Convention.
A local Baptist Association will vary more broadly in terms of philosophy of ministry and even doctrine.
With that, here are five reasons affinity-based partnership may be more beneficial for a new church than geographically-based partnership:
Local associations have wisdom, of course, but it may be more helpful to find counsel among churches and pastors who are like-minded even if they are not geographically near.One often-overlooked reason this may be true is the simple fact that like-minded pastors often have similar personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, as well.
I personally have a mentor pastor in another state. Though he isn’t intimately familiar with the city I serve (Durham, NC), the fact that he has planted a now well established church and has done so with similar priorities and even similar insecurities to my own makes his input is particularly helpful.
I would suggest that this kind of personal connection is more likely to be found in an affinity-based network than a geographically-based association.
How do you handle it when a founding member suddenly becomes vocally disillusioned with the vision of the church? What are your options when a key leader opposes you on an important issue for seemingly no good reason? How do you keep people motivated to set up and tear down church every week for years?These are all questions a new church planter is likely to face. Depending on the local association, there simply may not be anyone with experience to answer a given question.
On the other hand, a network of planters and pastors whose churches are planting churches will have multiple stories of how various similar situations were overcome… or how they failed and why you should do things differently!
Either way, when difficult situations arise, it may be more helpful to be surrounded by fellow pastors who share similar commitments than by those who simply serve nearby.
Local associations can provide fellowship for pastors, and I would personally recommend that every pastor find one or two pastor friends who are local.However, there is something uniquely encouraging about having an entire network of like-minded friends who share a similar vision, all scattered throughout multiple regions.
At the church level, if a church partners with a network whose goals are in line with their own mission, then the network will provide regular opportunities for fellowship and encouragement in the form of conferences and mission trips to serve one another, at the very least, which may not be available through a local association.
A friend of mine once called church planting “sanctified plagiarism.” Every new church needs a constitution and bylaws, and every established church needs models for new ministries. Sample documents are often helpful.Local associations may or may not have these resources. What they do have may be dated or contextualized to a different kind of church or even an entirely different era.
On the other hand, an affinity-based network focused on church planting will have recent samples to share in abundance, along with real-life stories of what they’ve learned since writing them.
When we began South Durham Church, we found that we couldn’t make much use of our sending church’s constitution, for example. Excellent though it is, it was designed for a much larger church. Partnering with an affinity network gave us access to a handful of samples that form the basis for our constitution today.
In some cases, partnering with a local association is unadvisable due to significant doctrinal differences that would damage a church’s witness.For example, one church I know well withdrew from their local association because the association allowed another church to remain in good standing even when they were preaching universalism. For the sake of the clarity of the gospel, the church was forced to disassociate, while the association apparently felt pressure to retain the other church in part because they were in the same geographic region.
This is an extreme example, but in general, an affinity-based network will be more resilient and persevering in maintaining a clear gospel witness than a merely geographical one.
I hope in this I do not come out at all as if I am against local associations of churches. I believe they are often vital. But for these five reasons—wisdom, troubleshooting, fellowship, resources, and witness—an affinity-based, like-minded network like the Pillar Network may be more helpful for the new church or for a church planting church than a geographically-based association.