We are talking primarily about the future of a Union of Baptist churches, not the future of churches themselves.
In other denominations, the national or regional body is the church; for us, the local congregation is the essential ecclesial reality, and regional and national organisations are derivative. Thus the question we face is different, and perhaps less urgent, than a similar problem faced by a different Christian community.
This is not to say that national and regional organisations are unimportant. Classically, we look to the statement of the Abingdon association in 1652, which asserts that ‘there is the same relation betwixt the perticular churches each towards other as there is betwixt perticular members of one church.’ This, in Baptist understanding, is an astonishingly strong claim: churches are called to share their lives to such an extent that they stand or fall together.
As our history developed we chose to exercise this corporate responsibility towards one another by delegating it to paid officers, both in local congregations and in regional/national organisations. In the local church, the work of ‘watching over’ each other - pastoral care, encouragement in ministry and discipleship, and church discipline - was placed largely in the hands of the pastor, and/or an elders’ court; locally and nationally we appointed superintendents, association officers, and regional ministers to offer the beneficial external support spoken of by the Abingdon churches.