Strategic Mapping Team Update

Date Posted: 1/9/2020

By Lindsay Peyton
One of the first steps to being the best steward possible for Texas Annual Conference resources is listening to what members have to say. That’s why the Strategic Mapping Team has made receiving feedback a top priority. The results are now in from both last fall’s listening sessions and an online survey. The next steps are synthesizing the vision, approving and incorporating new ideas and charting a plan for action – all in an effort to ensure the Conference can better accomplish its mission.
Lay leader John Esquivel explained that members of the Strategic Mapping Team were elected during Texas Annual Conference meetings in May 2018. “We were due for a strategic review,” he said. “It’s important to refresh your strategy. A strategy is only as good as the environment in which it was created.”
As the world changes, as outside factors pressure interior structures, re-examining the status quo becomes prudent, Esquivel added.
“As good stewards, it’s incumbent on us to ask, are we effectively and efficiently using the resources entrusted to us? And resources include finances, as well as human time and energy,” he explained.
Rev. Dr. Tommy Williams, senior pastor at Trinity UMC Beaumont, is also a member of the team. “It’s always good to evaluate and reevaluate your structure,” he said. “And you have to look at realities, financial and otherwise. It’s good to have your feet firmly planted in reality, and it’s good to live in truth.”
The Strategic Mapping Team was charged with studying the structure and financial systems in place – and the group convened to make recommendations to the Annual Conference in May 2019. At that time, delegates voted to continue the work until the Annual Conference in 2020.
The Strategic Mapping Team created proposals to become more efficient and effective, to streamline operations and simplify communication and to decentralize mission and ministry. A key part of the goal was reducing spending in the Conference over a three-year period.
The group’s members represent all areas of the Conference - -and a wide range of experience, Williams said. “The team itself are people who have been in the Conference for a long time,” he added. “They’ve also served and lived all over the Conference.
After creating its initial proposal, the Strategic Mapping Team scheduled nine District “Listening Sessions,” which took place in September and October 2019. Participants were asked to envision how the Conference could become stronger and more connected in the next 20 years.
Members of the Strategic Mapping Team also attended the Listening Sessions. Esquivel, who went to two sessions, said, “I was pleasantly surprised at both the number and the level of participation, the engagement at the table.”
About 780 clergy and lay members of Texas Annual Conference churches participated in the “Table Talks with Bishop Jones and the Strategic Mapping Team.” More than 300 responded to the online survey.
Spending time learning the desires and concerns in the Conference has been important, Williams explained.
“It’s a true listening project,” he said. “We’re trying to get closer to the place where local church ministry happens – and preserve the essential things that keep us glued together as a Conference.”
Rev. Kate Walker of Deer Park UMC, also a member of the Strategic Mapping Team, said a scribe at each table recorded participants’ insights during the listening sessions.
“It was a good, open-ended, tell us your thoughts event,” she said. “We spent time going through their responses the last couple of months.”
Some of the suggestions mirrored those already in the team’s proposals, while others offered completely new ideas. Walker explained that region also affected some of the recommendations.
The feedback will become essential as the Strategic Mapping Team moves forward, Esquivel explained. “The answer isn’t there in the back of the book,” he said. “We’re there to listen and understand.”
Instead, conclusions will be reached together, with a number of voices weighing in.
“We’re trying to make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak,” Walker added. “And we’re trying to do our best to reach as many as possible.”
She compared what the Strategic Mapping Team is developing to a chassis for a vehicle, a frame that forms the underpart of a car, on which the body is mounted.
“The chassis is important,” Walker said. “And the details that go into it are important. A Lincoln SUV and a Ford Explorer might have the same chassis, but they’re very different cars.”
The Strategic Mapping Team reviewed hundreds of pages of helpful feedback, when the group reconvened on October 30. They found that a number of participants were favored decentralization of Conference ministries. Still, they reported needing additional details in order to make an informed decision.
The team broke into sub-groups to hammer out the details and calculate steps to enhance savings for the Conference.  
“We listen and try to shape something based on what we heard,” Esquivel said. “Then we go out and listen some more and then mold more. It’s not a done deal. Each step of the process is based on listening and learning and further study. The process is as important as the product.”
The Strategic Mapping Team met again on Jan. 7 to continue its work. Williams said that members of the group are available to answer questions from the Conference.
Walker recommends that individuals interested in continuing to following the group’s progress and proposals, read their full report and prepare for Pre-Conference events.  She also suggests sending a question with your delegate or District Superintendent to a pre-conference meeting.
“Pre-conference is a better place to ask questions and get details,” she said. “There’s a space between preconference and Conference that’s great for having conversations about rationales, crafting questions and figuring out what’s going. It’s important for people to be involved in a process that will affect their future.”
Walker said that the Conference’s overriding mission of equipping congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world will not change.
“We want to do all we can to equip our churches to do their mission,” she said. “We want to do that efficiently, because it’s leaner times than in the past.”
In fact, the Strategic Mapping Team is envisioning a stronger, more agile, more connected Conference, one that engages more young people and reaches out to even more diverse populations.  
“We live in a world that’s constantly changing, so quickly,” Esquivel said. “We need to be able to respond to those changes, not necessarily to be molded by those changes.”
He said that individuals often fear and resist change – but taking steps to work through challenges are ultimately rewarding. “Some of the greatest things are just on the other side of fear,” he explained. “There are some great blessings on the other side of fear. Fear is natural, but fear shouldn’t freeze us in place.”
Read the Proposal at