When I came to the North Alabama Conference three years ago, I knew that I was coming to one of the leading Conferences in United Methodism. I did not then know what I do now — we are leading the church in some vital areas of renewal. The Cabinet and I read Jim Collins’ Good to Great as part of our work. While our Conference has a number of areas of ministry that need much work and attention from us, I’m pleased to report that we have more areas where it can be said we are moving “from Good to Great.” I think of the following areas where we are doing some great work:
1. New Communities of Faith: Dick Freeman was already leading us in ground-breaking work in planting new churches. Now we lead the United Methodist Church in this effort. 33 new congregations planted in the last decade, 25 more new congregations in the works, including congregations in some of the more neglected areas in our cities.
2. Natural Church Development: We now have a tested, proven program for revitalization of churches, particularly our small, rural, older congregations. Led by Dale Cohen, we now have 80 congregations in process with Natural Church Development and dozens more on the way. The results of this effort among our congregations are amazing.
3. Superannuate Homes: We have long had the leading program for retired clergy housing in the nation — 133 homes for our honored retired clergy and spouses. This year we begin, under Don Neal’s leadership, the Retired Clergy Network to keep our retired clergy connected, supported, and in ministry with us.
4. The Methodist Foundation: Charlie Carlton has created an amazing resource for stewardship with current managed assets of over 35.8 million. This year the Foundation has brought Rick Owen into its capable staff to work with congregations and pastors on financial management, stewardship, and fund raising for mission. The Foundation is one of our great success stories in North Alabama.
5. New Disciples: This past year we made over 3000 new Christians! That’s our highest number in recent years. Our emphasis on Sunday attendance, on reaching out to the unchurched, and making our churches more hospitable to visitors is reaping this wonderful result. Our growth in discipleship is one reason that (while we have much progress to make in our giving record) we raised more money for mission and benevolences than in any year past!
6. Institute of Clergy Excellence: Larry Dill led us to secure two million in grants from the Lilly Endowment. This has enabled us to continue and greatly expand our model program for clergy continuing education — ICE. Building on the long tradition of creative clergy growth and development that was begun by grants from the Dixon Family some years ago, ICE has quickly become a nationally recognized model for clergy education.
7. Residency in Ministry: The Board of Ordained Ministry has spent the last year devising a remarkable pilot program for new clergy recruitment and development. The program will be led by Amelia Sims. Now our three year probationary program will provide our newest clergy with an extensive, demanding, and full plan of mentoring, monitoring, and development. Already numerous Conferences are inquiring into the possibility of enacting the Residency in Ministry in their Conferences. Once again, we are leading the way.
8. Mission: Paulette West continues the great tradition of mission in North Alabama. She trains and sends dozens of Volunteer in Mission teams each year. Our Disaster Response Team, led by James Hassell has become a national model. Our Conference-wide support for mission through the United Methodist Women and our local churches is amazing. Each year dozens of our churches join our missionaries in the field in their work. Thomas Muhomba, whose family was brought to Christ in Zimbabwe by North Alabama Conference missionary, Mildred Taylor, now leads us in our newest mission field — North Alabama!
At this year’s Annual Conference, amid all the work that we have yet to do, let’s celebrate all the amazing things that God is doing among us, making our Conference a gift of God to the people of the world. In Christ’s name, we are moving from Good to Great!