By Rev. Susan Nienaber, Director of Congregational Vitality
One of the things that makes me most proud to be a part of the Minnesota Conference is that we hear such positive feedback all the time about how many resources and services we provide to our congregations and pastors. We hear this from people who were once a part of other denominations or religious traditions, and we even hear this from folks who were once a part of other annual conferences.
We have multiple departments and groups in the conference that provide great resources for congregations, lay leaders, pastors, and communities—such as clergy well-being, leadership development, cross-racial/cross-cultural support, technology support, communications, camping, youth ministry, lay leadership, and church planting.
Since my role, director of congregational vitality, is fairly new, I want to take a moment to share with you some of the highlights of what is available in the area of congregational vitality.
Workshops: Over the past six months we have provided workshops in the areas of creativity and innovation, simplified governing structures, hybrid worship, and the role of the Staff-Parish Relations Committee. I provide resources for MNSource, which is our new conference resource platform. Our biggest initiative begins this fall with the launch of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area Fresh Expressions project. I hope you and a team from your church are planning to attend the Fresh Expressions Imagine Day on Sept. 30 at a hub site near you. Registration is open now.
Recurring training processes: I also have the privilege of overseeing our Rule of Christ training which is led by Rev. John Nowell and a team of trainers. This process teaches congregations healthy practices for managing differences. We want all the churches in our conference to go through this important training. I provide the professional boundaries and ethics training for all our clergy and manage our conference relationship with the Safe Gatherings company which provides background checks and training for our clergy as well as our local church volunteers on how to keep kids and other vulnerable people safe in our congregations. I partner with other conference staff to help on-board new clergy into our system, help clergy who are beginning new appointments start strong and assist clergy who are leaving their appointments to end well.
Consulting and coaching processes: I have a pool of consultants that are skilled in working with our churches and can recommend someone to work with you. I also work directly with congregations in a variety of ways to help increase the health and vitality of our churches and can even custom design a process just for your church. I am available to provide coaching to clergy and lay leaders about a particular situation that you may be facing. I have grant funds available to off-set the cost of a consultant if there is someone that your church would like to hire to help lead a planning process, improve the quality of worship, or other processes to help your church live into its fullest call and potential. Finally, I oversee another group of consultants who have been trained in our Conversations at the Crossroads Process for churches that have been experiencing decline and find themselves at an important fork in the road.
Direct work with district superintendents: I am honored to work closely with each of our district superintendents (DS) in congregations where there are significant concerns or issues. The DS may hand the situation over to me to work with for several months, or I might partner with the DS or provide outside coaching/consulting to the DS or the congregation.
I started working with congregations at the request of one our Minnesota Annual Conference district superintendents in 1993. That work expanded in the region as other denominations and religious groups started calling and expanded further when I was recruited by the Alban Institute in 2004. At that point, my work with faith communities expanded across the lower 48 states and Canada. It has been a tremendous blessing for me to have worked now with hundreds of faith communities, pastors, lay leaders, and denominational executives, and I can’t imagine a more perfect role for me in our own annual conference. Please reach out to me anytime with any question. We have a bright future in the Minnesota Conference, and I look forward to resourcing you and your church.
Rev. Susan Nienaber is the director of congregational vitality for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the UMC.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church