How will the church ‘reset’ to future changes?


August 22, 2011

Almost every measurement of the United Methodist Church’s work at making disciples, where we count people, shows decreases. Almost every measurement related to giving and financial assets, where we count dollars, shows increases.

Bishops, Cabinets, benefits officers, treasurers, and chairs of conference councils on finance and administration, pension boards, and boards of ordained ministry learned this (and relevant demographic information) this spring at a financial leadership forum led by the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

If you attended Minnesota Conference session this year, you saw the video that graphically portrays the changes ahead. (Visit tinyurl.com/NewRealities to view the video.)

Another, larger event also took a hard look at trends for church membership, ministry, and giving. A web conference in April brought together United Methodists from around the world to hear about the Call to Action report. (You can read the entire report at umc.org/calltoaction.)

The Call to Action outlines the “resets” we must undertake for the United Methodist Church to be fruitful in ministry in the coming years. Here is my summary of the key recommendations for the United Methodist Church in the Call to Action.

  • Engage in sustained and intense concentration on building effective practices in local churches
  • Dramatically reform clergy leadership development, deployment, evaluation, and accountability systems
  • Collect, report, review, and act on statistical information that measures progress in key performance areas
  • Restructure the Council of Bishops
  • Consolidate program and administrative agencies, align their work and resources with the priorities of the church, and create much smaller competency-based boards of directors

This focus on how the denomination’s boards and agencies can identify and face current realities is welcome. But the Minnesota Conference is already engaged in a reset of our own. We have

  • Formed Eightways groups for clergy support and accountability
  • Developed the Gospel Imperatives: reach new people and cultivate spiritual vitality
  • Developed Clergy Excellence Plans and Church Excellence Plans
  • Created Investing in Congregations grants to help churches starting new ministries based on the Gospel Imperatives
  • Focused resources on congregational development • Revised the apportionment formula
  • Reduced the apportioned budget through more focused budgeting higher use of other sources of revenue
  • Reduced staff and froze staff salaries, even though volume of work and complexity of work increased

There is much more to do but I think it helps to understand that we are already addressing our many challenges. The challenges provide opportunities that will change us, not always a welcome prospect.

Many people who say they embrace change really mean that they want things to be the same, just better. We will experience profound change as we seek to use funds and resources for increased mission rather than institutional maintenance, engage in long-term planning for financial viability, and seek new learning to build strategies for now and the future.

We will need to reset in all areas: finances, programs, and attitudes. We will need to reset at all levels: local church, annual conference, and denomination. This reset, if it is to work, will require that we give up what we are for what we can become: a people called to follow Jesus, to reach out to new people, and to cultivate spiritual vitality. Through these challenges and opportunities we have the potential to transform the world.

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




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