Monday, November 08, 2010

North Alabama Conference Innovations Leading The Way For The UMC

I’ve been at the Council of Bishops in Panama this past week. At our meeting we heard the final report of the Call to Action Project, an assessment of widespread structural, governance, financial, and leadership issues that must be addressed in order for the United Methodist Church to be effective in its mission.

When I first read the full report, my reaction was “This is obvious. We’ve been doing most of this in North Alabama for the last four years.” But upon reconsideration, I realized that it is important for our church to rally around the obvious work that we need to do and get on with that work now. I also realized that the North Alabama Conference’s work has had far reaching implications in the General Church.

Our Conference leadership decided, a half dozen years before the CTA Steering Committee, that “as a Church we have pursued self-interests and allowed institutional inertia to bind us in ways that constrain our witness and dilute our mission." Through our Priorities, radical changes in budgeting, transformation of Connectional Ministries, the weekly Dashboard, reorganization of the Districts and the Cabinet, and the augmented process of consultation, evaluation, and accountability related to pastoral appointments we have been busy taking specific measures to address the obvious need for change. We are much better focusing our energies upon solving the issues that the CTA cites: decades of membership and attendance decline, decline in baptisms and professions of faith, less ministry fruitfulness, an aging demographic of members and leaders, and financial stress. We have also been enacting what the CTA says our whole church must do: “fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

All of the congregations of the North Alabama Conference should be gratified that our innovative leadership is being noted and followed by the rest of the Connection. I see the CTA report as not only giving the Council of Bishops a much needed agenda but also as confirmation, by the General Church, that our Conference leadership is indeed leading us in the right direction.

Will Willimon

Below are some of the highlights of the CTA report. Note how well these emphases align with our North Alabama Conference Priorities:

Key Drivers of Congregational Vitality include:

  • Effective pastoral leadership including management, visioning, & inspiration
  • Multiple small groups (study, fellowship, and service) and programs for children and youth
  • A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services
  • High percentage of spiritually engaged laity who assume leadership roles

    *Approximately 15% of the 32,228 U.S. churches scored high in vitality based on the vitality index established by the study.

"Leaders, from bishops, clergy, and laity across the connection, must lead and immediately, repeatedly, and energetically make it plain that our current culture and practices are resulting in overall decline that is toxic and constricts our missional effectiveness", according to the committee findings.

The CTA Steering Committee will present a set of five interdependent initiatives.

  1. Starting in January 2011 and continuing for ten years, use the drivers of congregational vitality as initial areas of attention for sustained and intense concentration on building effective practices in local churches.
  2. Dramatically reform the clergy leadership, development, deployment, evaluation, and accountability systems.
  3. Collect, report and review, and act on statistics that measure progress in key performance areas in order to learn and adjust approaches to leadership, policies, and use of human and financial resources.
  4. Reform the Council of Bishops, with the active bishops assuming a) responsibility and public accountability for improving results in attendance, professions of faith, baptisms, participation in servant/mission ministries, benevolent giving, and lowering average age of participants in local church life, and b) establishing a new culture of accountability throughout the church.
Consolidate program and administrative agencies, align their work and resources with the priorities of the UMC and the decade-long commitment to build vital congregations, and reconstitute them with much smaller competency-based boards of directors in order to overcome current diffusive, redundant, expensive, and independent structures.

6 comments:

Frank Carey said...

please clarify: You say:

"...A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services..."

Does this mean that a new type of service will be developed that will be "...A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services..."
or will each kind of service continue to be provided ??

William H. Willimon said...

Frank:

I think the CTA report specifically said that “a mix” meant having opportunity for both traditional and contemporary worship in a congregation.

Will

daniel said...

I believe that proper accountability is essential for the changes that need to take place. This certainly means that guaranteed appointments must be eliminated. I read that it will be recommended at the 2012 General Conference that ineffective pastors should be removed while ineffective bishops should be sanctioned. What is meant by sanctioning? If it is not removal, isn't even this suggestion unjust and inequitable? If adopted, how would these decisions be made and by who?

Rev. Nathan Mills said...

When and how would we start the new structures?

My finance meeting (not in Alabama) meets monthly, but the church says its to difficult to have a ministries meeting except a couple times a year. We only have 30 people in worship and about 15 in leadership trying to pay apportionments, a pastor, and keep a giant 3 story brick building running. The building cost and the resulting increased share of apportionments help fuel the finance committees anxiety as it meets often and accomplishes nothing but making themselves more anxious, preventing hope and ministry. Keeping the old institution alive in this local church is preventing the kingdom of God.

I have always felt the smaller membership churches need a different model of organization than the representative democracy, and that we cause institutional burnout when we try to make a few people do the tasks of many different committees. Charge conference forms in my conference are always tailored for the big churches and this old model. We need accountability without causing administrative burnout. And we need to be the church for the world, not the committee on not enough money to be the church at this time.

We also take the best of our local churches and twist arms sending them to district, and conference committees and gatherings and projects, continually to talk about the church and talk about ministry. They come back not on fire, but tired and weak in spirit. We send leadership, time and money up the chain, when we know the local church is the number one place disciples of Jesus Christ are made. We may need to look at where we invest time and money in our federalist way of ministry, and work to decrease our conference budgets or reallocate them towards our core goal. We need conferencing to set hearts on fire, not weaken them. Then conferencing will be worth every penny if not more.

It seems to me that change has to take into account the amount of administration we place on smaller local churches, and that we have to change what we do in the Charge Conference and how we do it. We need Jesus, we need the Holy Spirit stirred in us not administrative anxiety, and guilty grief over a dying institution. We need less cooperate thinking and more Jesus. Cabinets, pastors, and church boards have to get over the old institution and embrace simplicity in structure, depth in faith, and warmth of heart. The Word is going to get out, if we can just let go, and really rethink, not just warm over the same old thing which has been the covetous love of false security in institution. Jesus might just make it outside the council meeting and into the world.

What is our core value as Methodists? What prevents that core value?

Rev. Nathan Mills said...

When and how would we start the new structures?

My finance meeting (not in Alabama) meets monthly, but the church says its to difficult to have a ministries meeting except a couple times a year. We only have 30 people in worship and about 15 in leadership trying to pay apportionments, a pastor, and keep a giant 3 story brick building running. The building cost and the resulting increased share of apportionments help fuel the finance committees anxiety as it meets often and accomplishes nothing but making themselves more anxious, preventing hope and ministry. Keeping the old institution alive in this local church is preventing the kingdom of God.

I have always felt the smaller membership churches need a different model of organization than the representative democracy, and that we cause institutional burnout when we try to make a few people do the tasks of many different committees. Charge conference forms in my conference are always tailored for the big churches and this old model. We need accountability without causing administrative burnout. And we need to be the church for the world, not the committee on not enough money to be the church at this time.

Rev. Nathan Mills said...

We also take the best of our local churches and twist arms sending them to district, and conference committees and gatherings and projects, continually to talk about the church and talk about ministry. They come back not on fire, but tired and weak in spirit. We send leadership, time and money up the chain, when we know the local church is the number one place disciples of Jesus Christ are made. We may need to look at where we invest time and money in our federalist way of ministry, and work to decrease our conference budgets or reallocate them towards our core goal. We need conferencing to set hearts on fire, not weaken them. Then conferencing will be worth every penny if not more.

It seems to me that change has to take into account the amount of administration we place on smaller local churches, and that we have to change what we do in the Charge Conference and how we do it. We need Jesus, we need the Holy Spirit stirred in us not administrative anxiety, and guilty grief over a dying institution. We need less cooperate thinking and more Jesus. Cabinets, pastors, and church boards have to get over the old institution and embrace simplicity in structure, depth in faith, and warmth of heart. The Word is going to get out, if we can just let go, and really rethink, not just warm over the same old thing which has been the covetous love of false security in institution. Jesus might just make it outside the council meeting and into the world.

What is our core value as Methodists? What prevents that core value?