In 1707, almost seven decades before men would gather in Philadelphia to set in motion a new country called The United States of America, a group of five Baptist churches formed the “Philadelphia Association”. In 1742, they adopted the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. The earliest days of Associational Life "emphasized starting new Baptist Churches and shoring up the boundaries of sound Baptist doctrine and ministry".
In 1751 the Charleston Association became the first Baptist Association of the South. They produced the "Summary of Church Discipline (1774) which was intended to be a guide for Baptist churches. The Charleston Association established churches throughout South Carolina and promoted the importance of ministerial education.
Long before there would be an organized national group of like minded believers in the United States, called the Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist knew they did "better together". Associations were and continue to be in many ways the local expression of Southern Baptist identity.
"Today, associations continue to play a strategic role in Southern Baptist life. They continue to foster fraternal relationships among pastors, offering pastors a natural pathway to building friendships with like-minded ministers. Many associations continue to provide a measure of doctrinal accountability, especially when a church begins to embrace views most Baptists consider beyond the pale."
- (Much of the information above was gathered from "The Baptist Association: Assisting Churches, Advancing the Gospel", ed. Ray Gentry, Rainer Publishing (TN), 2020. / specifically "Baptist Associationalism: A Historical View" by Nathan Finn, pgs. 31-34)
On September 25, 1852; only seven years after the Republic of Texas had joined the United States, it was Baptists in Southeast Texas that began the Bethlehem Baptist Association. "Delegates from five churches in four counties were represented. Those churches were as follows: Sardis of Burkeville in Newton County, Indian Creek of Bevil Port in Jasper County, Zion of Town Bluff in Tyler County, Bethel of Woodville in Tyler County, and Providence in Providence Hill in Jefferson County, representing a total of 88 members" (Best, James Richard, "A View from Bethel: A History of New Bethel Baptist Association of Texas 1852-1980", Vantage Press (NY), 1983. pg 2.)
As soon as 1860, the expansion of churches created a need for a smaller circle of partnership as distances between churches became harder to allow for fellowship, so on November 3rd at Bethel Baptist in Woodville, eight churches of the Bethlehem Association and seven churches from the Tryon Association realigned themselves as the New Bethel Association.
As the Civil War was being fought New Bethel churches met and supported one another, raised funds and called each other to be passionate about the things of Christ even in the midst of difficult days.
In the mid 1920’s, The Sabine Valley Baptist Association was formed from churches in New Bethel and the Sabine (LA) Associations connecting Jasper and Newton County churches and extending north to the now "lakes area".
"The "District Plan" was inaugurated (around 1936), whereby Texas was divided into seventeen districts of five or six associations, with a "district missionary" in each area acting as sort of assistant to the General Secretary for promotion and enlistment." (McBeth, Harry Leon, "Texas Baptists: A Sesquicentennial History", Baptistway (Dallas), 1998. pg. 190). Our area was in District Three. "Beyond the general work engaged in by the churches, the association and district began plans for two distinct institutions in 1946, the Baptist Hospital of Southeast Texas and the East Texas Baptist Encampment. Each of these institutions would later have board members from the associations directing the work of the institutions". Also ..."Vacation Bible Schools became a major force in the churches, and some exciting work was done." (Best, James Richard, "A View from Bethel: A History of New Bethel Baptist Association of Texas 1852-1980", Vantage Press (NY), 1983. pg 33.)
In 1960, several Churches in between New Bethel, in south Jasper County and along the northern edge of the Golden Triangle formed the Emmanuel Baptist Association.
Shortly thereafter, on March 1, 1964- The Associations of New Bethel, Sabine Valley and Emmanuel formed the Sabine Neches Baptist Area. Calling JP Owens, former pastor of FBC Nederland, to be the Area Missionary. In 1974, the Area purchased a three bedroom home in Silsbee for a residence for Home and Foreign missionaries on stateside assignment. In 1979, after 15 years headquartered in Woodville, the three associations bought land in Kirbyville for a more geographical central office that was constructed in early 1981.
The Directors of Missions of the SNBA
J.P. Owens 1964-1980
B.C. McCoy 1980-2000
Jerry Redkey 2000-2016
Jimmie Neel 2016- Present
The Changing Landscape
Much has changed in our Area since the LBJ administration. In our fifty-seven year partnership, our Area has seen decade long reservoir projects completed, roadways and technology improvements that effectively shrunk the distance between churches both in commute and communication, and the SNBA has partnering churches now totaling 101 between the three associations.
The SNBA stood firmly united even while its churches decided to align uniquely or jointly in two different State Baptists Conventions. It has seen name changes of the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board), Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board), the Christian Life Commission (Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), the Baptist Annuity Board (Guidestone) and the Baptist Sunday School Board (LifeWay). It has seen missions become autonomous congregations. The SNBA has seen nasty church splits reconcile their differences and become partners in missional work together. It has reached across the boundaries of the Association lines to help develop new works and has continued to bring encouragement and support to hurting pastors and congregations.
Since its inception -the Area Committee, made up of seven voices from each of the three associations, began to dialogue not as 3 distinctive organizations, but as one cohesive team using the resources God has sent through its 101 churches to be on mission together. They've streamlined the budget into one partnering resource where the largest line item is proudly "Mission Funding and Projects". The SNBA has connected mission points and has sent resources and mobilized teams in places like northcentral Indiana, Saskatchewan (Canada), Ukraine, Ghana, and Zambia. The need for Hispanic missions has become a new outlet of work in our Area and will continue to be a ministry focus. The "Cowboy" and "Western Heritage" culture of SETX has been targeted with church plants, with some becoming thriving autonomous churches. Disaster Relief has been coordinated in difficult days after Hurricanes Rita, Ike, Harvey, Laura and others have impacted our communities. Pastors and Ministry Staff are invited to come to times of fellowship and encouragement at monthly Pastor's meetings. Educational opportunities, conferences, and seminars hosted by our Area leadership have aided the local body churches since the Area's earliest days.
The cooperative work of the SNBA continues to remind us that we are "better together".