Monday, July 18, 2016

Network Engagement

We were sitting at a table in a local coffee shop when the young pastor asked me point blank, "How can your organization help my church?" It was not an usual question. In fact, in my role as the Executive Director of one of 43 Southern Baptist regional conventions, I hear this question often.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the question. I absolutely believe that networks like our regional convention exist for the churches, not the other way around. If those networks are not serving churches, they really don't deserve to exist. From that perspective, this is a valid question. But I am concerned that the question also reveals an underlying problem. Are churches now so self-focused that they will no longer support missionary efforts unless there is something in it for them? Have churches lost their passion and vision for working together with other like-minded churches to accomplish great things for God? These concerns haunt my thinking when I hear a pastor ask what the network can do for their individual church.

Being part of a larger network should be about more than what a church gets out of it. It should also be about what affiliated churches can contribute to it. Churches must have a more Kingdom focus if we are to ever reach New England, America and the world with the Gospel. Just as asking what advantage being connected to our network is to an individual church, it is also valid for our network to ask local churches "What can your church do to move the mission of our network forward?" If a particular church just wants to take from the larger group without any real meaningful contribution to it, what motivation does the network have for establishing or maintaining the relationship? Real partnership is a mutual effort where two groups who view themselves as equals work together toward mutually beneficial goals. Just as my organization must seek to care for the churches, churches must seek the good of the network in order to expand the Kingdom in ways their church cannot do in their own. Churches can support the ministry of the larger network through focused prayer, providing ministry leadership and expertise to the larger group, hosting meetings for the larger network or other churches within the network that lack facilities, giving generous financial support so all the needs in the network family can be met, or some combination of all of these things.

Imagine if an individual church member would only join a local church, or remain connected to it, if the church agreed to meet all of their personal needs? Imagine if an individual church member always made demands of the local church but contributed either nothing or very little in the way of time, volunteerism or financial donations to the church? At some point the local church would be unable to meet such an individual’s growing demands. If enough church members made such demands, while refusing to do their part, the church would struggle, perhaps even cease to exist.

The same thing is true for networks of churches like the regional convention I lead. When individual churches require ever growing services from the network but offer less and less engagement, it becomes a downward spiral that does not end well. For a local church to be healthy, it must not only ask what is in it for them. Churches must also ask what they can bring to the table to advance the cause of Christ through the network they are part of.

It can be hard to find the right balance. It is something leaders like me struggle with on a regular basis. But if we are to find the proper balance we must start asking the question from both sides of the coffee table. Otherwise, either side becomes narcissistic and forgets the sense of real community our mutual faith in Christ should produce.


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:


  1. Terry, I hear you. I deal with the same issues as Executive Director of a Baptist Association. Unfortunately, many church members truly do have that mindset and are asking "what's in it for me" from their churches and pastors. Battling the consumer mindset is a constant struggle. I've thought of 4 questions to ask in response. I don't have enough data to suggest how effective these are, but I think they are good questions.

    1. What are you expecting to get? (If they can't identify an expectation, how do they know they are not getting it? How can they be disappointed if they don't know what they are looking for?)

    2. How are you investing in missions beyond your congregation? (What do you expect to get in return for your missions offerings?)

    3. What is your strategy for Kingdom partnerships? (If there is no strategy, the regional network can assist you in developing one. That's what we do!)

    4. What do you want your legacy to be? (Do you want to be remembered as a consumer or an investor?)

    Thanks for your blog today that reminded me of these questions I wrote down. I think you just sparked my next podcast!

    1. Dr. Lewis, thanks for your excellent reflections on this subject. I'm adding your questions to my list of talking points when I when sitting at the coffee table.

  2. It is always a two way street. Over the years I have watched as things have been unbalanced on booth sides. Wanting to much and offering to little. It is something that must be approached with a servants giving hart, a loving hart, that first and foremost wants to see the lost reached with the Gospel. Lest we forget, we are a denomination made up of autonomous churches who come together for this cause.