Strategic Mapping Presentation

Last week Bishop Huie met with leaders from churches all around the Texas Conference in a series of district and bi-district gatherings. She and conference treasurer Elijah Stansell presented an overview of the work of the Strategic Mapping Team, material to be formally presented and voted on at a called session of Annual Conference November 19.

The current reality that led Bishop Huie to this plan includes:
Demographic Changes

  • Population within the span of the Conference grew 40% from 1980 to 2000
  • A further 30% growth (2 million people) is predicted by 2020 [I’m sure these figures don’t include possible realignment of population after Hurricane Katrina]
  • The majority of the population in many counties will be non-Anglo

Population Growth Outpaces Conference Growth

  • From 2000 to 2004 the population grew 5.3% while membership in our churches only grew 3%.
  • As a percentage of the area population, Conference membership dropped from 4% in 2000 to 3.9% in 2004. It has been dropping since the early 1960s

Future Indicators from Church Statistics

  • Attendance is down by .06%
  • Professions of faith down 13%
  • Baptisms down 14.4%
  • Confirmation class enrollment down 8.9%
  • In the Texarkana District our membership is down over 6%, and attendance down over 5%.
  • [Unmentioned at the meeting but something to keep in mind is that because our churches average not much more than a third of their membership in attendance, membership figures are not a really good indicator of our strength.]

Worship Attendance

  • 79% of Conference churches report worship attendance of less than 150
  • Only 4% of our churches report attendance greater than 750.

In light of these realities, Bishop Huie sees us standing at a crossroads. We can maintain the status quo and slowly die or we can re-tool, take up our mission to make disciples, and make a better future.

Preliminary Recommendations
Vision: Vibrant, growing congregations changing lives and reshaping futures for Jesus Christ. [Perhaps this is a little less Christianese than “making disciples,” but covers the same territory. By speaking of “reshaping futures” it could be taken to apply not merely to individuals but also to families and communities.]
Mission: [Keep in mind that this is the mission of the Annual Conference] To equip congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world to the glory of God. [In my seminary class on the UM doctrine and discipline, I was taught that the Annual Conference is the primary level of United Methodism. Now that we have – since 1988 – declared that the mission of the UMC is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ,” we are finally beginning to act on the necessary conviction that the local church is the primary place where the mission is fulfilled, i.e., where disciples are made. If we can say this and implement these changes without bringing up the bogeyman of “congregationalism” we’ll all be the better for it.]

The Strategic Mapping Team identified 4 “Key Drivers” that would provide that engines of change:

  • Spirit- Filled
  • Excellence
  • Fruitfulness
  • [the word “mutual” was added in our discussion] Accountability

[I think I know what they’re getting at here, but it would be more elegant if all the four were the same part of speech. As it is here, we have three nouns and an adjective.]

The Core Values that accompany this mission include the five Bishop Huie announced at Annual Conference this past spring and two additional:

  • Radical hospitality
  • Passionate worship
  • Faith-forming relationships
  • Risk-taking mission
  • Extravagant generosity
  • Connectional ministry
  • Fervent prayer and diligent study of scripture

Given this broad framework, the Team has identified three “Strategic Themes”:
Congregational Excellence – Revitalize existing congregations and start new churches

  • How do we lead congregations to revitalize and how do we reach unserved resident populations?
  • Equip local congregations to be vibrant and grow
  • Identify and prioritize resident populations and start new churches
  • Implement plan from the Congregational Development Task Force [This is found in the Conference Journal. The particulars there include the need for a Congregational Development staff person and a time line through June 2006. So when we’re asked to approve the implementation of this plan, we do not yet have any details to approve.]
  • What processes must be in place for congregational development?
  • Develop a congregational assessment process: Assess, evaluate, educate [Various tools are available already: Christian Schwarz’s Natural Church Development and Bill Easum’s Complete Ministry Audit come to mind. At some point we’ll have to develop a clear and shared vision of what a healthy congregation looks like. Another thing that will happen here: Just as some pastors kill church after church, there are some churches that kill pastor after pastor. Below we’ll see that leadership accountability is a key feature of the plan. That’s absolutely the right thing to do. But if the cabinet has a skewed understanding of a congregation’s current reality while holding pastors accountable for achieving particular results, this is a recipe for pastoral depression and failure. We need to learn to tell the truth here. If we want energized, enthusiastic pastors who will lead their churches to revitalization and growth, we must stop identifying every appointment merely as “a great opportunity.”]
  • Develop an effective conference structure that provides resources for transformation [well, yeah!]
  • Identify and prioritize resident populations [The assumptions is that new residential developments will not be the only place to plant churches. Instead we’ll find people who do not currently have a church and plant one to reach them.]
  • How will we control costs while promoting congregational development? [One way some people will ask this is, “How will we be able to pay for everything we’re already doing and pay for all this new stuff?” The obvious answer – at least to me – is that we’ll have to identify a bunch of stuff we’ll no longer do.]
  • Reallocate Annual Conference funds
  • Utilize fixed assets
  • Develop volunteer partnerships
  • As an Annual Conference, what must we learn and how must we grow in order to add value?
  • Education measures for determining church vitality
  • Models for new church starts for identified populations

Clergy Leadership: Ensure all clergy are effective in their settings

  • How do we improve clergy leadership in the Texas Annual Conference?
  • Affirm the giftedness of each clergy person [as we see below this additionally means, “Even if that giftedness is more in line with selling insurance than pastoring.”]
  • Equip clergy with resources for professional development
  • Recruit gifted and talented candidates for ministry [IF we can carry this thing off, my guess is talented people will come flocking, given the moribund status of so many annual conferences.]
  • Equip clergy to develop fruitful law leadership within their congregation
  • What processes must we master in order to improve the clergy of the Texas Annual Conference
  • Identify potential clergy [Some of our Wesley Foundations have highly productive in this area. What about the others?]
  • Affirm gifts [Wow! We’re doing it again already!]
  • Assessment and accountability
  • Recruitment of gifted pastors [Steal them from other conferences? If we’re aiming to reach the burgeoning Hispanic population, this might mean importing pastors from Mexico and Central America. Are we willing to open the way for non-middle class Americans to enter the ministry track?]
  • Training and coaching
  • Placement
  • Exit strategies
  • Attract new clergy to the TAC
  • [What about the seminaries? Are they doing an adequate job training pastors to do what needs to be done? If not, what are we going to do about it?]
  • How can we fund these activities?
  • Utilize current funding streams
  • Initiate grants and alternative funding
  • What do we need to learn in order to improve clergy leadership of the TAC in a time of change?
  • Develop pro-active mentality, skills, and mechanisms for recruiting candidates for ministry
  • More effective assessment strategies
  • Effective and diverse professional opportunities
  • Improve skills in management of change
  • More effective coaching
  • More effectively match gifts with ministry opportunities [The salary sheet is not enough.]

Effective Missional Structure: To create a structure that serves the mission of the TAC

  • How can the structure of the TAC serve and support local congregations?
  • Redefine the organizational structure of the AC Service Center to add value to congregations [One way to do this is to find ways to project mobility over immobility.]
  • Redefine the role of the District Superintendent to add value to the local church {Of course this will include freeing them from obligations to attend every meeting in the Conference.]
  • Expand office of ministerial services to promote clergy leadership
  • Create leadership office for revitalization and church starts
  • Create leadership office for visioning and implementation
  • How can we develop processes to increase support for the local congregation?
  • Evaluate current AC structure
  • Create an assessment for on-going ministries [This is a positive way to say, “Find things to stop doing.”]
  • Adopt the necessary change to accomplish an effective structure [I think this just means “change.”]
  • How can we be good stewards in funding a structure that supports the TAC mission?
  • Assess all Conference expenses [Surely we can get by with fewer meetings. Surely we can get by with fewer people at each meeting. Surely we can use Internet technology to have more online conferences. Web cams are cheap.]
  • Reduce the number of districts and reallocate funds [They mentioned going from 12 to 9. Each DS now costs about $175k]
  • Sunset activities and reallocate funds [This will be painful when for so many years our mission has been “to do what we’ve always done.”]
  • Identify tasks for possible outsourcing
  • Develop an assessment strategy for future allocations related to vacant properties, churches, etc.
  • Utilize current fixed assets
  • Create a plan for funding new church starts and for revitalization [After Rita we might have to raise millions to rebuild structures we though were already established and in place.]
  • What do we need to learn in order to create a structure that serves the mission of the TAC?
  • Benchmark best practices with other Annual Conferences, businesses, and other denominations
  • Ongoing study and understanding of changing demographics of TAC
  • Develop processes for continual assessment and improvement of structure
  • Skills for leading major change initiatives

My concluding comment: Sure there’s plenty of vagueness here. But as I look around the UMC I see nothing approaching this level of seriousness. It’ll be terribly difficult, but I think we need to do it.

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1 Response to Strategic Mapping Presentation

  1. Tim Stevens says:

    I have a thought. Find the churches in your congregation that are growing. The ones that beat the statistics and people are actually coming to Christ, being baptized, taking steps in their faith, where people are excited and worship attendance is growing instead of declining. Find those churches…and give them a bunch of money. Ask them to teach the rest of the conference how to replicate what they are doing.

    Stop putting money into what’s not working, and start putting money into what God is blessing! Cut the salaries of the pastors who are not producing results. You know, the ones that go from church to church to church, and none of the churches have grown. In fact, they can’t even replace the ones that are dying or leaving! Cut all the conference programs that haven’t had fruit for years. Learn from what’s working. Kill what’s not!

    Just a thought.

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