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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On the Way to Fruitfulness

The re-districting test groups are meeting throughout the annual conference in these next couple of weeks. Some of you have been to one already. Your willingness to learn more about the two proposed models and to give us your feedback is greatly appreciated.

I've heard a difference between the responses of those who only looked at the models on the web and those who went to the test group. So I hope you'll go to your test group to get a better sense of the pros and cons of each one.

Then give your feedback here on our blog for others to see and respond to. One of my intentions with the blog is that we can talk to each other and not just you to me. As a conference the decision was made and I think it's helpful if we continue in "conferencing" or conversation with each other.

Some people have given the feedback that it appears the only reason that we're reducing the number of districts is because of money. As if that's a bad reason! Haven't you and others wanted the annual conference to become more sustainable (right-sized is a word often used)?

Dan Dick from the General Board of Discipleship was here recently to work with our Common Table. In his book, Vital Signs: A Pathway to Congregational Wholeness, he describes retrogressive (returning to a simpler state) churches as those who have "made some hard decisions that lead to fewer programs, fewer services, a narrower focus, or more specialized ministry" (page 11). This has been a significant and successfuly strategy for many churches in decline. However, if the retrogressive congregation doesn't begin to reach out to new people after it stabilizes, it will continue decline. But declining congregations that eventually became vital by reaching new people usually went through a retrogressive period in order to stabilize and mobilize.

This describes what I see as our need to simplify, stabilize and become sustainable so that we can position ourselves for growth (I just didn't know the fancy word retrogressive!). In a period of retrogression we must focus in a laser-like way on cultivating spiritual viality and reaching new people so that we can move toward fruitfulness, vitality and health.

The reduction of districts may be initiated by finances but it's also an important leverage point to make some changes throughout our annual conference, aligning our Gospel Imperatives, finances, and energy toward making disciples of Jesus Christ in Minnesota. The reduction of a district is the beginning, not the end of the changes. Other changes will include the reconstitution and/or training of Boards of Church Location and Building and District Committees on Ministry which are key points of helping us reach new people and who we license and ordain for ministry.

In addition to your thoughts on which model would best move us in this direction, what are some of the hopes that you would have from this re-districting?



Rob Kopp said...

This may seem like a more radical change than anyone is comfortable with, but why have districts based on geography at all? All of the new districting plans seem to have geography and proximity as an underlying assumption, which can easily become a variation on business as usual. Perhaps if we were to recover more of the sense of local church as “mission outpost” we could move beyond some of our problems as a middle age church in need of renewal.

While I’m not sure exactly what the new districts would look like, my suggestion is to base the districts and their appointed superintendents on affinity group. These affinity groups would not be based on affinity between churches, but rather on community affinity. Instead of geography determining the function of the DS, there appointment would be based more on how their gifts and graces matched the communities in which churches are located. Perhaps population, demographics, economic, and social environment of the communities in which the churches are centered could determine how the districts are grouped, and as these factors within communities change, the districts in which they belong would change.

For us to really move in the direction of the Gospel imperatives, I believe we need to recover our connection with the communities as they form and re-form. Our changes need to mirror changes in community contexts rather than hoping, praying, and expecting that the communities changes will mirror our churches.

Again, to move in this direction would require a commitment towards a very different way of doing the work of the church. I was also present during Dan Dick’s presentation at Common Table, and one of the points he made impressed me—that positive effective change is subject to a kind of “business as usual” gravity—our tendency to fall back in to established patterns which lead us to the place we are going if we do nothing at all. To really become effective as churches in ministry to the world, we need a radical shift from focusing our energy on looking at ourselves towards a focus on the communities in which our churches are located. One of the ways we can do this is through the Agape love Jesus modeled, focusing our attention on loving the community into the church based on its needs rather than our own. If we developed a district structure which mandated this kind of change, it could begin a process of church renewal which re-radicalizes our connections to the communities in which our churches are located.

Pastor Rob Kopp
Racine and Sumner Center

Jeff Ozanne said...

I am really excited about Model B. I feel it responds to a number of the points raised in earlier discussions about the role of the DS. I think it recognizes that DSes, like pastors have different skills and helps to create the situations for DSes to use those skills to better the annual conference as a whole. I really appreciate how Jim Haun placed a lot of the emphasis not simply on the local church impact, but on the mission and vision of the conference. What I am most looking forward to seeing is the exciting ways that the DSes in the North Star and Southern Prairie districts, under either model will find new ways to empower the ministry of the churches and work for the kind of growth and new ways of doing ministry I believe are possible in these mission fields. While I think there is great potential for growth in the areas of population growth, some of the greatest challenges and therefore I think greatest creativity will line in find ways to reach new people and create spiritual vitality in areas of shrinking population and resources. I believe that Model B will provide the best chance for the conference in that direction.

Alice Holz said...

The largness of the Northwest corner of the state is already a problem for those of us who are part of district events. To make this district even larger by adding portions of the northeast area of our conference seems ridiculous. As a member of the current NW District I would much prefer the plan which makes our district somewhat larger but does not take in the northeast section.
Rob Kopp's comments do not consider travel time, use of energy in terms of gas and the resulting pollution. To have affinity groups makes these consideration an even larger issue.
What becomes of district events?
How do district planning groups get together?
We live in a rural area where we currently can not use our cell phone because there is no tower close enough, we have very slow internet service, and electronic messaging is not an option. This is true for much of the northwest area. Does this not make planning and communication a problem? Surely members of an affinity group would not be expected to drive to Rochester (650 miles round trip), Worthington (500 miles, or Virginia (260 miles) for a meeting.
Rather than having a huge district, or by arranging districts by affinity groups, my vote is for the plan which redraws the districts in a somewhat similar way to what it has previously been.
Respectfully. Alice Holz
Riverside UMC, Park Rapids.

Bishop Sally Dyck said...

The response to the redistricting is underwhelming!

I agree with Alice when it comes to what true affinity grouped-districts would necessitate. The geographic areas would be much bigger than what we're having to address with the 2 models.

I don't know if any of you went to the testing groups but Model B is based on affinity/geographic considerations. The North Star and Southern Prairie districts are affinity in the sense that they are rural and the DS/district can focus on rural issues in MN. The other three districts are growing population areas in MN. The DS/districts can focus on their needs. Model A has a more diverse group of churches/communities which may be attractive to both DS/districts. Soon the Powerpoint which gives the principles behind each will be posted. I encourage you to read it. Also, remember the annual conference voted 5 districts; the state of MN stays the same!

Dan Luth said...

Of the two options, I would strongly support Option B. My primary reason is that it consolidates metro south-of-the-river churches.

lisa said...

As a part of the Metro district, I think merging Metro East and Metro West is a fantastic way to consolidate resources, provide the DS with opportunities to support and encourage ministry within congregations and promote partnerships from church to church.

I hear where people are coming from in reference to the giant piece of the NW corner of Minnesota, but as Bishop Sally said - the state of MN stays the same! I think the idea of grouping churches that have similarities, while making sure there are congregations that are a little different to balance out the district as a whole is a healthy idea for growth and for congregational development.

Drawing the lines should not be based on the size of the district alone, but on the gifts, social environment, and demographics of the district to create a healthy and balanced grouping for all congregations involved and to support the changing role of the DS and the mission of the UMC. I feel like whichever model (it sounds like B most likely) that can accomplish that goal is the best choice.