2011: How we’ve focused our ministry

February 09, 2012

by Cindy Gregorson and Barbara Carroll

Looking back on 2011, the word that describes the work of the Minnesota Annual Conference is focus. We have spent the past year focusing our work and resources toward our key priorities of reaching new people and cultivating spiritual vitality.

1. We launchedthe Healthy Church Initiative, an intensive process for congregations to assess their current ministry and intentionally engage in changes to become more outwardly focused—even more vital and effective in making new disciples for the transformation of the world.

Seven churches are participating in this first year of the project. Three clergy groups have started the leadership development component. A small-church initiative is being launched right now. Dan Johnson (director of congregational development), Cindy Gregorson (director of ministries), and Dennis Alexander (director of multicultural and urban ministries) are devoting significant time to this ministry. Five other coaches are working with our congregations.

2. We have committed to developing competent leaders for an increasingly diverse world. We have trained our leaders in foundational practices of multicultural competency, using the Kaleidoscope Institute (www.kscopeinstitute.org) practices. We will be extending that training to our clergy. We practice Kaleidoscope’s “Respect” guidelines for communication and use the Kaleidoscope Bible Study, two of the key practices of multicultural competency, in many settings.

3. We have been engaged in a strategic planning process of our camping program. Ours is a strong, widely respected camping program, and in our discernment, we are seeking to return to our roots and strength of summer programming for children and youth. We care deeply that our children have faith, and we know that our summer camping program has a profound influence in our young people's lives.

Last summer, 1,762 children and youth participated in our camping program. We seek to increase that. To do that, we will need to identify and strengthen those facilities that will help us reach children and youth, focus our program, increase our marketing and program staff, and build on the best of what we do now.

4. We are Imagining No Malaria—to join United Methodists around the world in eliminating deaths by malaria in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015. We set an ambitious goal of $1.8 million—and you exceeded that by raising over $2.3 million (and rising) in pledges and gifts. This is the most generated by any annual conference. We’ve heard amazing stories of generosity in our congregations who have creatively raised awareness and funds. We are making a difference around the world. (See www.minnesotaumc.org to read some of these stories.)

5. A program of the size and scope of Imagine No Malaria would not be possible without the systems and infrastructure in place in the United Methodist Church. The same can be said of every other focused effort, including our disaster relief work done through the United Methodist Committee on Relief. While UMCOR is not directly supported by apportionments, apportionments make their work possible by providing for systems of stewardship, accountability, and delivery. The only way that water can move from the well to the thirsty community is through a distribution system. Apportionments (the funds we share to do more mission and ministry than one church could do alone) effectively distribute resources where they are needed.

While Minnesota’s apportionment receipt rate appeared to hold steady for much of the year, we ended 2011 at a lower rate than the year before. At this point we’ve received 84.2 percent of the amount apportioned, a decline from the 86 percent rate of the past few years. This year’s rate is calculated on a smaller budget than in years past, so that means folks have contributed fewer dollars for mission and ministry. Apportionment receipts were about $300,000 less in 2011 than in 2010. The only way we can make progress with declining resources is keeping our focus on our core initiatives.

6. Therefore, we continue to invest significant resources in starting new churches. In 2011, Spirit River United Methodist Church (Isanti) purchased a permanent facility. Mosaic United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Center launched weekly worship. Northern Light, a Ramsey satellite of Anoka United Methodist Church, leased meeting space and launched weekly worship last month. These are just three stories of the 14 projects funded by Congregational Development.

7. Investing in Congregation grants totaling $175,000 dollars are benefitting the ministries of 13 churches that are committed to experimenting with innovative ways to reach new people. For example, Advent United Methodist Church (Eagan) has started a Saturday evening worship service and Buffalo United Methodist Church is leading a worship service in a coffee shop. These are two examples of what our churches are doing to reach beyond their doors to new people and new generations.

8. Also to help congregations, the conference is offering to a dozen churches individual financial consulting with Clif Christopher and John Laster of Horizons Stewarship. These consultants gave each church specific recommendations. The Cabinet and Capital Facilities Team funded this.

9. We have found ourselves becoming increasingly involved in an area of ministry new to us: property management. As many of our churches close, pursue merged relationships with other churches, relocate, or explore other cooperative ministries, they find they cannot always manage or release buildings they no longer need or can afford.

The Minnesota Annual Conference is holding property in order to make faithful decisions about how to best deploy these assets toward our mission. This requires more staff time, expertise, and creativity as we are learning how to reuse and sell church buildings in this economy. We are committed to use assets from discontinued churches and sales of church buildings to help start new churches. In fact, we could not start as many new churches as we have without the generous legacy gifts from these churches. Even in their ending, they are birthing new life and making disciples of Jesus Christ.

10. We have been able to hold health insurance premiums steady for 2012 and project to do the same for 2013. Changes to deductibles and out-of-pocket amounts that shifted costs to plan participants, plus a continued emphasis on wellness practices, have made this possible.

As you can see, we are choosing to focus our resources on healthy, vital congregations and engaging in specific programs that we believe will support, encourage, and equip our churches and be fiscally responsible as well.

We anticipate 2012 to initiate change across our church as General Conference considers sweeping legislation in the areas of organizational structure, clergy pensions, and clergy appointment-making. (Legislation will be linked from gc2012.umc.org.) We do not know what all the implications mean for our annual conference and local churches. We do know we will continue to focus on our gospel imperatives of reaching new people and cultivating spiritual vitality.

Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries and Barbara Carroll is the former director of finance and administration for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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