Repaving the Road – A Challenging Read

When I returned from South Africa, I found among the materials left for me from the KBC Mission Board Meeting, a copy of Repaving the Road: Mapping the Future of Southern Baptist Associations. I called Eric Allen, KBC Missions Mobilization Team Leader, to learn more and told him that I found it to be quite challenging, but absolutely on target with the questions raised.

In Repaving the Road, Josh Ellis examines dire predictions about the future of membership associations in general and Southern Baptist associations in particular. After a brief presentation of the background of Baptist associations, Ellis begins to look at the current influences on associations. The section on the influence of Millennials could be applied to any setting.  As I read, I kept thinking about the local church and WMU.

Of Millennials, Ellis said: “Millennials expect to make substantial contributions in everything they do, and they expect the meetings they attend to cater to their needs …. The Millennial generation has grown up in the age of the blog comment, the online rating, and internet-based instant publishing. If Millennials like a product, they will promote it through social media. Conversely, they will use the same social media to spread negative publicity when they feel it is warranted. Institutions are slow to incorporate the sense of immediacy that Millennials expect, and conversely, Millennials are prone to impatience…. Rainer and Rainer (2011) state that 85% of Millennials felt they had unused potential at their jobs. In associations, where participation is voluntary, similar feelings will result in Millennials withdrawing their participation or ending their membership.”

On the topic of loyalty, Ellis encourages readers “to think of loyalty as a dynamic concept.” He further sates the “Loyalty is a subjective concept and systems dependent on loyalty as the basis for engagement are doomed.” Rather than depend on brand or organizational loyalty for the future, Ellis encourages us to see “preparing for the future as a range of options….[which] allows people and organizations to better adapt to reality as it unfolds.”

Then Ellis asked a question we must all answer: “What year is it in your association?”   Substitute church, WMU, Women on Mission, etc. and you begin to understand the importance of this question. Ellis explains that you can tell what year it is by whether you “use current technologies, innovative methods, and operate from contemporary paradigms.”  He challenges us “to determine how old the mental models are, and what the implications of innovation might be.”

About association trends, and with plenty of other applications in my thinking, Ellis says that leaders would do well to remember three things: (1) Associations are merely one form of networking open to their members; (2) Associations cannot rely on their roles as guardians of information; and (3) Geographically-based associations are not the only game in town.

Over and over, Ellis challenges associational models based on loyalty to the organization. Rather he  points to organizations which “prove their relevancy and perpetuate their relevancy into the future” by what they do cooperatively that assist the members in accomplishment  of their own mission.  I would summarize this by saying that associations are relevant when through cooperative effort, member churches see the association as an avenue for accomplishing the mission of the church. By the same token, missions organizations are relevant when through cooperative effort, the members see the organization as an avenue for being “radically involved in the mission of God” as stated in the WMU vision statement.

Ellis presents four scenario narratives which describe four associations. These scenarios lend themselves to any membership organization.  He shares some “wildcards” that would be “significant ‘game-changing’ events should they occur.”  He asks some “What if” questions that help readers “imagine a future full of possibilities.”

I urge you to read Repaving the Road: Mapping the Future of Southern Baptist Associations and apply the background material and questions raised to your setting. This piece is available as a free download from You can read about Josh Ellis and read the material in the book as individual blogs, or download the entire book  (51 pages) for printing.  I have enjoyed having a print copy and have used a highlighter throughout!

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About Joy Bolton

Joy Bolton is a life-long WMUer! Through Woman's Missionary Union, Joy has has served as a church, association, and state leader. She has coordinated many international missions teams and is available as a conference leader, speaker, Bible study leader. Joy is now retired and lives in Summerville, SC.

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