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Florida Conference leaders take center stage at national gathering of church developers

Florida Conference leaders take center stage at national gathering of church developers

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida Conference leaders take center stage at national gathering of church developers

Feb. 11, 2005    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0247}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker will have a full plate when he addresses the United Methodist National Church Developers Network during the group's annual meeting in San Antonio later this month.

Whitaker has the hefty topic of "The United Methodist Church in Perspective." He plans to highlight what's happening in the conference because of its significance to the entire body of the church.

"What we are attempting to do in Florida is relevant to other annual conferences. We are trying to do ... what we think the whole church needs to be doing," he said. "There are other conferences that are experimenting in the same areas we are experimenting, so it's very important for annual conferences to learn from one another."

Whitaker plans to share the conference's redistricting efforts, outlined in the Florida Conference Cabinet's "Connecting for Transformation" proposal, which was approved by delegates at the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event. The proposal and subsequent passage reduce the conference's districts from 14 to nine, encourage churches to be part of a cluster group of churches within their district, and change the responsibilities of district superintendents. The new districts and reorganization will take effect this July.

Whitaker said those steps are a matter of theological rationale, not just organization and strategy. He said they are based on trying to be the church God requires, according to the witness of scripture.

Whitaker will also speak about the United Methodist Council of Bishops' role in church development.

"I believe that, beginning in this quadrennium, the Council of Bishops will attempt to exercise more temporal oversight and leadership of the church than it has in the past," Whitaker said. "The kind of leadership we need from the Council of Bishops is directly related to the issue of congregational development. We need the bishops to help us develop a vision of how we can move forward as the whole church, including how we can develop the congregations of our Christian communion."

Whitaker said bishops can begin by articulating their vision and expectation for congregational transformation and new church development in their areas. He said the people key to those initiatives are the congregational developers.

Whitaker said the Revs. Mont Duncan and Kendall Taylor, directors of New Church Development and the Office of Congregational Transformation (OCT), respectively, fill that role in Florida, working with elected lay and clergy to develop and oversee strategies for the conference.

"We need to be together and share the same passion and the same vision and agree about the strategies that we are using," he said.

Whitaker said he will also discuss the conference's Healthy Church Academy (HCA), which kicks off later this month with its first courses. HCA will provide tools for new church development and congregational transformation and lifelong training for clergy and laity in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Duncan and Taylor will join Whitaker in addressing the church developers.

Duncan said he will share the methods the conference is using to start new faith communities, highlighting the conference's shift in strategy. He said the conference now favors mother/daughter and multi-site starts over the previous "parachute drops" method, or placing a pastor in a new community and beginning a church from scratch. When pastors launched a church previously they didn't have support from a neighboring church or group ready to assist in beginning a new church.

Duncan said that approach is the most difficult and expensive and has gradually been discontinued during the past two years in favor of the preferred multi-site and mother/daughter methods. They involve using a strong, healthy church to give birth to, or reproduce itself into, another congregation. In multi-site settings, the original church can minister to unchurched people in different areas, becoming one church in many locations. The expectation is the additional site will strengthen the ministry of the main campus, rather than becoming its own church, Duncan said.

Taylor will focus on the conference's efforts in helping congregations transform using the Natural Church Development (NCD) process, as well as the district reorganization and the creation of district committees on congregational transformation and their responsibilities in cultivating local churches in moving forward.

OCT was established during the 2002 Florida Annual Conference Event to expand on the conference's former Operation Evangelization Ministry. Its goal is to breathe new life into maintaining and dying churches using the NCD revitalization process. NCD helps churches gauge their health through a 91-question survey that reveals the churches' strengths and weaknesses. In 2003 delegates to the Florida Annual Conference Event approved classifying churches using five categories: beginning, transforming, reproducing, maintaining and dying.

Taylor said he will spend the majority of his time explaining the conference's clusters and their role in supporting transformation in local churches, adding he's looking forward to the event.

"It is a networking time," he said. "You meet people who are struggling with the same struggles you are struggling with. It is a good time for conversation and relationship building. It's a learning time and a time to get yourself pumped up."


This article relates to New Church Development and Congregational Transformation.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.