Congregational transformation changes name, focus

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Congregational transformation changes name, focus

By Jenna De Marco | March 31, 2010 {1157}

NOTE: Headshots used in this story are available at

After nearly 15 months of study and discussions, the Florida Conference is revamping its structure and the way it carries out its ministries. The conference’s Office of Congregational Transformation is undergoing changes of its own as part of that process.

The first is a name change. The ministry is now Center for Congregational Excellence to better reflect its role in supporting the well-being of all local churches, said the Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of the department.

Rather than communicating a message of remediation, Stiggins says, the new name underscores the department’s goal of helping all churches increase their “missional health.”

The department’s staff will also now emphasize four key areas of ministry — helping local churches develop authentic disciples, empowering “kingdom leaders” in congregations, cultivating effective congregations and building excellent administrations at local churches, Stiggins said.

“We’re broadening the ways we’re going to work in the future,” he said.

Training adapted to district needs

The team’s responsibilities will be tailored to fit specific district needs, Stiggins said, resulting in a “significant shift” in operating procedures. A more customized approach to congregational excellence is required, he said, because of the diversity across the conference’s nine districts.
The strategy is designed to provide programming that matches the needs of churches, as well as helping in overall cost control.

“It will be a partnership with the districts in terms of planning, promotion and providing the training,” Stiggins said. “We’ll be able to involve effective pastors and lay leaders in what we do even more than we’ve done (previously).”

Along with modifying the programming to meet unique district needs, staff will also specialize by working with two to three districts each. The Rev. Dr. Phil Maynard, Rev. Harold Lewis and Rev. Dr. Juan Feliciano will join Stiggins in what is being called “district deployment.”

“The main goal is for conference staff to be able to give better service to districts and local churches,” Stiggins said. “If each of us is trying to cover the whole state, it means we are working a mile wide and an inch deep. By narrowing our focus, we hope to be more available in districts and better able to give support as needed.”   
Maynard will work with the Atlantic Central, South West and North East districts; Lewis with North Central and North West; Stiggins with East Central, South Central and Gulf Coast; and Feliciano with South East.

Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins

“The big thing is that we’re hoping for a closer connection with the district and local churches, with more opportunities to serve more directly,” Maynard said.

Maynard says he has already been able to do this in the Atlantic Central District by offering input in a meeting with the district congregational excellence team and in connecting in a coaching relationship there.

The staff determined their district assignments based on existing roles, professional relationships and home residences, Stiggins said. The arrangement will likely be in place for about a year, and then some adjustments may occur.

Rev. Dr. Phil Maynard

“It just makes sense in the future that we not only deploy staff more locally to really help districts, but also to partner with the districts and really do our partnering out of that relationship (with the district) as we work together toward congregational excellence,” Stiggins said.

Within their districts, Stiggins said, staff will attend district congregational excellence meetings, build relationships with district superintendents and key district leaders, learn the major issues and concerns of the congregations, offer specialized training as needed, and be available at least two days a month for work with specific congregations.

Staff will also continue working on previously set global duties: Stiggins serving as a member of the Florida Conference Cabinet, Maynard training facilitators and coaches, Feliciano assisting Hispanic churches and Lewis working with black congregations.

Rev. Harold Lewis

New ‘networks’ begin

A related initiative is “New Realities Networks” — another expression of the closer relationships planned between Congregational Excellence and local churches.

The goal of New Realities is to “help congregations become healthier and more effective in their missions to the local communities,” Maynard said. This optional process takes place across 12 to 18 months by connecting pastors and lay leaders from five or six churches with one another for training and development.

Rev. Dr. Juan Feliciano

The pastors will meet periodically for peer group learning on ministry skills, leadership development and character formation. Congregational Excellence staff will lead the meetings in their districts. The cooperative learning environment, Maynard said, is an effective way to help pastors.

“There are very few opportunities where pastors have a safe setting to share their concerns and acknowledge struggles and receive encouragement from other pastors,” he said.

Interested lay leaders will also receive training and development through the program with an emphasis on the church’s “best next steps” and “short-term wins,” to help the congregation realize positive changes quickly, Maynard said.

Other emphases include the discipleship process and workshops on discovery, missional values, missional impact and conflict.

“Lots of churches do discipleship classes, but that’s not the same thing as a discipleship process,” Maynard said.

Many churches cited these issues, as well as leadership development, among their greatest training needs, Maynard said. Trained coaches are provided through Congregational Excellence. Information about the coaches is available at

The first network will begin in May in the North East District, followed by networks scheduled in the Southwest, South Central and North Central districts. More information is available by contacting Maynard at

Related story

Florida Conference begins restructure

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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