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Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #3

(This Blog is a part of a series of blogs sharing insights from the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  This report analyzes key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.  I will follow the reporting with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.)

Finding B: Decline in congregations averaging 100 or more AWA

Implications
This decline is not new. Today there are 4,000 fewer United Methodist churches in the United States with 100 or more in worship than in 1975 when this trend began. But conferences cannot grow, even with superior large church growth, without stopping the decline of other churches.
While the decline in your conference is modest, pay attention to it. Remember that this declining pool of churches with 100+ attendance accounts overwhelmingly (over 80 percent) for apportionments, attendance, membership, and professions of faith.

Recommendations
1. Focus on mid-size churches.
District superintendents must focus on churches with 100+ AWA, no matter how few or many there are in a district. Without a deliberate effort to arrest the collapse of this group of churches, United Methodism within the district will continue to decline.

2. Give special attention to churches surrounded by population growth.
Many areas are not growing, and most United Methodist churches are not immediately surrounded by growth. Many churches continue to decline in the midst of population expansion; yet it stands to reason that those in growing areas have a greater chance for growth.

3. Evaluate the possibility of church relocations.
Congregations in existence prior to 1990 are a locus of decline in worship attendance. More than half of these congregations are losing in worship attendance. One reason is that they tend to be located where the population is no longer growing. Review the location of churches, plotting existing churches against population changes past and projected, and track the location of members. This can indicate where relocation may extend the United Methodist witness.

 

In the Cabinet we focus especially in appointment making on what we call the 126+ers.  They are the churches worshipping 126 or more on an average Sunday.  Why 126?  Because 126 in average worship is the approximate size needed to sustain a full time elder with salary, housing, health insurance, pensions, etc.  (In truth we are not at all rigid about 126.  We are simply conscious that increasing the number of churches that average approximately 126+ is crucial to the health and vitality of the Central Texas Conference.)

Interestingly enough, churches averaging less than 100 do better with a part-time appointment instead of a full-time appointment.  This appears to be counter-intuitive but deeper reflection yields insight.  A church worshipping less than 100 that tries to support a full-time pastor is often (not always – remember one cannot be rigid in applying this criteria; there are exceptions!) spending so much of its financial resources on pastoral salary and benefits that it does not have the resources left to engage in vibrant ministry.  Furthermore, with a part-time pastor, lay leadership tends to step up thus leading to healthier churches!

Church relocation is also critical.  One of our vital moves this year at Conference was the decision by Thompson Chapel UMC to relocate to a different site precisely in line with this recommendation.  These are exiting days, not only for Thompson Chapel in its faithfulness but for all of us!



[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report

Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #2

(This Blog is a part of a series of blogs sharing insights from the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  This report analyzes key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.  I will follow the reporting with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.)

Finding A:  Increasing impact of a smaller number of larger churches
2. Focus on larger new church starts.
New church starts are the primary way that denominations increase membership. In earlier chapters of United Methodist history, smaller churches met the needs of a dispersed and rural population. Today the need is for new larger churches (or new campus sites) that can reach over 80 percent of the population that is non-rural and tends to be more heavily clustered.

A tautology that is often ignored is the plain truth that we will not turn around the United Methodist Church with just the transformation/renewal of existing congregations.  Just as true is the tautology that we will not turn around the decline in the United Methodist Church just through the establishment of new congregations.  If ever there was a both/and, it is here.  We must engage deeply in both new church development and the transformation/renewal of existing congregations.  It is to this cardinal goal that the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth exists.

What is often missed is the critical role larger churches have in birthing other large churches.  The process really is a birthing process.  The DNA of the large congregation is embedded in the new church from the outset.

One of the highlights of our recently concluded Annual Conference lifted up our response to this recommendation.  First, we have a Path 1 New Church Development intern on staff for this year at Whites Chapel UMC learning how to birth a large congregation.  Second, First UMC Keller is engaged in a new start/second site outreach.  In the past we have engaged in other similar ministries; most recently through Waco First UMC, and St. James UMC & Killeen First UMC.  Third, in a highly experimental and creative way, Fort Worth First UMC is working with the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth with an appointment to 7th street in Fort Worth.

Our both/and commitment to establish new congregations, especially those begun from the ground up with an intention to be large, and our emphasis in transformation/renewal of existing congregations through HCI/SCI (Healthy Church Initiative/Small Church Initiative) and Holy Conversations (in partnership with the Texas Methodist Foundation) is alive and well!  The Holy Spirit is moving in our midst!


 

[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report

Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #1

One of the absolutely crucial areas of concern for the United Methodist Church is leadership development.  In a real sense, this is always true for any organization (church, business, military, non-profits, etc.) anywhere, at any time.  The Call to Action report (for the 2012 General Conference) which grew out of the Towers-Watson Study commissioned by the Connectional Table lifted up leadership development (and especially developing a new generation of clergy leadership) as second only behind a sustained focus on the local church in importance for the United Methodist Church.  As I have written before (see “Steady in Purpose and Flexible in Strategy”), reforming the clergy development system will dominate our thinking but should never be divorced from the critical application of a new generation of lay leadership.  Without the two together, our efforts will be for naught.  Leadership development must be linked with an intense focus on the local church.

At the recent South Central Jurisdictional Conference Bishops’ Week event, we focused intently on this subject.  As a part of our work, in early 2013 “the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary was engaged by the bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction to analyze key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.” The Center collected and studied relevant data for each of the conferences.  Over the next 3 weeks, I will be sharing the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  I will follow with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.

Finding A: Increasing impact of a smaller number of larger churches
                       Implications
This is not necessarily a negative trend. It often shows greater vitality and growth among some larger churches than in the conference as a whole. However, it does make the conference more vulnerable to any negative trends among this smaller cohort of large churches. These churches have the greatest potential for growth and decline in any one year.
                       Recommendations
1. Embrace a large church imperative.

We often see an emphasis in one segment of churches as detracting from another segment.  This is not necessarily so.  Currently we have a Healthy Church Initiative that is designed especially for small churches (appropriately called SCI – The Small Church Initiative).  We know one size does not fit all!  Just as we have SCI, we need a LCI – Large Church Initiative.  Such a strategy will involve:

  • Identification of churches with the greatest potential to become larger churches
  • Identification of current larger churches with the greatest vulnerability to decline
  • Specific work with appropriate staffing  as well as evangelism & mission engagement

Targeting special work with congregations over 500 in average worship attendance is a critical way we will help the entire conference move forward in accomplishing our mission.  A part of this strategy recognizes that a younger generation, socialized in larger institutions (schools, shopping, community organizations, etc.) has a marked preference for larger churches.  Done right this emphasis can be a win for everyone and most especially for the advancing Kingdom of God.

 

 

 



[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report

Steady in Purpose and Flexible in Strategy

June 20-21 the bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) held a traditional event in a nontraditional location and manner.  For decades (with only occasional lapses) the bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction have sponsored a learning retreat at the Mt. Sequoyah in Fayetteville, Arkansas.   This year we focus the learning on leadership development. Participants included all members of the various extended cabinets and up to 10 other leaders selected by the bishop of the area with deliberate participants from Boards of Ordained Ministry, young leaders (lay and clergy) etc.  The bishops provided the leadership with process guidance from Dr. Gil Rendle, Senior Consultant in Church Leadership from the Texas Methodist Foundation.  We deliberately sought additional guidance from two bishops outside of the SCJ – Bishop Greg Palmer, a past President of the Council of Bishops and member of the Call to Action team, and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, a newly elected bishop serving the North Alabama Episcopal Area.

The nontraditional location was White’s Chapel UMC.  Drs. John McKellar & Todd Renner and their staff with a wonderful crew of volunteers were an incredible blessing to the over 300+ church leaders involved.  They not only modeled radical hospitality; they gave the concept new definition!

As a part of this event, I presented two speeches on leadership development in the new ecosystem of the 21st century church:  “Steady in Purpose and Flexible in Strategy” and “Following Two Paths – The One We Know and the One We Need.”  The following is an excerpt from the first of those speeches.

Steady in Purpose and Flexible in Strategy:  Our mission is clear and unchanged.  ‘We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.’

Our purpose [in leadership development] comes straight out of the focus area formula endorsed by the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth.  We have to develop principled Christian leaders both for the church and for the world.  This necessitates deep, focused attention on the second point of the Call to Action.  “Dramatically reform the clergy leadership development, deployment, evaluation, and accountability systems.”[1]  Reforming the clergy development system will dominate our thinking here but should never be divorced from the critical application of a new generation of lay leadership.  Without the two together, our efforts will be for naught.

To all of this we will need to balance the closing of churches and the movement of full time charges to part time places.  In the Central Conferences last year alone we lost $801,660 dollars in clergy remuneration.   Holding retirements in one hand and church closings in another is going to be really, really, tough.  General Eric Shinseki’s comment sticks to us like super glue Velcro. “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”[2]  Those who want a preset rule book or cookbook to follow need not to be on either the Cabinet or the Board of Ordained Ministry.

Take a look again at the North Star of purpose.  We have to steer to this location – developing principled Christian leaders both for the church and the world!  That purpose is our North Star.  By way of example, our purpose is not upholding the institutional structures of a clergy system of entitlement.  Our purpose is not bolstering the importance of seminaries.  Both institutional structures and seminaries may well further this purpose but they are not the purpose.

I think we are beginning, just beginning, to put together some pieces on how we must be flexible in strategy.  I offer a handful for our reflection and tentative embrace.

  • Forget the career ladder and think mentoring.  By mentoring I mean something more than merely assigning the person who has taken the approved training of GBHEM or the Board of Ministry.  I am thinking of the ongoing coaching, encouraging and guidance (including advocacy) of lay and clergy leaders with a track record of fruitfulness beyond institutional maintenance.
  • Explore alternative education that moves beyond the seminary requirement to a real embodiment of Wesleyan theology, leadership ability, and spiritual formation (Christian character).  This may well be some combination of post seminary training, the inculcation of a genuine system of continuing education (which is far beyond continuing education as a perk of pastoral position), and spiritual formation. . . .
  • Figure out how to embrace the spiritual entrepreneurs in our system.  We (the United Methodist system of clergy (& lay!) deployment have by-in-large adopted a position of shooting our entrepreneurs.  To our embarrassment there are highly fruitful and faithful pastors who left our system not because they disagreed with our theology or even our governance but because the rigidity of our system of credentialing and appointment made life untenable for them.  Well over a decade ago, Roy Oswald and Claire Burkat noted in Transformational Regional Bodies (an Alban Institute publication) that in the “screening process for denominations . . . these overly stringent requirements at the front end of the ordination track did screen out the worst candidates, but it also screened out the best.”  They continued, “The more requirements you lay on people before they can even begin to consider a vocation in the ordained ministry, the more you will have passive, dependent types who will endure any requirement you put before them.”[3]
  • We need to bolster the edges of our leadership development system.  We have been risk averse and it shows.  If you step back and look at what we are doing with this Bishops’ Week, the common theme is one of experimentation and development.  We face a bigger danger in being too timid than we do in being too flexible.  Go back and read Wigger’s American Saint on the life of Francis Asbury.  He was forever sending people out into the mission field with incomplete training and inadequate support.  Or, to deliberately change the image to one I have heard Gil Rendle use:  people in the wilderness (that’s us!) are not following a map.  We are making a map.
  • We must continue to develop trust and mutual accountability between bishops & cabinets and their respective Boards of Ordained Ministry.  For those of us on the Cabinet this will require a transparence which we are uncomfortable with.  For those on the Board of Ordained Ministry, it will require a partnership that is far greater than gatekeeping or serving as union shop stewards.  For both groups; we will all be stressed by appropriate issues of confidentiality and differing judgment.
  • I suggest that we need to be open to people coming from other denominations.  This is hard in our tradition.  In theory our committed ecumenical stance should make us open to such options.  In practice our guaranteed appointment, distinctive style of appointment and itinerancy, and inward bent United Methodist ethos makes it difficult despite our best intentions.  Oswald and Burkat’s book Transformational Regional Bodies has an intriguing chapter on such recruitment.
  • Experiment!

[1]           A CALL TO ACTION for The United Methodist Church, Final Report of the Interim Operations Team, September 2012

[2]               General Eric Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, U. S. Army

[3]               Roy M. Oswald and Claire S. Burkat, Transformational Regional Bodies, p. 113

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