In the face of the “adaptive challenge” facing The United Methodist Church, what are the overall recommendations of the Council of Bishops’ Call to Action report? There were five key recommendations that over time are expected to bring about nothing less than a denominational extreme makeover.
1. “For a minimum of ten years use the drivers of Vital Congregations as initial areas of attention . . . for building effective practices in local churches.”
We will look at these in greater detail in the next two posts, but in overview, the Towers Watson study identified 16 vitality drivers distinguishing the 25% most vital congregations from the least vital congregations. They fell into four areas: small groups & programs, lay leadership, pastors and worship services. For a video summary of the vitality drivers see: http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.7546249/k.D602/Vital_Church__Call_to_Action.htm
2. “Dramatically reform the clergy leadership development, deployment, evaluation, and accountability systems.”
3. “Collect, report, review, and act on statistical information that measures progress in key performance areas to learn and adjust our approaches to leadership, policies and the use of human and financial resources . . .”
In other words, measure our performance and adjust what we are doing in order to improve our effectiveness. Our upcoming Charge Conference goal setting exercise is a direct response to this key recommendation. If you think about it, it only makes sense that we would make clear our missional targets and measure how we are doing at hitting them in order to improve our aim.
4. “Reform the Council of Bishops, with the active bishops assuming
(1) responsibility and public accountability for improving results in attendance, professions of faith, baptisms, participation in servant/mission ministries, benevolent giving, and lowering the average age of participants in local church life; and (2) establishing a new culture of accountability throughout the church.”
5. “Consolidate program and administrative agencies, align their work and resources with the priorities of the Church and the decade-long commitment to building vital congregations . . .”
These recommendations together suggest that any system is perfectly designed to get what it gets. If the output of our current denominational system is a forty year decline in the number of congregation (80% in 2009 of what we had in 1968), attendance (78%), membership (71%), professions of faith (57%) and the number of children and youth (44% the number we had in 1968) then clearly our current system is perfectly designed to deliver missionally declining results.
Our missional fruitfulness will only improve when there are significant adaptations at all levels of our system which focus upon and favor developing and sustaining vital congregations. This will only occur as we are honest with one another about how we are inhibiting ourselves from fulfilling Christ’s mission more effectively.
All of this is hard to wrap one’s mind around. In the next two posts, I’d like to share some of the very practical drivers of vitality confirmed in the Towers Watson report regarding lay and clergy leadership.
As we close, I’d like to ask you to join me in praying for those who are trying to improve the fruitfulness of our ministries, from local lay and clergy leaders to district superintendents and conference staff, from general agency staff to general conference delegates. The resistance of any system to transformation is not to be underestimated. Cardiologists tell us that 50% to 80% of those who have heart attacks and are advised to make lifestyle changes to avoid future problems fail to follow their doctors’ recommendations even though their life is at stake. What is at stake for The United Methodist church is not only its survival. More than that, what’s at stake is whether we will fulfill the ministries to which Christ calls us: making disciples who bless others in Jesus’ name.
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence