By: Christa Meland
How do we go “all in” as a Minnesota Conference? That’s something that about 50 elected leaders pondered and discussed at a gathering in Minneapolis on Saturday.
After Rev. John Edgar, from Church and Community Development for All People, talked about asset-based community development and encouraged attendees to assemble resources to create positive change, Director of Ministries Cindy Gregorson posed four key questions. Each person was invited to choose the question he or she most wanted to discuss and then sat in a small group to talk about it. Ideas were shared with each other and written on large papers. A little while later, each person chose a new question to discuss.
Here are the questions and some of the corresponding responses that attendees came up with:
Questions: When you look 15 years into the future, what is almost certain to have changed? What do we need to do today to prepare for a vibrant future for the church?
Responses: The ethnicity/complexion of our communities will be different, members of Generation X will be leaders, we’ll be connecting more through technology, we’ll need fewer brick-and-mortar establishments, there will be increased mobility, educational delivery will change, and the church structure worldwide will likely be different. To prepare for a vibrant future for our church, we need cultural intelligence/competency training, bi- or multi-lingual leadership, mentoring for future lay and clergy leaders, virtual communities, enhanced educational and outreach opportunities to meet desires of multi-dimensional congregations, and we’ll need to measure vitality through engagement with the least, lost, and left behind.
Question: What should we continue to do, start doing, and stop doing if we are serious about going “all in” on our journey toward vitality?
Responses: We should continue to support clergy with leadership, health care, and retirement; train laity for active roles in the church—including starting new churches; embrace and enhance the United Methodist connection; and look outward to build community relationships. We should stop being insular and only operating within our church walls, measuring our successes by the number of people in the pews, and assume that one way of being and worshipping fits all. We should start developing church models that don’t have brick-and-mortar locations, partnering with other organizations around a common goal (similar to what was done with Imagine No Malaria), creating virtual communities, developing cultural competency, creating new and creative church partnerships, and addressing institutional racism.
Question: If we received a $10 million gift that had to be used for something that makes a significant difference in advancing our mission, how would you want to invest it?
Responses: Debt relief for seminary students, planting new churches, technology upgrades, intensive internship residency program for church elders, church revitalization, going solar, ADA compliance for all churches, fund a director of partnerships, provide facility upgrades or grants, enhance camping facilities, recruiting and incentives for new clergy, offer early retirement and buy out tired out clergy, invest in youth ministries, create grant programs to build capacity for providing basic necessities to people in need, and create a network of publicizing wins for inspiration.
Questions: If we were to be known for ONE THING as United Methodists in Minnesota, what would you want it to be? What is currently keeping us from being known for that?
Responses: We want to be known for children, food, feeding body and soul, a solution for the achievement gap, health, diversity, compassion, concern for the world, clergy and laity working together, healthy relationships, open and active servant partners, reconciling congregations, leaders of an ecumenical movement, and loving one another and the community. What’s keeping us from being known for those things is too many “one-hour” people, lack of excitement, no effective way to bring these things into the church and community, and no Wesleyan identity for social action.
The responses make clear that there is significant work that remains. But Bishop Ough pointed out that we’ve made lots of progress as an annual conference in the areas of leadership development, missional congregations, missional impact, and generating resources.
In January, affinity-based clergy peer groups will launch. We’ve expanded the Healthy Church Initiative (a revitalization process for mid-sized churches) and started the Missional Church Consultation Initiative (a revitalization process for large churches). We packed 3 million meals for hungry children through our Million Meals Marathon. We’re providing abundant life for Vietnamese children through our partnership with missionaries in Vietnam. We’re providing grants to help churches form school partnerships in their communities. We’re about to start a Minnesota campus of Embrace, the 10th-fastest growing church in the U.S. And we’re well on our way to reach our $3.7 million goal for Reach • Renew • Rejoice. That’s just to name a few.
One of the Minnesota Conference’s strengths, Bishop Bruce R. Ough said, is innovation. We’re willing to take risks and try new things. This asset is helping to strengthen our congregations—and “when our congregations are strong, they start thinking differently about their communities and how they can partner.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church