TOLEDO, Ohio—What happens when three Baptist state associations plan a joint conference at the height of football season, meeting in a church that sits a mile from the Ohio-Michigan border? Yes—a few of the expected jokes about the famed sports rivalry, but then came the more serious business of explaining why church associations still matter.

Emmanuel Baptist Church of Toledo hosted the conference, a central location for the Regular Baptist state associations in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. Taken together, the three states include more than 400 GARBC churches, led by Ken Floyd (Michigan), Doug Schroeder (Indiana), and Chuck Pausley (Ohio).

The conference kicked off with a thought-provoking sermon from John 14 by Dr. Jeremy Pierre, chair of Biblical Counseling and Family Ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born in Ohio, he grew up in a Regular Baptist church and attended Cedarville University before graduating from SBTS and joining its faculty. “Personal ministry of the Word is harder than public ministry of the Word,” Pierre said, encouraging ministry leaders to offer Scriptural solutions to counseling problems.

More than 300 guests had registered by the time of the evening service, plus many who attended from local churches. After worship led by a Cedarville University HeartSong team, Dr. Thomas White preached from Nehemiah 8, encouraging pastors to preach the Word faithfully. “Our words don’t matter nearly so much as God’s words,” White said. “We can’t say it any better than God has said it.”

Forty volunteers from Emmanuel Baptist worked behind the scenes, led by the host pastor, Duke Crawford. The conference display area featured 40 ministries, camps, and colleges, plus resource tables from Regular Baptist Press and Regular Baptist Ministries. Evening sessions were attended by about 400 guests, including many from the host church.

Though the fellowship was warm and memorable, conference organizers want to use the event as a catalyst. “We’re hoping that this will lead to some major alignments when it comes to church planting, resourcing, and revitalization of churches,” said Ken Floyd, executive director of the Michigan association.

Mike Hess, GARBC national representative, concluded the conference with a report on association initiatives. “I want to be aggressive as possible about disciple making,” he said. “Doctrine has always bound us together as a fellowship. Now we need doctrinally aligned churches helping each other make disciples.”