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?