Churchnet -- also known as the Baptist General Convention of Missouri -- celebrated its 10th anniversary over the weekend by focusing on the needs and opportunities of the present and the future. But the organization has much in its young history for which to be grateful.
The BGCM began 10 years ago as an alternative convention for Baptists in Missouri who found themselves out of step with happenings within the Missouri Baptist Convention. But the young convention has shown itself to be much more than a mere alternative choice for many individuals and churches.
Churchnet -- or BGCM -- has made a difference, even though it is not a large organization by any means. Here are several things to like about this organization.
• Churchnet has remained true to its commitment to provide not only for Baptist institutions in Missouri who lost funding from the Missouri Baptist Convention -- The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Missouri Baptist University and Word&Way -- but also for a benevolent ministry and two universities that still receive MBC funding -- The Baptist Children's Home, Hannibal-LaGrange University and Southwest Baptist University.
Support for Hannibal-LaGrange and Southwest Baptist is smaller in amount, primarily because of continued MBC funding. All the entities are invited to submit written reports and make brief verbal reports during the annual meeting.
• Churchnet has from the start focused on limiting overhead and making more funds available for ministry, missions and entity support.
The organization began with a small staff to handle administration and secured leased space for a headquarters in Columbia. But after a few years, Churchnet opted for an approach that did not require a central office. Trustees hold their regular meetings instead in churches. And staffers function out of their homes across the state. Bookkeeping services are now contracted.
• Churchnet's philosophy of service delivery is quite different from most denominational organizations and ministries: Staff members, including Executive Director Jim Hill, serve part-time. And each also serves part-time on a local church staff.
Staffers, obviously connected to local church life, are experts in church ministry and function as facilitators for churches and ministries. While they provide training upon request, they also connect churches with needs to congregations that already have expertise in such areas. Churches helping churches is basic to that philosophy.
• Churchnet also provides opportunities for churches and their members to become involved in mission projects and mission partnerships. The approach is not to compete with any other group or groups but to discover needs domestically and overseas that as yet have not been addressed. Again, theirs is a ministry that facilitates and one that urges collaboration with others.
• Churchnet leaders understand that they are a part of a greater community of Baptists and other Christians. The convention is a part of the Baptist World Alliance and its arm in this hemisphere -- the North American Baptist Fellowship. It was natural for BWA President John Upton and North American Baptist Fellowship General Secretary George Bullard to be a part of last weekend's Churchnet meeting.
• Hill and others also lead participants in movements within the state and the broader Midwest in addressing issues like poverty, hunger, racism, justice and others that involve a variety of Baptists and a variety of other Christian groups. Common purpose has made for enhanced fellowship with groups like black Baptists, American Baptists and others advocating not for self-interest but for others.
That puts Churchnet in a position to join in advocacy to influence legislation and policy, as well as to initiate changes through direct contact with people who struggle daily with issues long overdue for redress.
These innovations and advancements are significant for an organization that has existed for only 10 years. The opportunity to continue to embrace Baptist principles and distinctives, always with an eye on reaching out to others, linking others and seeking to be the presence of Christ will enable Churchnet to contribute for many years to come.
Congratulations on 10 years.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.