By: Christa Meland
As the Minnesota Conference continues to focus on equipping local churches to increase their vitality, the primary emphasis in the near term will be on leadership development—and the Common Table is in the early stages of planning two events that will bring ministry team leaders together to share ideas and create alignment. (The Common Table comprises leaders of all Minnesota Conference ministry teams as well as conference directors.)
At a meeting on March 20, Bishop Bruce R. Ough told members of the Common Table that, as we look to the future, our primary focus needs to be on developing missional leaders, both clergy and lay, through a clear, comprehensive, and coordinated plan that teaches the scriptural imperatives to grow in love of God and neighbor, reach new people, and heal a broken world. Such a plan is in the works, and Director of Ministries Cindy Gregorson is leading the effort to develop it.
The plan will incorporate several avenues for clergy leadership development, some of which are already up and running and all of which aim to nurture bold spiritual leaders who are equipped to lead in a changing world:
Soul Leaders: This program, led by facilitators from the Center of Courage and Renewal, consists of a series of retreats and offers clergy an opportunity to reconnect with their passion and purpose and explore issues related to heart, courage, and call. Soul Leaders I began last year with a group of 50 participants. This year, 25 people who went through Soul Leaders I began Soul Leaders II, and the first retreat was earlier this month. Soul Leaders II participants are discerning which God-sized dream they are being called to lead.
New Clergy Leadership Academy: This program, which participants are involved in for a three-year period, launched five years ago and was designed for new clergy to learn about leadership skills, ways to reach new people, and practices of fruitful congregations. Conference leaders would like to begin to open the program up to more established clergy as well as new clergy to offer them a chance to re-set and hone their leadership skills.
Peer groups: Most Gateways, Eightways, and/or other clergy peer groups are no longer in existence, but many past participants found value in these experiences. Conference leaders would like to refresh these groups to give clergy an opportunity to connect with, support, and learn from each other.
Congregational vitality: Headed in the right direction
Our Journey Toward Vitality—a roadmap that outlines the Minnesota Conference’s vision and the strategic pathways that will get us there—is still guiding us in our efforts to increase congregational vitality.
Bishop Ough told Common Table members that we’re on the right track: When a denominational “VitalSigns Dashboard” reporting program began in 2010, 11 percent of churches within the Minnesota Conference were categorized as “highly vital.” In 2012 (the latest year for which data is available), that number had grown to 32 percent. VitalSigns tracks seven metrics: weekly worship attendance, professions of faith, number of small groups, small group participation, missional participation, charitable contributions, and operational giving.
Data also shows that focused transformation processes—including the Healthy Church Initiative and Missional Journey, two consultation-based vitality programs offered by the Minnesota Conference—are making a positive difference. Director of Congregational Development Dan Johnson pointed to a couple of statistics:
? 19 out of the 32 Minnesota Conference churches that have participated in HCI or Missional Journey have seen increases in at least three out of the seven denominational “VitalSigns” metrics.
? 78 percent of the Minnesota Conference churches that have showed an increase in average weekly worship attendance over the past five years participated in at least one program offered through the Minnesota Conference’s Office of Congregational Development.
Events for ministry team leaders
Common Table members plan to host a “Bold Spirit Leaders” gathering on October 11—similar to the “Forward” event that the Common Table hosted for ministry team leaders last October. At last week’s meeting, members discussed the possibility of a workshop/laboratory day that would allow all conference ministry teams to come together to engage in a discussion about how we live out our Journey Toward Vitality. Each team could explore what it’s doing to increase congregational vitality and how it can further the work we’re trying to accomplish as an annual conference, and different teams could learn about each other’s efforts and create alignment.
Additionally, Common Table members said they are interested in hosting a future church think tank sometime next winter to explore how we’re adapting to the radical ways in which doing and being church are changing. Some possibilities for topics to address are: the definition of “effective,” the concept of discernment and letting God lead us, how the church is addressing people’s mind-body-spirit hunger, what it means to be a disciple, and understanding the changing demographics of Minnesota.
The 2015 budget recommended by the Council of Finance and Administration (CFA), which will be brought to members of the 2014 annual conference session for a vote, totals $6,000,008—about $250,000 less than the 2014 apportioned budget. That figure includes $1,725,007 in apportionments to the general church. The CFA recently approved an “uncollectible contingency” (or anticipated shortfall in local church apportionment remittances) of $600,000, bringing the total amount to be apportioned to $6,600,008.
Apportionments are the share each annual conference or local church pays to support international, national, and local missions. Some of the funds remitted by Minnesota congregations stay within the state and help fund various Minnesota Conference programs and mission efforts, and about a quarter of the funds remitted by local churches go to the global United Methodist Church.
In other financial highlights: Director of Finance and Administration Barb Carroll told members of the Common Table that the Minnesota Conference paid 100 percent of its general church apportionments in 2013 using conference reserves to supplement local church remittances. Carroll noted that it is important to CFA members that the Minnesota Conference serves a model for local churches by faithfully paying the full amount requested by the general church.
Common Table members noted that it’s critical to continue to encourage all local churches to pay their apportionments in full because using Minnesota Conference reserves in order to be able to pay all requested general church apportionments might not be sustainable for the long-term.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church