How can the church minister to a broken world increasingly indifferent or even hostile to faith? Recognizing that new realities require new approaches the North Carolina Conference has embraced a new plan for organization of Connectional Ministries.
A January 19th Ministry Summit involving The Conference Connectional Table, Board of Ordained Ministry, Conference Council on Finance and Administration and Ministry Cabinet heard a compelling case for needed change:
- Lay members consistently say they feel ill-equipped for the challenge of making disciples in a culture that is skeptical of the institutional church and faith perspectives.
- Congregations have not addressed fully their health, in terms of their strength and witness in the community.
- Budgetary concerns caused by a decline in average worship attendance, a decrease in committed givers and tithers, especially among younger members, and increased investments in clergy care and retiree benefits.
- Conference staff and leadership have not developed adequate structures or strategies to equip people for 21st century ministry.
The new Connectional Ministries reorganization involves a realignment of staff so as to provide new approaches to equipping leaders and empowering congregations to make and grow disciples of Jesus Christ. Search teams are seeking persons with spiritual gifts and skill sets that include hospitality, prophetic voice, mercy, creativity, biblical knowledge and dedication to spiritual practices that produce vital faith. Persons chosen for the new positions will work together as a team to develop models for equipping and empowering leaders of churches. New staff may be in place by July 1, 2010. Transition plans will cover operations while new staff is acclimated and can offer details about their ministry area.
Bishop Al Gwinn announced that planting new churches is a high priority and named the Rev. Jeff Severt for the conference office of New Faith Communities. Revitalization of existing churches, also a focus of the UMC, is now delegated to the office of Connectional Ministries. The work of transforming existing congregations requires sustained effort over a longer period of time than is required for programming and will dictate better relationships with congregations along with changes resulting from development of teams in the local church and the district.
Connectional Ministries staff realignments will be implemented in accordance with the restructuring of the Conference Connectional Table approved by the Annual Conference in 2008. The staffing of committees and teams follows the plan for the Connectional Table. For example, all groups relating to the Committee on Education and Nurture will relate to the Christian Formation team and now to the Christian Formation coordinator. Conference youth events for this year will go on as scheduled with the help of leaders named for this transition period. Events for 2011 also will be planned and implemented with the new staff leadership.
God-sized dreams for United Methodists include:
- Reversing the decline of youth and young adult participation in the life of the church
- Increasing the numbers of believers deployed for mission in the community and the world.
- Providing a path for Christian formation that includes opportunities of Conference programming, local mentoring and agencies beyond the church.
The new approaches being implemented will require vision, patience, flexibility, intentionality and faith, but if implemented successfully will help the North Carolina Conference transform communities and the culture through “healthy congregations and effective leaders making disciples of Jesus Christ.”