I spent the weekend at the leadership retreat of Abingdon Presbytery in the left-most corner of Virginia. Executive Presbyter Kevin Campbell and the ministers and elders who joined this conversation are developing a workable and positive idea of how to build up the presbytery.
A presbytery, for those unfamiliar with the Presbyterian system, is a regional association of congregations. In Abingdon's case, there are 55 congregations, some small town, most little country churches. A presbytery is the equivalent of a diocese in a bishop-led system. Instead of a bishop, a presbytery is served by an executive presbyter (sometimes called a general presbyter), as well as a stated clerk and many committees. Even congregational churches, such as the Baptist conventions, usually create local associations, which do much the same thing. Regional associations are a help to a congregation, without being too big to be human-sized.
Leaders of regional associations, whatever they are called, are about the only church people in a position to know what is going on in a group of neighboring congregations. It is the rare congregation that can do everything itself, without ever needing help or getting ideas from outside.
Vibrant denominations rest on vibrant local associations. Local congregations are too small to reliably do everything for themselves – even megachurches. National denominations are usually too large to keep in touch with all the locals.
Church leaders at the regional level are crucial to making strong and responsive denominations.