Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Fruitful Connection, Focused on the Future

A Fruitful Connection, Focused on the Future

(Photo Credit: Mike DuBose, UMNS) 

Greetings from General Conference 2016!

Yesterday in Portland, Oregon the Connectional Table shared a report with the members of General Conference and those streaming around the world celebrating our continued focus on increasing vital congregations across the church through ministries in the Four Areas of Focus. 

We have strategic and achievable goals before us as we look to the next quadrennium…

1. We will develop Principled Christian Leaders through a commitment to recruit, train and engage 3 million difference makers – to transform the world as they put faith into action.

2. In the area of new places for new people, we will form one million new disciples who profess their faith in Jesus Christ.

3. We will follow Christ’s command to be in ministry with the poor, as we commit ourselves to building 400 vibrant, faith-filled communities addressing issues of poverty.

4. And, building on the infrastructure and success of Imagine No Malaria, we will continue our commitment to global health as we commit to reaching one million children around the world with lifesaving health interventions.

We are committed to these Four Areas of Focus because we believe that working collaboratively toward these strategic goals helps us accomplish our call to THEREFORE, GO and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.   We believe we are stronger together when we stay focused on this mission.

This quadrennium, the Connectional Table has focused on building bridges, establishing trust and deepening relationships as we connect strategies that help us achieve this mission.  We remain committed to increasing vital congregations across the United Methodist connection and believe that we can do this best when we take into account the diversity of our worldwide church in our strategies and in the allocation of our resources.

Earlier this quadrennium, twelve annual conferences banded together as Team Vital and met four times over a two-year period to share best practices for increasing congregational vitality.  We are stronger together when we work together across annual conferences. 

The National Ministry Plans funded through World Service are addressing the changing landscape of the mission field in the United States.  The Hispanic/Latino population today in the U.S. is approximately 53 million  (17% of the total population), and is projected to grow to 30% of the total population by the year 2050.  The National Latino Hispanic Plan submitted a budget reflective of their commitment to engage a minimum of 24 annual conferences to develop strategies of church growth across the US, and to create a regional strategy in Central America.  We are stronger together when we know who are neighbors are and how we can best be in ministry with them.

Working with leaders from the Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table and the four program boards, the Vital Congregations and Four Areas of Focus Missional Collaboration Group built trust and established accountability among denominational leadership for the goals set in these Four Areas of Focus this quadrennium.  This group also supported grants to be funded for entrepreneurial and experimental programs to increase congregational vitality. These funds were administered by Discipleship Ministries and distributed to 23 creative ministries.  When we bless creativity in ministry, we build relationships and trust and we are stronger and more focused on the mission.

We are bearing fruit.  And we are focused on moving forward.  Doing this work collaboratively is challenging, but it is also true to who we know ourselves to be as Wesleyan Christians.  We are a connectional church.  We are stronger together.

Here in Portland, our General Conference is busy deliberating on petitions and plans for mission and ministry.  Each of these pieces of legislation have been crafted by the people of The United Methodist Church out of their desire to serve God and fulfill our mission in the world. As we listen to these petitions over the next few days, let us focus our conversations and our hearts on our covenant with Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves through the strength of our connectionalism and the fruits of our ministry together enhanced by our commitment to cultivate, harvest and share God’s abundance. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rev. Dr. Amy Valdez Barker: A reflection on the numbers

Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, PhD.
Executive Secretary
The Connectional Table

Reflection on the numbers

At the end of the previous quadrennium, I was known as the “numbers lady,” in our denomination as I sought to bring attention to the numbers that were being reported across the connection in relation to Vital Congregations.  As a trained researcher, I have always had an affinity for wondering what the numbers were telling us.  I am very clear that the numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they do point to indicators in our cultural and contextual landscapes that we ought to pay attention to as leaders of the church.  Here’s what has caught my eyes as we prepare to bring together the story of our United Methodist Connection. 

We are a growing denomination.  Over the past 10 years, we have had a 24% increase in membership throughout our entire connection.  Africa Central Conference has leapt by 329%, while Northern Europe and Eurasia have lost nearly 30% of their membership.  Each of our regions has a story to tell and while one part is challenged and another part is blessed with growth, we belong to a connection in which all parts of the Body of Christ matter, those experiencing pain in loss and those experiencing pain in growth.  How do we tell this story?

We are in many places around the world.  We have 133 Annual Conferences in four regions of the world.  These annual conferences are led by 66 active bishops, who are supported by countless numbers of laity and clergy offering their gifts as principled Christian leaders who are seeking to help make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

In the USA, the numbers tell an interesting story.  There are 46 bishops leading 57 Annual Conferences in 5 Jurisdictions.  Numerically, 26 of the 57 Annual Conferences (a little more than 45%) paid 100% of their apportionments to the programmatic arm of the denomination. 
By Jurisdiction, here are the percentages of AC who paid 100%:
  • North Central = 54% (6/11)
  • Northeast = 80% (8/10)
  • South Central = 27% (4/15)
  • Southeast = 27% (4/15)
  • Western = 50% (4/8)[1]

Out of the USA Annual Conferences, 44.2% (23) grew their budgets between 2014 and 2015.  55.8% (52) of Annual Conferences reduced their budgets. 
  • 61% of the total worshippers in our UMC in the US also participate in Christian formation opportunities.
  • 48% of the worshippers involved in mission in the UMC in the US are also involved in mission experiences. 
  • 30% of our congregations in Annual Conferences in the US are growing. 

This begins to reflect the quality of discipleship taking place in our UMC.  The hope-filled narrative is that people are growing in their love of God through Christian formation experiences.  This may be related to the generosity we are experiencing in the number of Annual Conferences paying 100% of their apportionments.  48% of the worshipping population in the US is involved in loving their neighbor through mission experiences.  This may also be related to the fact that so many people in our connection are visiting one another in cross-cultural, mission and ministry experiences. Places in Africa are growing by leaps and bounds.  Many Annual Conferences in the African Central Conferences note that they have partnerships with Annual Conferences in US.  These partnerships are signs of our vital connection.  We could learn from our colleagues in Central Conferences about growing in mission and ministry in other contexts around the world.  We are stronger when we work together for the God’s mission through The UMC. 

We can choose to see some of these numbers through the lens of crisis and despair.  We, as a church, can respond with fear and trembling.  Or we can choose to see some of these numbers as glimmers of hope, auras of possibility, and steps in which the Holy Spirit is creating something new in the people called United Methodist for the lost, the broken and the needy in our world today.  We started out the quadrennium with an invitation to consider the Divine imagination[2] leading us in the vision for the work of The UMC.  I am hopeful that this vision will continue to lead us and guide us into General Conference.  How do we unlock and allow for the Holy Spirit to enable “permissionaries on the bleeding edge”[3] of the church to lead us into the mission field?  How do we inspire hope and possibility, rather than allow and contribute to the narrative of fear, crisis and despair?  Robert Schnase offers a starting place:

Permission-giving leaders shift from “How can I change those people to get them to do what I want?” to “What are the changes I’m willing to make to unleash people for ministry?” - Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Missouri Episcopal Area

In such a complex system as our beloved United Methodist Church, we must release one another as permission-giving leaders (permissionaries).  None of us knows the full picture of the complexity of our UM connection.  We may get glimpses of it from our own cultural, contextual lens in which we operate, but we will never be able to fully conceive all the people, the places, the relationships that must take place for a vital connection to work for the mission of making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  This is hard work!  So, let us trust God to unleash the work of the Holy Spirit in places and spaces where creativity and wonder can grow!  The Divine imagination of innovation is a wonderful image for the 21st Century Church in our 21st Century Mission field!!

[1] Statistical data courtesy of GCFA Research and Statistics department
[2] Vision offered by Bishop Bruce Ough at the first CT meeting of the 2013-2016 Quadrennium.
[3] Term coined by Mark DeVries and Kenda Creasy Dean from Ministry Incubators.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Connectional Table and Restructuring Proposals

On January 22, 2016 during the Pre-General Conference briefing held in Portland, Oregon for delegates to the upcoming 2016 General Conference, panelists discussed multiple plans being offered to restructure The United Methodist Church.  Panelist and Connectional Table (CT) member Fred Brewington explained the CT's stance on such proposals by reading from a document issued by the Connectional Table that states:

"The Connectional Table neither adopts not endorses any of the current restructuring proposals beyond the process proposal being submitted by the CT.  However, as a part of its mandate, the CT recommends the following principles to assist the church as it discusses, approaches, engages, and makes decisions on matters relating to our future structure, organization, relationships, and processes:

  • do no harm, do all the good we can, and stay in love with God
  • do not act in haste and allow God to order our steps
  • welcome the movement of the Holy Spirit and be open to new revelations
  • engage in meaningful discernment with active listening
  • respect our differences and embrace our unity in Christ
  • be intentionally inclusive of all God's people
  • be mindful of the impact processes have on God's people
  • be willing to reposition the prism through which we view the world
  • engage in radical openness to foster genuin dialogue and cooperation."
To help United Methodists engage conversations about restructuring the denomination, the CT has submitted two non-disciplinary petitions to establish processes inviting jurisdictional and central conference members to: 1) consider how churches in the United States make decisions that only pertain to churches in the US; and 2) discern the needed functions and structure of a council that would serve the worldwide church.  These conversations are in continued response to the report of the Worldwide Nature Study committee to the 2012 General Conference and will supplement the work that the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters is doing on the General Book of Discipline to clarify our identity as a worldwide connection.  The Jurisdictional Process is Petition #60816 and the General Church Council Proposal is Petition #60815.  The English translation of the ADCA is now available online. 

The Executive Committee of The Connectional Table believes these processes will bring the best thinking to the table as we move toward more fully living into what it means to be a worldwide church.