By: Christa Meland
Dave Nuckols, a lay member of Minnetonka United Methodist Church, recently became the Minnesota Conference’s newest co-lay leader—a volunteer position that’s part of the Extended Cabinet. Nuckols succeeds Janet Beard, who stepped down from that position to focus on her role as conference secretary and continue co-leading the conference’s lay servant ministries. Nuckols will work alongside Bob Kutter, who has been a co-lay leader since fall 2013.
Nuckols is also co-lay leader at Minnetonka UMC, one of the conference’s fastest-growing churches. Four years ago, the church had about 220 in average worship attendance; this year, it’s on track to hit 320.
“Dave is a great strategic thinker, committed to building bridges with a variety of constituencies, and astute on how to make progress on key challenges,” said Rev. Cindy Gregorson, the conference’s director of ministries. “I am delighted he has agreed to invest his time and energy in helping the annual conference move into this next chapter of our Journey Toward Vitality.” (The Journey Toward Vitality is a roadmap that outlines the conference’s vision and the strategic pathways that will get us there.)
For the past year and a half, the conference has been working with the Financial Advisory Consulting Team (FACT)—a team from the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (GBOPHB) and the General Council on Finance and Administration. The FACT team, which has worked with 15 annual conferences, works to provide a holistic financial review and help conferences achieve vitality and sustainability. The FACT team conducted private phone interviews and in-person group discussions with 30 clergy and laity—including Nuckols, examined financial data, and used the information gathered to list challenges and to name recommendations to address them.
In the coming months, Nuckols will work with Gregorson to re-form the Common Table into a smaller group of clergy and laity who possess specific skills that will help the conference live into the recommendations from the FACT report. The primary challenge listed in the 65-page FACT report is a lack of urgency regarding the precipitous decline in membership and attendance in the Minnesota Conference. And the related recommendation: “Dig deeper into the Minnesota Conference’s mission and vision, which calls congregations to reach new people, so that there might be a common understanding across the conference as to how reaching new people connects us with the evangelistic task that is part of our United Methodist DNA.”
Nuckols has been a delegate to General Conference in both 2012 and 2016, and he spent four years on the Minnesota Board of Ordained Ministry. At the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in July, Nuckols was elected to serve on the Connectional Table, created in 2004 to serve as both the visioning body of the church and the steward of resources to carry out the vision of the denomination worldwide. Then last month, he was one of 32 United Methodists selected to serve on the Commission on a Way Forward—which will work to address the denomination’s differences regarding human sexuality. Minnetonka UMC is a Reconciling congregation—and Nuckols is also active in the Reconciling Ministry Network and its Parents’ Reconciling Steering Committee.
Nuckols is passionate about effective lay leadership and said he’s a “committed Methodist who would like to see our annual conference be successful.”
“I think that lay leadership, broadly defined, is an important strength in the Methodist Church,” he explained. “We as lay people need to own up to our responsibility of having our congregations be an effective expression of the body of Christ. It’s not all about pastors. Lay people need to take ownership of success. I happen to think that the Methodist stream of Wesleyan theology is the best, fullest expression of Christianity. All we need to do is fully unleash that in our congregations.”
Nuckols notes that churches have to be healthy before they can grow—and he looks forward to working with laity to increase vitality throughout the conference. Nuckols and other leaders within his own congregation have been working on opportunities for members to increase their spiritual depth, which they’ve done by offering a wide variety of small groups throughout the year and adding worship services with different styles (Minnetonka UMC now has a traditional service, a jazz service, and a monthly Celtic service).
Minnesota churches live out the gospel through many different styles and expressions, and Nuckols believes that’s an asset as we look ahead.
“The United Methodist Church tends to be a big tent denomination that has room for progressives, moderates, and conservative evangelicals to be in ministry together and grow their churches even though the flavor might feel different from place to place,” said Nuckols. “In some conferences, that can be a source of conflict or division. In Minnesota, that’s a strength for us.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church