Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #7

(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 F: A few more churches served by typically part-time clergy
Implications
Your conference serves most of its churches and charges with full-time clergy. However, it is likely that part-time clergy will play an increasing role in pastoral leadership. If this develops, new systems and structures are required to account for this reality. 

Recommendation
Develop a plan to supply those churches where part-time clergy are appropriate.
Develop a specialized enlistment, training, and mentoring plan for those called to a part-time, bi-vocational, or supply ministry built exclusively around the context and needs of small membership churches. Develop a tailored program of enlistment, encouragement, and support for retired pastors willing and able to continue serving churches.

The findings and recommendations of “a few more churches served by typically part-time clergy have an air of déjà vu about them.  This was the original Methodist Movement!  We were largely a movement of lay preachers, many of them part-time.  We are going back to the future.

I believe the Holy Spirit is leading us back into a day and time of clergy and lay leadership that is “close” to the people.  Put differently, we are moving away from having a mostly classically seminary-trained clergy and back to a clergy who need the specialized training and support that comes out of the licensed local pastors and lay supply network.  We must carefully note that this is not anti-seminary education.  We will still have and need many high quality seminary-educated clergy.  Rather it is a Spirit-driven opportunity to go back to our roots.

We will have to re-think and re-apply training for local pastors and lay supply clergy.  Such training will need to be in conversation and careful interchange with a host of partners – Boards of Ordained Ministry, District Committees on Ministry, Cabinet, Seminaries, special study opportunities (including offerings from par church organizations, etc.)  Last year a gathering of Texas Conference Cabinets (cabinets of the 6 UMC Conferences currently residing within the bounds of the state of Texas) began discussions of how such education needed to be shaped both formally and informally.  In September at the SCJ Bishops Conclave, we will be continuing discussions.

In the Central Texas Conference, District Superintendents are always looking for quality leadership (both lay and clergy) who are willing to serve in a part-time or supply relationship.  We are on the front end of rethinking how we go about the full range of tailoring a program of “enlistment, encouragement, and support.”  Prayers are welcomed!


[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

Podcast with Rev. Lance Marshall

This month’s edition of the Focused Center Podcast features an interview with Bishop Lowry and Rev. Lance Marshall who was recently appointed as a new church start pastor in the 7th street area of downtown Fort Worth.

To find out more about this project, click here.

To listen to this latest episode, click the play button below.

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Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #6

(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 E: Changes in ages of elders

Implications
In the past ten years, the United Methodist Church has shifted from being a church primarily served by middle-aged elders to one in which over half of elders are older (55 to 72 years old). This trend has depleted the number of middle-aged elders available for appointment. And it brings a challenge for the coming decade as this huge cohort of older clergy moves into retirement. Your conference has maintained a strong and growing cohort of young elders. But you have suffered the same decreased in middle-aged elders and increase in older elders seen across the denomination.

 Recommendation
Continue efforts to identify, enlist, and retain gifted younger clergy.
Apart from clergy supply and demand issues, gifted young clergy are needed for their energy, passion, and closeness to the culture of emerging generations. No conference is in danger of having too many young elders, especially given their relatively low numbers across the denomination.

When I first came to the Central Texas Conference, I visited every congregation.  It took me eight months and was one of the most marvelous experiences of my life.  Learning from so many lay leaders and clergy around the Conference, I gained immense insight and wisdom.  A common refrain I would hear (especially from lay leaders of smaller churches was “how about sending us a young person for our next pastor?” A part of my response was to ask every congregation to tell me about the last person to go into the ordained ministry or some form of dedicated Christian service from their congregations.  I heard some wonderful stories of the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of people and churches.  I also ran into a fair number (far more than I would like!) of comments that went something like this.

Lay Leader X turns to Lay Leader Y, “What was the name of that guy who became a pastor from here?”  Lay Leader Y in response, “Who are you talking about? Oh, do you mean that guy (gender neutral) back in the 60s?”  I kid you not.  I am not making this up!  The number of times I heard a dialog extremely similar to this one was a fairly high, double figure amount (it may have even reached triple figure).  Such reports even came from people serving in Wesley Foundations (our College and University ministries)!

Pastoral leadership doesn’t fall out of the sky or grow on trees.  It comes from vibrant healthy congregations.  There is a direct correlation from the way a congregation treats its pastors to its production of ordained clergy.  The effort to “identify, enlist, and retain gifted younger clergy” is everyone’s business!

A key element we are wrestling with is the development of the next generation of clergy leadership.  I have said it before, but it is worth restating.  Thank God for the number of faithful second career clergy who have provided leadership across the congregations of The Central Texas Conference.  We have been incredibly blessed by their faithfulness and service.  And yet, it doesn’t take a genius to know that we absolutely must raise up new generations of young clergy.  This is a mission and ministry imperative!


 

[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] #5

(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 D: Little change in churches and charges served by an elder

Implications
The total number of elder positions has declined somewhat but not nearly so much as in other conferences. But the downward trend may continue, especially if the number of 100+ AWA churches continues to decline. The number of elders needed for new church starts and as associate pastors will impact the numbers. In 2012 there were fewer elders appointed to church staffs than in 2002. Despite these trends, there probably will not be an oversupply given the number of retirements coming.

Recommendation
Set high standards for elders to meet the challenges facing the church.
While elders may serve somewhat fewer churches in the future, the demands on them will be greater as the church seeks to deal with changing cultures and contexts. More and more churches will require the full engagement of an adaptive leader who can guide the people in facing their challenges. Priority should be given to identifying new elders who have the spiritual, personal, intellectual, and professional skills to serve effectively in their early appointments and across the full range of church sizes over the course of their ministries.

Most of us who serve in clergy leadership today were not trained to do so in this environment.  By that I do not mean to blame seminaries, or Boards of Ministry, or Bishops & Cabinets, or clergy or lay leaders.  Rather, I write to simply reflect reality.  The very nature of training and skill development needed to be a faithful and fruit people is different today than when I entered the ministry.

Back in the day (I was ordained a probationary Deacon in June of 1974), we were instructed “stay close to God and close to your congregations” and your ministry will be successful.  Pause and think for a minute.  Who is left out of that equation?  The answer is all those who are not a part of any church or Christian movement.  It assumes that evangelism and discipleship engagement through the church will be engendered through a culture that encourages people to be active in local churches as a basic part of being a spiritual person.  Such is obviously not the case today!

I tell lay people and clergy in speeches that if you think it is harder to be a pastor today than it used to be, you’re right!  It is harder today!  The culture is no longer our ally.  The demands are greater.  This makes ongoing training and learning an absolute must!  It means Boards of Ordained Ministry have to follow the stated recommendation – “set high standards for elder to meet the challenges facing the church.”

I think that is exactly what makes this an exciting time to serve.  No longer can the Board of Ordained Ministry be a union shop designed to protect clergy.  No longer can Bishops and District Superintendents simply serve as mangers.  No longer can the laity passively assume that the clergy will do ministry for and to them.  Today all of us are engaged in mission and ministry to often unbelieving society.

We are in a situation akin to the refrigerator salesmen sent to Alaska.  One replied to management, “I’m ready to come home. Nobody has refrigerators here.” The other urgently call back, “Please sent more order forms!  Nobody has refrigerators here!”  One saw only winter with little need.  The other beheld the coming spring and the great opportunity before him. With Paul let’s give thanks as we proclaim that we are “a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news!” (Romans 1:1).


[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] #4

(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 C: Modest increase in proportion of smaller churches

Implications
Yours in not a small church conference in that the median worship attendance of 60 is relatively high for conferences. However, with the presence of very small churches (144 with 50 or fewer AWA), it is likely there will be somewhat fewer churches in the foreseeable future. For the denomination as a whole, the decline will be about 23 percent between now and 2030. Most of these churches will be very small churches. Your loss rate should be much lower given the relatively low death rates among members of your churches of all sizes.

 Recommendations
1. Identify the small churches capable of growing for consecutive years.
Among even the smallest churches, about one-third will grow each year. So, the challenge is to identify and help those with the potential and leadership to grow and achieve the size needed to serve even more people. As churches get smaller, the likelihood that they will grow decreases, but when churches grow, the likelihood of further growth is enhanced.  

2. Provide resources to help very small churches discern their future.
Provide resources the smallest churches can use to consider ways to renew their witness or to evaluate whether they might best sustain their legacy by discontinuing their congregational ministry and using their assets to expand the United Methodist witness elsewhere. Such efforts can be simple and modest lest they overwhelm the time and energy of conference leaders due to the sheer number of these very small churches.

As I have noted in other blogs, the Central Texas Conference’s Center for Evangelism and Church Growth has made the Small Church Initiative (SCI) a major aspect of our Conference activities.  No church is too small to matter to God and to us!  Every church has mission given by God.  Faithfulness and fruitfulness is not a matter of size but a response to a God given mission.

For a number of years we have been investing major Conference resources in strengthening the small church and helping those who pastor small churches.  This is an area of historic strength for the United Methodist Church and will remain so if we are faithful.

The challenge before the small church is to adjust to a changing, post-Christian America religious setting.  Embracing the intertwining of missional outreach and evangelism (put differently in five practices language – risk-taking mission and service with radical hospitality) is THE central challenge the small church faces.  As with larger congregations, the conference strategy will continue to be one that works with the “coalition of the willing.”  What that means is abundant Conference resources have been, are and will be available to small church that desire to step up and step out in faith for God’s new day.  No one will be forced to embrace SCI or Holy Conversations or any particular faithful initiative.  Conversely, resources will not be committed to maintaining the past.  They will be available to embrace the future in faith!



[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] #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

Bishop’s Bible Camp for Adults

Please allow me a brief pause in my ongoing report on “Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment” – reporting and reflecting on a detailed study of trends in the Central Texas Conference put together by the Lewis Center for Leadership. The reason for the pause is exciting!

I want lift up the Bishop’s Bible Camp for Adults, which will be held on Saturday, September 21st at Glen Lake Camp & Retreat Center.  Taking place alongside this special Bible Study and learning event for adults is the 3rd and 4th Grade Bible Camp for children.  Last year the children’s event was a tremendous success.  This year we’ve added the adult study.  I’m blessed with the opportunity to share in our learning!

The Bishop’s Bible Camp for Adults will focus on the Gospel of Mark.  Following the Immersion Bible Study we will move into the interior of Mark’s gospel and investigate what God is saying to us through this “good news.”  Together we will not only examine what Mark says to us as a Word from the Lord but also how we might live as faithful Christ followers based on this good news.

Mark opens with the words: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight’.” (Mark 1:1-3)

Scholars are of virtual unanimous opinion that Mark is the earliest of the four gospels.  The evidence is overwhelming that both Matthew and Luke had access to or had read portions of Mark before they wrote their gospels.  The Gospel of Mark takes us on journey of exploration into the life and ministry of the Savior and Lord.  It invites us –no, it does more – it challenges us to walk in the way that truly leads to life eternal.

I look forward to a great day of sharing together in learning.  You can download the flier or register for the Bishop’s Bible Camp for Adults here, ctcumc.org/bishopsbiblecamp.

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

A Drop in the Bucket

bucketI can’t take claim for the title of this blog.  Rather, I write to lift up and celebrate the ministry of one of our adult Sunday School Classes.  The Contemporary Forum class of First United Methodist Church in Georgetown, Texas is living the scriptural command of James.  “You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. . . . But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do” (James 1:22-25).

The Contemporary Forum class joined in partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), one of the truly great ministries of the United Methodist Church.  They raised $7,000 (which was then matched by UMCOR) to build a sustainable fresh water well in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

An article on the UMCOR Website reports: “For just 50 people—most of them retired folks on fixed incomes—this goal seemed impossible at first. It would be an “over-and-above commitment,” because most members already tithed. They took two weeks to pray about it. And then, not knowing where the money would come from, they voted almost unanimously to accept the challenge.  Instead of taking a special offering or fund raising through labor-intensive projects, the class decided to spread their giving out over a period of ten months and give through sacrificial disciplines. For example, some members gave the cost of their water bill each month. Some gave the same amount that they spent on bottled water. Others gave a portion of the cost of each meal they ate out.”  (http://www.umcor.org/UMCOR/Resources/News-Stories/2013/July/0725-A-Drop-in-the-Bucket)

In my life I take the blessing of fresh drinking water for granted.  In the lives of the recipients of this gift, those who live in the Congo, such is not always the case.  Jesus reminds us in Matthew 25 that when we have done it for the least of these, “my brothers and sisters,” we have done it to him.  We speak of our mission as “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  This is an example of that mission lived out both in disciple making and transformation.  I give thanks to God for the faithfulness of this class and for my friend and colleague Bishop Joe Wilson (retired) who shares in leadership with them.

By the way, the UMCOR website notes:  “Regular ‘drop in the bucket’ sacrifices have a lot of power. UMCOR’s entire administrative budget comes from One Great Hour of Sharing, and most of its programs are funded by grants and special offerings.” How much more could we do if we followed the Contemporary Forum’s example and gave sacrificially?  “When faith is applied to a need,” Bishop Wilson says, “miracles are always possible.”  You can support UMCOR’s Water and Sanitation projects with a donation to Advance #3020600, and you can also support UMCOR Health ministry and programs through Advance #3020622. If you’re interested in setting up a regular donation, email umcor@umcor.org or call 1-800-554-8583.