In 2012-2013, the Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) moved more deeply into its stated purpose around the alignment of the Conference vision and resources. This work takes place within our particular context and history, and is done with trust and confidence in the power of God and in the awareness of many gifts and strengths within our annual conference. Our work to date can be summarized in three areas: assessing the present reality; moving toward the alignment of resources; and action through seven significant next steps. (See also the SLT interim report for some foundational details.)
Assessing the Present Reality
Strategic intervention is not possible without attention to who we are as an annual conference. The following indicators are helpful in understanding our current reality as United Methodists in Florida:
- Over the last ten years (2002-2012), the membership of the Florida Conference decreased by 19%, and worship attendance declined by 15%. This is the fastest decline of any annual conference in the southeast jurisdiction.
- Over that same period, the number of churches and missions decreased 9% (from 737 to 678). This year, at the 2013 Annual Conference, we will have 670 churches and missions.
- Over the period of 2002-2012, we experienced a decrease of 73 elders (397 to 324).
- 50 of our local churches, over the past ten years, have experienced some form of public scandal or misconduct by clergy or laity, and we have experienced financial embezzlement at every level: local church, district, and annual conference.
Of course, these metrics are not the only important ones, or even the most important ones. They do however, begin to portray the present health and strength of our annual conference, and provide a rationale for strategic reflection.
A number of other factors also contribute to our present reality: the slowing of the migration of United Methodists in retirement from the Midwest and the Northeast, the aging of United Methodism and our state’s population, and a broader decline in worship attendance and church participation in all churches in the United States over the same ten year period (to read more about the broader decline in church attendance, see “Christianity after Religion” (Diana Butler) and “You Lost Me” (David Kinnaman).
At the same time, we also acknowledge external challenges that have shaped the strength of our mission during these years: hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 that damaged more than half of the local churches in our annual conference, and the economic collapse in the fall of 2008 that affected real estate markets and greatly diminished personal wealth and property values.
Movement toward the Alignment of Resources
In a time of significant change, institutions are called to clarify why they exist, and then determine how resources can be effectively used to fulfill their purpose. The first movement in the process of our alignment has been a shift of energy and resources to the local church as communicated by the Call to Action (General Conference, 2012). Local churches are planted in communities where diversity is present, and we acknowledge that first and foremost local churches exist for the purpose of making disciples for the transformation of the world.
This renewal of focus on the local church within our annual conference will require that we leverage the strengths and innovation of teaching churches. The Florida Conference is blessed with a number of the largest and most innovative congregations in our connection, and our work in the coming years will be to align these strengths with other local churches who wish to move toward health and vitality.
Given our missional calling and economic context, the apportionments funding by local churches will be communicated with greater clarity and transparency in the coming years. This will change the ways in which districts and the conference relate to each other, and will be for the purpose of building upon the excellent work done in previous years in the area of financial stewardship and management.
Our staffing, at the level of the annual conference, will need to be determined by the needs of the local churches and districts. At the same time, we will continue to staff and fund, at the conference level, those ministries that we do “better together”. The Florida Conference is blessed by a few significant connectional ministries and institutions that are both effective and transformative. This list would include but is not limited to our camping ministries, our children’s home, and our campus ministries.
We also see the need to make significant interventions in our ministries with young adults. This will occur through the use of technology and social media, in systems of one on one mentoring and reverse mentoring across generations through the Board of Lay Leadership, and in intentional leadership development with particular groups (for example, younger clergy of color) and in specific interests (missional leadership).
Seven Significant Next Steps Forward
The fruit of the Strategic Leadership Team, established in the last quadrennium, can be seen in the following next steps.
- Embracing the role of the District Superintendent as the “chief missional strategist” (Discipline, 419). We will begin to see each district as a distinct “mission-field”; this is especially resonant with the Florida Conference context, as our districts are widely divergent in culture, population and connectional strength. Each district will be given greater flexibility in terms of committee structure.
- The creation of a Conference Resource Team, convened by the Director of Connectional Ministries, for the purpose of integrating the work of the previous “centers” in congregational excellence, new church development and clergy excellence with missional engagement and communications.
- A reduction of conference staffing in the areas of New Church Development and Congregational Excellence, the creation of a holistic office of Congregational Vitality that combines and enhances the two previous “centers” of Congregational Excellence and New Church Development, a shifting of a portion of this strategic work to the District Superintendent, and a collaboration with the Office of Missional Engagement.
- The development of a newly formed Office of Missional Engagement to address the complexity of our dynamic mission context, and to deepen multicultural and justice ministries.
- A shifting of some administrative and financial functions from the district to the annual conference. This will lead to greater consistency across districts in professional functioning, and will allow the District Superintendent to devote greater attention to missional strategy.
- Maintaining the distinction between the Strategic Leadership Team, which is a smaller group that is advisory to the Bishop and focuses on strategic thinking and leadership development, and the re-established Conference Table (a representative group that will take the place of the previous Key Leader Connection), which is a broader conversation related to our connection and diversity across the Annual Conference.
- The Annual Conference Meeting, which is streamlined to approximately forty-eight hours at present will focus on “Becoming Disciples of Jesus Christ” in 2013, and will include two new components: diverse testimonies from United Methodists across the conference about how they are becoming disciples of Jesus Christ (click here to learn more); and two small group experiences where laity and clergy together will experience discipleship as a means of God’s grace.
As a Strategic Leadership Team, we take seriously the need to: continue honest assessment of our present reality (both the positive and the negative), the urgency to align our resources and strengths with the mission God has given us, and the authorization to make decisions that will help us, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill our mission: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” (Discipline, 120)