Published March 21, 2013
One of the newest approaches to revisioning the historic Baptist association may be occurring right here in Georgia. The Network, more formally known as the Southside Baptist Network, has emerged out of two associations who decided they could be more effective as one entity than as two.
The new ministry group was birthed out of a confluence of two events. South Metro Baptist Association was considering whether to fill its vacant director’s position in a tight economy while it and sister associations were meeting on whether to combine into a larger association.
South Metro and Henry Baptist Association finally merged at the wedding altar, combining their talents and assets into one group that could play a stronger role in reaching Georgia’s unchurched. Ray Gentry, associational missionary for Henry Association for the past two years, is the new leader with offices remaining at 2170 Jonesboro Road in McDonough.
Rather than grandfathering all churches of both groups into the Network, the organizing committee opted to ask congregations to join as charter members by May 1. After that date churches will need to follow established procedures for joining the group.
Henry Association had 45 churches and missions while South Metro numbered 48. The Network could have about the same number of congregations.
Messsengers to the GBC annual meeting in November will vote on accepting the Network as a cooperating group.
Mel Blackaby, South Metro’s representative on the GBC Executive Committee, resigned due to other demands in his role as pastor of First Jonesboro. Stan Jordan, current representative for the former Henry association and pastor of North Henry Baptist Church in Stockbridge, will represent the Network.
The creativity of the new group of churches is what sets it apart from their previous organizations.
“There are a few Southern Baptist associations in other states that have adopted this approach but as far as we know we are the first in Georgia,” Gentry told The Index. “This is a fresh, 21st Century way to focus on how churches associate through networking.”
Gentry said many felt that the traditional image of associations “doesn’t relate very well to today’s younger layman, pastor, or church planter. This is a strong way for a new association to establish itself with a larger audience.”
The Warner Robins native believes the new structure … a blending of the new and the old … makes it more inclusive to both the younger and older demographic in the denomination. Younger ministers, in particular, relate more to networks and that signals an important attraction to them.
The new network will be more than just cosmetic, Gentry notes. It will have a much stronger focus on church planting and church revitalization – two items not necessarily ignored but not at the top of the agenda of the previous groups. Also, Gentry’s position is now called director of ministries.
“I have to admit that we have not had the best church planting record and have had more failures than we are comfortable with. We want to work with our planters and provide them with the necessary resources for them to be more effective, while helping weak churches become more healthy,” he explained.
“Several directors of missions have told me this is the wave of the future – having fewer but stronger associations with a renewed focus – but only time will tell whether we are a pace setter or an anomaly.”
► Gentry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (770) 957-3032. The Network’s website is www.southsidebaptistnetwork.org.
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