Three Baptist associations contemplate merging into one network

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Three Kentucky Baptist associations will determine the result of a proposed merger in meetings this weekend.

The proposal involves Shelby Baptist Association, Oldham-Trimble Baptist Association and Henry Baptist Association. Oldham-Trimble has already affirmed the proposal. Henry Association will vote on Saturday. If it is approved, then Shelby Association will vote Sunday during its semiannual fall meeting at Shelbyville First Baptist Church. If all three associations approve the proposal, the organizations will merge to form the North Central Baptist Network, with plans to complete the transition by March 1, 2022.

Steve Gouge, associational mission strategist for the Shelby Association, said discussions on the future of the associations began about three years ago when several mission strategists gathered to pray and discuss how to be more effective in ministry and work. A steering committee was then formed, representing each of the three associations. “The plan has taken several different turns,” noted Gouge. “We began to talk about how we could work together and maintain our own identities, but that didn’t seem feasible.”

Gouge noted that every time associational leaders met or had a large gathering, they brought up the merger topic.

“When we finally had a plan in hand, we did town hall meetings in each association. The purpose was to let people ask questions and suggest improvements. I think it was a great help to communicate what we were trying to do. We had reasonably good representation — each of the three AMS involved did their own town hall, and I think that improved our plan. We had some really good suggestions from people, and our plan was strengthened.”

Harry Hebert, moderator of the Shelby Association, wrote in its newsletter that approving the proposal would result in “moving forward in our Great Commission work as one network, maximizing our resources and leveraging our collective energies to have a more significant kingdom impact on our region. We have been talking about, praying for and studying this endeavor for almost two years, and are so deeply grateful for the input and feedback given at the three town hall meetings held this summer. As part of the team that has been working on this, I am confident that your suggestions and our discussions will lead to the best possible version of this proposal.”

The proposal places the network’s office in Shelby County since the other two associations do not own the properties where they now reside, plus Shelby County recently made improvements to its property. The three association leaders — Gouge, Larry Orange from Henry County and Rick Lucas, interim at Oldham-Trimble, plan to retire in the near future. That would result in having one person called into a full-time position for the leadership role in the network.

A video posted on the Shelby Association website displays Hebert explaining the challenge the associations have been facing is “how to create the greatest kingdom footprint in the region, as well as how to maximize the resources of which God has blessed us.” He said the long-term effort has seen “the deeply-held Baptist value of cooperation affirmed at every turn.

“From all angles, the timing seems right,” Hebert added.

“Clearly there will be some differences in moving from three county associations to one regional network, but just as clearly, the difference provides new opportunities, new strength and new energy for kingdom work in our area.”

He added that if the proposal gains approval, it would put the new network into a similar position as the Lake Cumberland Baptist Association, which has more than 60 churches and covers more than 600 square miles. “It’s comparable in geographic size and number of churches as the new network that is proposed.”

In addition to the vote on the proposal, the Shelby Association meeting on Sunday will feature Ronnie Floyd, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, as the keynote speaker in the evening session.

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