JEFFERSON CITY -- Though some may believe denominations may be waning, at least one Churchnet leader believes "genuine" collaboration will keep congregations working together.
The role Churchnet has played and will continue to play in promoting strong collaborative efforts, particularly in leadership training and missions, means the 10-year-old convention expects to make a difference in the future.
"The vision we have...is to try to create a new paradigm in denominational life," Churchnet Executive Director Jim Hill explained in a recent interview. "In some ways, it is an effort to get back to early denominational life...in which churches could help each other to strengthen the work.... It's what the association was at its birth."
The Baptist General Convention of Missouri -- operating now as Churchnet: A Baptist Network Serving Churches -- was created 10 years ago as a place for congregations and individuals who felt disenfranchised from the Missouri Baptist Convention as the MBC took a more conservative shift.
"We're creating space where genuine collaboration can take place between churches and ministry partners.... Our goal...is to create that space in which genuine collaboration can take place," Hill said.
The set up of the resource section on the convention's website (thechurchnet.org) and the way in which staff provide information reflects that goal, he added.
Because Churchnet leaders believe the expertise congregations need already exists in the churches, convention staffers -- all part-timers -- also work for local churches. The convention's website lists church staff and laypeople who are considered experts in specific ministries.
"We want to challenge churches to look to one another.... Often when a church contacts us about a need, we try to connect them to a church," Hill explained. For example, leaders in a Jefferson City church recently trained ministers and members of two St. Louis congregations.
The resources section on the website "was set up, not for us to put out a massive amount of stuff, but for churches to share.... We serve the larger kingdom by helping one another to serve one another and by doing things together," he added.
"We have a lean organization so resources can be directed toward ministry," noted former president Bill Miller, pastor of First Baptist Church, Farmington. "It is an organization that highly prizes the freedom and autonomy of the local church under the leadership of Jesus Christ,...that continually strives to make serving churches a priority...and that finds opportunities for churches and for Christians to assist one another."
That collaboration has guided Churchnet mission efforts, particularly in its partnership with Baptists in Guatemala, noted Gary Snowden, missions mobilization team leader. The convention also has assisted with church construction in north China, tsunami relief in Indonesia and other projects.
Snowden anticipates Churchnet will form other partnerships in the years ahead and will help provide any missions training churches might need.
"On the local, state and national level, I foresee Churchnet taking a more active networking role to connect churches with a wide variety of missions opportunities while providing a forum to share best practices," he said.
The goal for strong collaborative efforts also led the convention to establish ties with the Baptist World Alliance and its North American regional body, the North American Baptist Fellowship. Hill has been elected to a two-year term as the next NABF president. He will assume the role at the BWA annual gathering this summer.