Sunday, April 29, 2012

Call to Action Review (Church Re-Structuring)

This review was written in February, and has not been updated since then.  It is a very simplified assessment of the Call to Action's proposed areas of need for change.  Please pray for our church as we work through some way to restructure ourselves in the next days.

The United Methodist Church formed the Connectional Table in 2008, and out of that organizational group, the Call to Action Team was established.  This group was charged with the task of identifying the current state of the UMC and assessing what needed to change in order for us to move forward for “faithful witness and fruitful ministry” (4).      The team used the mission of the United Methodist Church: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world; as the aligning factor for the work of the UMC.  To summarize their findings, the team’s belief is that “we must change our mind-set so that our primary focus and commitment are on fostering and sustaining congregational vitality” (4).  The research that backed up this belief comes from two studies:
1.     Vital Congregations Research: this study was done by Towers Watson and collected data from 32,000 congregations in order to come to an understanding of what makes congregations vital and effective.
2.     Independent Operations Assessment: This work was done by Apex and looked over the governance structure, systems, and procedures of the entire denomination to study our efficiency and efficaciousness in meeting our missional outcomes.
The findings from these two studies were the basis for recommendations that come from the Call to Action Steering Team.  Both of these studies affirmed the reality that there is a great need to refocus on the local church.  The Vital Congregations Study brought to light areas where the church should be spending its time and energy in order to produce vital congregations.  The operations assessment revealed an overwhelmingly strong “laco fo strust and confidence among various parts of the denomination and a perception of distance between local churches, annual conferences, and the general church agencies” (25).  The general church should exist to support and equip the local church, not the other way around. 
In regard to congregational vitality, there are two definitions that need to be clear.  The study focused on drivers of vitality and indicators of vitality.  The indicators of vitality through the study led the team to the drivers of that vitality.  These are the indicators (it is important to note that churches of all size were vital; based on percentages rather than raw numbers)
·      Average worship attendance/percent of weekly attendance to membership
·      Total membership
·      Number of children, youth, adults attending broken down by percent of membership
·      Number of professions of faith (percentage of attendance)
·      Number of professions of faith (percentage of membership)
·      Annual giving per attendee
·      Financial benevolences beyond local church (percentage of church budget)
Because cultural diversity was not included in the list of indicators, this slants the definition of vitality differently than our denomination has done so in the past.  I hope that parties focused on exalting diversity will not disregard this study in its entirety because of that shift. 
The drivers of vitality were common elements in all of these vital churches (indicated by the descriptors above).  These churches had the following four elements in common (out of a list of 127 potential drivers), which made them vital:
·      Effective pastoral leadership (management, visioning, and inspiration)
·      Mulitple small groups, and programs for children and youth
·      Mix of traditional and contemporary worship
·      High percentage of spiritually engaged laity who assume leadership role
These drivers are laid out more descriptively through the Call to Action document and also through a document posted online at{db6a45e4-c446-4248-82c8-e131b6424741}/16_MINISTRY_STRATEGIES.PDF, which outlines the strategies that enable these to become drivers in a congregation.  Interestingly, effective pastoral leadership (it its definition and desired outcome) doesn’t mention devotional life, prayer focus, or connectedness to God.  Also, there is not mention about social justice and advocacy in this list.  Both of these seem to be striking gaps in the study.
            The Operations Assessment takes a detailed look at the entire denomination, (focusing specifically on the United States in most cases).  Initially, they focused on the mission, vision and values of the denomination.  They saw the weaknesses and the lack of clarity in all three of these areas for their church.  While their assessment of these areas was important, they are more focused on identification as a guideline to meet our adaptive challenges.  From a host of interviews with bishops, general secretaries, pastors, and lay people, along with research as the to governance structure of the UMC, Apex identified two “levers” or opportunities to improve how the UMC operates in order to fulfill its mission.  Because this mission is best-lived out in local congregations, even big-level changes will effect the local church through an adjustment of resources and priorities.
1.     Reduce the distance between the local church, annual conference, and general church
a.     Make smaller districts and annual conferences in order for pastors, district superintendents, and bishops to know their areas and people.   This allows for pastors to be placed in congregations that fit them for long-term appointments (which help create vitality).
b.     Find an alternate solution to Jurisdictional conferences, which are “too remote to be effective” and was rated below average in effectiveness by more than 50% of the interviewees (165,6)
c.      Reform the general boards and agencies through collaboration.  In the interviews more than 60% of the participants evaluated the boards at below average in fulfilling the UMC’s mission of “making disciples” (167).
2.     Strengthen key processes and organizations that drive church’s mission
a.     Strengthen key organizations
                                               i.     Role clarity, authority to carry out responsibility, and accountability for results are drivers for success in this category (167).   This is a cultural shift that needs to happen without our current structures in order for vitality to occur. As one interviewee said, “Effectiveness is accountability – there is no confusion of intent with outcome, activity with results, and speechifying with communication” (159). 
                                              ii.     While General Conference is effective at legislating, it has no power to lead the church through adaptive challenges in between the four years it meets.  Strengthening an existing structure (such as giving more authority to the Council of Bishops) would allow for stronger leadership.
                                            iii.     Reform Jurisdictional conferences
                                            iv.     Reform Agencies.  Some agency boards outnumber the actual number of staff people on the boards.  Between the thirteen agencies there are 594 board members.  This means that (semi) annually, our church pays for lodging, room, and board for 594 people to meet in largely ineffective boards in order to make adaptive decisions that are best made in smaller boards.   This is further explained in the opportunities for shared services (177).   The proposal for this change is here:
b.     Strengthen Key Processes
                                               i.     Streamline standards for clergy ordination, metrics, and offer opportunities for growth and development.  This includes getting rid of guaranteed appointments, which will call clergy to a higher level of accountability.
                                              ii.     Create ‘places of worship’ models.  These would be prototypes of different models of church that would work best in different contexts.
                                            iii.     Standardize information systems in churches, initiate church-wide strategic planning, and reconsider operating on a four-year budget as a church.  These ideas would help simplify and connect the church.
While the Call to Action study is not perfect, there will never be a study of an organization as layered and webbed as ours that could include every detail of the issues at hand.  We have been trying to reverse the trend in our denomination for decades, and in order to align our denomination to fulfill our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” drastic changes need to be made.  In all of our church’s work, there is a pervasive lack of trust.  Accountability and clear expectations (for clergy, agencies employees, and boards as a whole) can help in building trust.  We can no longer hide behind nice words and pretty slogans, but must transparently open ourselves up to allow transformation to happen within our denomination.  The world is hungry for Wesleyan living and transformation, and now is our time to step out in boldness.  

The legislative steeps associated with this report be found here:
The Circuit Rider offers some great articles about the Call to Action for those interested in hearing from the perspective of others:

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