Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #1

One of the absolutely crucial areas of concern for the United Methodist Church is leadership development.  In a real sense, this is always true for any organization (church, business, military, non-profits, etc.) anywhere, at any time.  The Call to Action report (for the 2012 General Conference) which grew out of the Towers-Watson Study commissioned by the Connectional Table lifted up leadership development (and especially developing a new generation of clergy leadership) as second only behind a sustained focus on the local church in importance for the United Methodist Church.  As I have written before (see “Steady in Purpose and Flexible in Strategy”), reforming the clergy development system will dominate our thinking but should never be divorced from the critical application of a new generation of lay leadership.  Without the two together, our efforts will be for naught.  Leadership development must be linked with an intense focus on the local church. At the recent South Central Jurisdictional Conference Bishops’ Week event, we focused intently on this subject.  As a part of our work, in early 2013 “the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary was engaged by the bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction to analyze key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.” The Center collected and studied relevant data for each of the conferences.  Over the next 3 weeks, I will be sharing the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  I will follow with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations. Finding A: Increasing impact of a smaller number of larger churches                        Implications This is not necessarily a negative trend. It often shows greater vitality and growth among some larger churches than in the conference as a whole. However, it does make the conference more vulnerable to any negative trends among this smaller cohort of large churches. These churches have the greatest potential for growth and decline in any one year.                        Recommendations 1. Embrace a large church imperative. We often see an emphasis in one segment of churches as detracting from another segment.  This is not necessarily so.  Currently we have a Healthy Church Initiative that is designed especially for small churches (appropriately called SCI – The Small Church Initiative).  We know one size does not fit all!  Just as we have SCI, we need a LCI – Large Church Initiative.  Such a strategy will involve:
  • Identification of churches with the greatest potential to become larger churches
  • Identification of current larger churches with the greatest vulnerability to decline
  • Specific work with appropriate staffing  as well as evangelism & mission engagement
Targeting special work with congregations over 500 in average worship attendance is a critical way we will help the entire conference move forward in accomplishing our mission.  A part of this strategy recognizes that a younger generation, socialized in larger institutions (schools, shopping, community organizations, etc.) has a marked preference for larger churches.  Done right this emphasis can be a win for everyone and most especially for the advancing Kingdom of God.      

[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report