Annual Conference to vote on a proposal to reduce Conference expenses, staff and empower the local church
By Lindsay Peyton and Shannon W. Martin
According to the listening sessions from delegates from the Texas Annual Conference, laity and clergy are interested in two priorities for the Strategic Mapping Team proposal: 1. Reducing Conference expenses, and 2. Decentralization or shifting the focus from generating Conference programs to equipping District and local churches to do those ministries. The Strategic Mapping Team heard those requests loud and clear and has created a proposal to be voted on during the August session of the Texas Annual Conference.
The primary points of the Strategic Mapping proposal include:
1. Reducing Conference expenses between $4 to $5 million over the next three years
2. Reducing TAC staff and consolidating committees; and
3. Strengthening the ability of Districts to empower and serve local churches.
History of the Proposal
In 2019, after a year of study and listening, the Strategic Mapping Team drafted a proposal suggesting how our Conference might become more efficient and effective, with streamlined operations and simplified communications.
The Team unveiled its initial recommendations during nine District “Listening Sessions” in the Fall of 2019. Participants were asked to envision how the Conference could become stronger and more connected in the next 20 years. An online survey was also distributed to members.
Bruse said that more than about 700 people participated in person and more than 300 responded to the survey. “And that was just the tip of the iceberg,” she added.
More listening and adjusting continued to take place, with the district superintendents, clergy, laity, interest groups and leaders on all levels. “It wasn’t just once either,” Bruse said. “We met over and over.”
The Team also traveled throughout the Conference. The group’s members themselves represent all areas of the TAC – and wanted to ensure that all voices were heard. A scribe at each session recorded participants’ insights and suggestions.
Members consistently wanted to decentralize, emphasize the local church more and reduce Conference expenses. Some recommendations exactly matched the Team’s initial proposal. New ideas were also raised and considered. All of the feedback was essential to the effort.
The Strategic Mapping Team reviewed hundreds of pages from the listening sessions and survey, when the group reconvened last fall. They then broke into sub-groups to finalize the details last November and December.
“We worked through the holidays,” Bruse said. “People wanted more information on how this would work, which committees would be affected. They wanted all of the details.”
Final Proposal Now Ready
By the beginning of 2020, the Strategic Mapping Team was drafting their final proposal. “It was due by the end of February, so we edited and rewrote,” she said. “By the time social distancing started, we had already completed the plan. The pre-conference journal deadline forced us to kick into overdrive.”
While the strategy was ready to go before the team was separated by shelter-in-place recommendations, the Annual Conference itself had to be postponed until August. Now, the team is eager to share its recommendations.
Bruse said a synopsis will be published in the pre-conference journal. A link to the complete proposal will be sent to delegates along with the pre-conference journal, and then presented at the pre-conference and Annual Conference meetings.
“Because the world has changed, we need to disciple differently. Our goals are the same, but the way we lead needs to be different. We need to flip some things upside down, listen to the local church and equip them to make disciples. No more top down, telling the churches what they need,” Bruse said.
The good news, she added, is that in taking these steps forward, the budget can also be balanced.
Still, Bruse understands that change is difficult. “You get into a pattern of doing ministry,” she said. “Big institutions were once more valued and respected. Bigger was better, but that’s no longer the case. People want local.”
The Conference’s overriding mission of equipping congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world will not be part of the change, Bruse explained.
To achieve this transformation, however, the Conference must be more efficient and equip local churches in the best ways possible.
“We’ve carefully thought about a plan that will help us achieve our goals,” Bruse said. “We believe it will be a better way forward.”
At the same time, Bruse said that there are so many external forces that can feel overwhelming – the future of the church and the effects of the pandemic.
“With Christ, we can do this,” she said. “With Christ, we can do all things. We need to not lose our courage and continue to adapt and more forward.”
Team member Rev. Elizabeth Duffin agreed that the coronavirus shows how important it is for the TAC to be structured and prepared during uncertain times.
“The current situation of the world with the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important it is to organize our system in a way that maximizes our stewardship,” she said. “The document in front of the Annual Conference is our best effort to maximize our resources for an unknown future.”
Royce Hickman, also a team member, said that the United Methodist Church is facing uncertainty as well.
“We need to be positioned to function successfully,” he said “We believe the church will be positioned in a stronger way.”
The plan is gradual, he added. “It’s not a light switch,” he said. “It’s over the course of the next three years. We envision this happening step-by-step.”
The focus on the United Methodist Church will be preserved, Hickman explained. The question he asks is “Are we still structured to go about it in the best way?”
The Strategic Mapping Team’s proposals accomplish exactly that – equipping the local churches with resources to continue their work.
“We’ve positioned the church to win those battles, to let us continue to make disciples who can then make more disciples for the transformation of the world,” Hickman said. “We’re called to do God’s work, and we’ve got to make sure we’re prepared to do that.”
Rev. Carol Bruse joined the strategic mapping team about a year ago, after moving from her post as senior pastor at West University UMC, Houston. She will become Conference Treasurer, Director of Connectional Resources, when Dr. Elijah Stansell is appointed as Central South District Superintendent in July 2020.
Team members include Rev. Elizabeth Duffin, John Esquivel, Stephanie Griffin, Dr. Vincent Harris, Royce Hickman, Rev. Karen Jones, Bishop Scott J. Jones, Rev. Romonica Malone-Wardley, Dr. Elijah Stansell, Rev. Matt Stone, Rev. Kate Walker, Rev. Tommy Williams and Rev. B.T. Williamson.
This team was elected to the strategic mapping team during Texas Annual Conference meetings in May 2018. Their mission was to discover best practices and find ways to be better stewards of both finances and time. At the same time, they had to be flexible enough to respond to outside factors in a changing world.