Challenges to Affinity-Based Associations
I have the joy of serving the Pillar Network, which is a like-minded, theologically-driven, affinity-based church planting network. My role as Executive Director is to assist our cooperating churches in partnering with one another well and increasing fervency toward healthy partnership that produces kingdom fruit. You would think that this would be a simple task since all of our churches affirm similar theological and methodological convictions, but at times it is a challenge. I’ve recognized four challenges within our network that become potential yellow flags of caution that could hinder healthy partnership or association amongst affinity-based networks. Arrogance
An affinity group is merely a group of people that are linked together by common interests. As my kids get older and begin gravitating toward friends that have common interests, I’m finding that they can very easily elevate themselves above other kids that they believe are inferior or wrong in their thinking. This same trend is often seen among church-plants. Affinity-based associations may become arrogant by thinking that their way of church planting (growing the kingdom of God) is better than another group.
Affinity-based networks are often formed because a former network/association is no longer functioning properly. If this is the case then the affinity-based network may carry a sense of “we are better than you” attitude. This is a potential challenge or caution related to affinity based associations.
Diversity is often absent since, by definition, an affinity-based association is a group linked together by common interest. Diversity within groups provides the opportunity to see blind spots and learn from individuals that do not think and act in the same way that your network defines cooperation. Diversity at times forces associations to deal with uncomfortable realities and weaknesses that may otherwise be overlooked. New cultural dynamics, which may inform healthy cooperative efforts, are fostered in a climate of diversity. It is frequently a challenge for affinity-based networks to be diverse culturally and racially even though theologically there is like-mindedness.
Remaining Connected Locally and Nationally
Affinity-based networks can do many great things together because of their like-mindedness theologically and methodologically, but as networks grow it can be hard to help planters and pastors thrive relationally. Affinity-based networks normally extend outside of geographical boundaries, so the extent and definition of partnership must be defined and communicated with clarity in order for intentional and meaningful relationships to be formed. Just like any relationship, there must be a priority placed upon it, in order for it to grow, mature, and produce future fruit. Affinity-based networks must work hard to maintain meaningful relationships.
As the Pillar Network continues to grow, I find myself coming back to the question of how we define partnership. Churches may be like-minded in so many ways, but if there is not a clear process for defining partnership, cooperation, growth in the network, and a push toward further involvement, they will lose interest or fall through the cracks of associating. Defining the relationship of partnership is a key conversation that must take place often. Churches must pursue one another just as individuals pursue one another in meaningful relationships. As churches grow and mature, so should partnership and healthy association.
These challenges do not go away over night, and potentially they will always exist, but they must be confronted and dealt with regularly as affinity-based network grow and flourish.