I’ve been at the Council of Bishops in Panama this past week. At our meeting we heard the final report of the Call to Action Project, an assessment of widespread structural, governance, financial, and leadership issues that must be addressed in order for the United Methodist Church to be effective in its mission.
When I first read the full report, my reaction was “This is obvious. We’ve been doing most of this in North Alabama for the last four years.” But upon reconsideration, I realized that it is important for our church to rally around the obvious work that we need to do and get on with that work now. I also realized that the North Alabama Conference’s work has had far reaching implications in the General Church.
Our Conference leadership decided, a half dozen years before the CTA Steering Committee, that “as a Church we have pursued self-interests and allowed institutional inertia to bind us in ways that constrain our witness and dilute our mission.” Through our Priorities, radical changes in budgeting, transformation of Connectional Ministries, the weekly Dashboard, reorganization of the Districts and the Cabinet, and the augmented process of consultation, evaluation, and accountability related to pastoral appointments we have been busy taking specific measures to address the obvious need for change. We are much better focusing our energies upon solving the issues that the CTA cites: decades of membership and attendance decline, decline in baptisms and professions of faith, less ministry fruitfulness, an aging demographic of members and leaders, and financial stress. We have also been enacting what the CTA says our whole church must do: “fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
All of the congregations of the North Alabama Conference should be gratified that our innovative leadership is being noted and followed by the rest of the Connection. I see the CTA report as not only giving the Council of Bishops a much needed agenda but also as confirmation, by the General Church, that our Conference leadership is indeed leading us in the right direction.
Below are some of the highlights of the CTA report. Note how well these emphases align with our North Alabama Conference Priorities:
Key Drivers of Congregational Vitality include:
- Effective pastoral leadership including management, visioning, & inspiration
- Multiple small groups (study, fellowship, and service) and programs for children and youth
- A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services
- High percentage of spiritually engaged laity who assume leadership roles
*Approximately 15% of the 32,228 U.S. churches scored high in vitality based on the vitality index established by the study.
“Leaders, from bishops, clergy, and laity across the connection, must lead and immediately, repeatedly, and energetically make it plain that our current culture and practices are resulting in overall decline that is toxic and constricts our missional effectiveness”, according to the committee findings.
The CTA Steering Committee will present a set of five interdependent initiatives.
- Starting in January 2011 and continuing for ten years, use the drivers of congregational vitality as initial areas of attention for sustained and intense concentration on building effective practices in local churches.
- Dramatically reform the clergy leadership, development, deployment, evaluation, and accountability systems.
- Collect, report and review, and act on statistics that measure progress in key performance areas in order to learn and adjust approaches to leadership, policies, and use of human and financial resources.
- Reform the Council of Bishops, with the active bishops assuming a) responsibility and public accountability for improving results in attendance, professions of faith, baptisms, participation in servant/mission ministries, benevolent giving, and lowering average age of participants in local church life, and b) establishing a new culture of accountability throughout the church.
Consolidate program and administrative agencies, align their work and resources with the priorities of the UMC and the decade-long commitment to build vital congregations, and reconstitute them with much smaller competency-based boards of directors in order to overcome current diffusive, redundant, expensive, and independent structures.