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April 26, 2010

Comments

Alexstroud

I'm a young pastor, and thus a clergy member of my AC. I've served a large church as an associate and a smaller church as the pastor and I can't say I've ever been struck by this, but you make a very good point.

My church (average attendance, 95) has just as much representation as the church on the other side of town (attendance, around 150). Perhaps there is a problem with some of the "late-to-adopt" smaller churches hindering the advance of the church as a whole because they can dig in their heels with greater force.

But I think your formula is misguided. Another church near me has around 12 people in worship on Sunday. They get a lay delegate and a clergy delegate. If we use the formula from your scenario, the church I served as an associate would need 100 delegates to be proportionate. In North Georgia, where I serve, there are few places we can fit in the delegates that we have already. We also can't afford an AC that's much larger. This year, we've started charging a registration fee for every delegate, lay or clergy, because AC has gotten so expensive to hold.

Equity is a challenge though. We don't want to diminish the vote of the small church too much or consider them ineffective because they're smaller than a megachurch. If we want to find a way to give the most effective churches the greatest voice, why don't we base the number of delegates on the percentage of church growth in the previous year? Then the large churches that are shrinking aren't outweighing the smaller churches that are doing good ministry and growing.

I'd add something else to Jim and Bruno's conversation though. Jim saw that there was equity among election of delegates and he's right, to an extent. We have worked hard to be inclusive culturally, racially, and in terms of gender. But how about age? The church is stressed over diminishing numbers of young lay people and young clergy, but we wait to listen to people until they are 45+. For the last General Conference, not many conferences sent any clergy delegates under 45 and only sent the number of young lay delegates that they were required to send. The Council of Bishops established a team to examine the lack of young people in our churches and I didn't hear anything about young people being a part of that team either. I know that this is off topic, but I thought I'd share it and I'd be interested in your reaction.

John Beavers

Ok, here's my thought(s). The whole idea of voting comes from our American democratic process. Ever since Coke and Asbury (if I remember my history correctly) asked to be voted into office as Bishops, the "American" way of doing things has stuck. The question is, is THAT a biblical method of running a church. It's funny, because I was thinking along the lines of a prophet when I read your post, and then you quoted the above quote from Jeremiah. The biblical way of doing things is for God to be our King and follow His directions. In biblical times, there were prophets who could discern God's directions and communicate those ideas to the rest of the Church/Israel. We no longer follow that model becasue we dismiss the idea that God still speaks to people in a prophetic way. I believe this reason is why the formula was set up with 1 clergy and 1 lay from each church: they wanted spiritual people who could discern God's leadings and communicate that to the Church. Unfortunately, there are (probably) not that many people in local churches who are close enough/have enough spiritual depth to discern God's still, small voice. Therefore, this idea of 200 or 300 voters from a large church who can get outside of their own deceitful hearts and listen for God's guidance seems unlikely to me. This American idea of MY ideas should be heard and I want MY vote to be counted is not found in the Bible.

I don't know what I'm suggesting or if I have answered your question, but I've just thrown some more stuff in the water to muddy it a bit more. I do know, being in a small church myself, that this action would further divide the smaller churches against the power structure. In my church, our congregation is already suspicious of the top telling the bottom what to do. Giving us less political power would just aggrivate us more. This attitude is, of course, not biblical, either, but that is how it would go at our church.

One last thought, do you think you could find 256 people from your church who would attend Annual Conference for a week? I don't know how your annual conference does things, but ours is (finally) moving from a week of activities to about 3 days (Sun. night to Wed.), but I imagine some still go until Friday noon, like our's did.

Perhaps we need to examine our methods and try to get back to a more biblical model of doing things.

John Beavers - 33 years old
Former Certified Candidate
Pastor's Spouse - Shattuck, OK

Matt

This is probably one of the more difficult Methodist Monday postings for me. I've served in a 300 average attendance church and am currently appointed to a two-point charge with average attendance of 28 and 50. What Bruno is suggesting does make sense on the surface. In fact, that is what we do on the General Conference level. However, bringing it to the Annual Conference level has some implications that I don't think are very good for the health of smaller churches. However, there are three assumptions Bruno makes in his argument that are false.

1) He assumes that small churches have as much say as larger churches. Larger churches tend to have more clergy (i.e. St. Luke's has 6 appointed pastors), whereas small churches often find themselves on a charge with other congregations, sharing one clergy. The larger church in this case has 12 votes, while 2 small churches only have 2 votes between them. In this particular scenario, it would take twelve churches (all on a two-point charge) to have as much influence as one large church. If a large church doesn't have more appointed clergy, then they have nobody but themselves to blame for hiring outside of the appointment process.

2) He assumes that because the larger churches contribute more financially, they should be able to dictate what is done with that money, moreso than smaller churches. With the current tithe model in the Indiana Conference, the larger churches pay the same percentage as the smaller churches, so why should they hold more sway over what happens with the money? The dangerous step here is in inadvertantly saying to small churches, "You're just not as important." As an analogy, would you allow a big giver in your congregation to have more influence than somebody who cannot give as much? Let's say Tim makes $100,000/year, tithes and gives $10,000/year. Then we have Jenny who makes $40,000, tithes and gives $4,000/year. Why should Tim have more influence on the local church? Is he a more successful person than Jenny simply because he makes more money? Is he more faithful and a better Christian because he can give more bottom line dollars to the church?

3) Bruno assumes that the larger church is more vibrant and effective than the smaller church simply because of membership/attendance numbers. But, why is a small church a small church? There are 18,000 people that live in the county where my churches are located. According to the 2000 census, there were 31,500 in the zip code where St. Luke's is located (and surely that has increased in the last decade). St. Luke's average attendance is double the population in the two towns where I serve. We could have the most effective ministry in the state (not that I'm making that claim) and still not even come close to matching the attendance numbers of a church located in a large metropolitan area.

John Beavers

Another thing to consider is population. Your question assumes churches in a large city. My city has a population of about 1500, and our church attendance averages about 90. So, although we might be considered a small church, we have a larger percentage of attendance to population than the large churches about which you are speaking. You can't just go on attendance numbers, you have to consider all factors.

John Beavers

Chad Barden

I don't pretend to know much about UMC politics, but I do know that there was another group who was dealing with a very similar issue about 230 years ago. The founding fathers of the United States set up a system that gave each state equal representation AND gave the larger populous states more power.

Now, I don't think their brainchild, the US Congress, is particularly efficient or effective today...and a little revolution now and then can be a healthy thing for any organization, be it a country, a company or a church.

Think about the problem from another angle, for a moment. For those 24 attendees, I am sure that small church is a very important influence on their lives. It is not fair to those 24 to have a larger church 100 miles away dictate how their church should operate. Equal representation can be a very dangerous thing for that small church. What if the next Billy Graham is growing up under the influence of that tiny church? What if the changes promoted by a large church undermined the smaller church's ability to continue at all? Would we lose the next great soldier for the Kingdom of God? Would he become....gasp!....a Baptist? :)

I don't have any creative suggestions, just a plagiarized one from the US Constitution.

Steve_lamotte

I have heard some dialogue like this previously and think there is some merit to the idea. Many of our larger churches have grown because of their ability to think outside the box and creatively share Christ. Many of our smaller churches balk at new ideas because "we've never done it that way." We need to find ways to encourage thinking outside of the box in our churches and in our annual conferences...not for the sake of the denomination- but for the sake of Christ.

David

Many geniuses have the title of madmen. I think there is some sense and wisdom in this thinking. And I don't think that this concept should be discounted. I do think that this concept may be perceived as too radical for the policy makers to jump on. It would have to be thoroughly investigated so that everything may be considered.

I also think it would be wrong to consider Christian operations have to be a democracy but there are plenty of things that the electoral college safeguards against. Which also may be a consideration. Geographically speaking.

A lot of things to consider here and should be.
Thanks Mark

Kurtboemler

Truth of the matter is this when it comes to clergy representation for small churches: I've served three different charges as a student local pastor. Because I am not an Elder in full connection, I don't get a vote. That leaves my congregation with one vote.

Because the congregations that I have served have primarily older or poorer members, attending Annual Conference is either too great of a a physical or financial burden to attend. So that leaves my congregation with no vote.

The process needs reformation on both ends.

Steveheyduck

I'm not sure the one-church two vote thing is an accurate assessment of power structures within the annual conference. Sure, most things come down to votes, but in the two annual conferences of which I have been a clergy member, most of the decisions are made in committee or by the Conference Office.

The issues are more about power and influence than about votes.

I am intrigued with this re-proportioning of votes at AC, and would happily support such a change.

Andy

What if the smaller churches actually had a greater population in the accumulative, especially in conferences where the number of small churches have the potential of having greater worshipers in membership and in the pews? How would this change the discussion on what is equitable and not?

Also, wondering out loud, are the issues the same for small churches, in particular those located in small population areas thus are small only due to location? Thus, is it equitable to drag the small churches along with policies that do not work for them?

I have served in lay ministry in medium size churches, and now pastor two small congregations. They had different issues, and I would not want these small congregations located in rural areas of the state dragged towards policies that are not suited for these congregations. Otherwise, I think the UMC will become a denomination of super churches. I don't know if that is what Wesley had in mind.

Thanks for allowing me to think out loud on this intriguing question.

John Meunier

Here is my understanding of the nature of the annual conference.

It is not representative legislative body like Congress. It does not "tax" churches, despite the language some people use.

Annual conference was - and is - a body of clergy bound together for the purpose of serving the missional needs of a certain geographic area. The clergy do not come from churches. They are sent to charges.

Somewhere in history, it was decided that laity should have equal representation with clergy, so a system to do that was devised that included the selection of one member from each charge (not church). Several other folks are automatically lay members of annual conference, with the conference devising systems to appoint "equalizing" members if the number of clergy exceeds the number of lay members.

John B

We have recently given small churches even more influence than they used to have by granting voting rights to FTL pastors & Associate members since these pastors normally serve small congregations.

I know these reveals some of my own cynicism, but I have stopped actively recruiting lay members to the AC. As an evangelical theologically & a Libertarian politically, there have been so many years that I have returned home from AC on the verge of leaving the UMC because AC was little more than a Democratic Convention controlled by liberal pastors and bishops that I now refuse to put a member of my congregation through that.

I like Bruno's idea because large, growing churches are usually led by pastors who take serious the idea of making disciples. Perhaps if we gave those kinds of churches greater representation, there might be some hope for the UMC as a denomination.

John Meunier

And another small point, the pastor should let Bruno know that he is wrong about his own title. He is not a delegate to annual conference. He is a member of annual conference.

eric pone

I love this concept!!!! It would potentially force many issues forward. It would force smaller congregations that are struggling to merge, drop buildings and simplify their programs.

To build on this though, why do most churches get pastoral leadership? If a church worships under 500 they shouldn't have ordained clergy because it puts the budget inwardly focused and not on mission. Assign 1 clergy for every 500 members. We have to get back to our core. It simply means we have to understand that to move boldly we have to embrace the praxis that work and stop the ones that don't.

Creed Pogue

I guess if you think the Senate is unfair, then you are really against the filibuster and unilateral holds too. :-)

Seriously, you wouldn't give automatic seats on the nominating committee or extra votes at church conference to your biggest givers. Most apportionment formulae apply equally to larger and smaller churches.

Also, how big of an Annual Conference would you want to have? Even in conferences that range up to 1900 members but have churches as small as 10 or less, then instead of the difficulties of an Annual Conference session with over 1,000 people we go to 1,500 or 2,000? Is "Bruno" wanting to ante up an extra $100,000 or more to get a larger facility???

Steve Manskar

The question demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of The United Methodist Church. The Annual Conference is not primarily a representative legislative body. It's purpose is to advance the mission of Jesus Christ in the world. Local congregations do not send clergy and lay "delegates" to conference. They send clergy and lay members. The lay members are not there to represent the local congregation in the same way that members of congress are elected to represent their districts. The lay members are charged with helping the conference make decisions and take action that help the conference advance the mission of Jesus Christ in the world.

The other problem of with the premise of this question is the assumption that there is something inherently wrong with small congregations. This is a grossly false assumption. It is wrong. It is sinful. Small congregations are just as faithful and viable as large congregations. Each congregation, large and small, has an important roll to play in helping the conference to participate in the mission of Jesus Christ in, with, and for the world.

The conference does not exist to provide a venue for petty politics or representative democracy. The sole purpose of the conference is mission.

Wayne

Responding to Eric Pone: The idea that small churches are somehow inwardly focused by nature is absolutely false. The congregation that I serve as a full time licensed local pastor is one of the most mission minded congregations that I have ever known. Our worship attendance averages 42. We operate a food pantry that is currently providing 600 boxes of food per month to slightly less than 1500 people who meet federal poverty guidelines per month. That means we distributed approximately 120 tons of food in 2009 in an area that has been hit hard by factory closings as jobs are sent overseas. Oh, and 23 of those 42 are actively involved in the operation of this hunger ministry; a percentage of involvement in the primary mission of the church that rivals any large church that I know.

The UMC is a connection of small churches. While it is true that some of those small churches are inwardly focused, the same can be said for some of our larger churches as well. Size does not equate to ministry or effectiveness.

Ben McGehee

I fully agree that smaller churches have greater representation at Annual Conference than the larger ones, although I don't think giving larger churches more delegates will create a better Conference, for many of the reasons listed in the previous comments.

Let me give an example of small church influence in Louisiana. Last year at Annual Conference, a pastor from a small church offered a petition to force the Conference Board of Pensions to consider a funding proposal for pastoral health insurance that would require the churches with higher paid pastors to pay more for insurance than the churches with pastors at lower salary levels. This would effectively force the larger and more prosperous churches to subsidise the smaller, poorer ones. While every church I have served would likely have benefited from this proposal, I was against it for a variety of reasons. However, the proposal passed easily, probably since most of the Conference members were from smaller churches that would have benefitted financially from it.

Randy Willis

Interesting. I'm not sure it plays out this way in my conference (a largely rural area), though. Many charges (i.e., groups of smaller churches) are represented by one lay member (i.e., less than one/church), and larger churches are represented by at least one member.

I understand the thinking, though (especially if you view "members" as "delegates"): effective churches would have more say in the direction of the annual conference than ineffective churches.

While I think that would be a good thing, the problem is that it's hard, if not impossible, to develop a formula based on effectiveness. Theoretically, people from more effective congregations would be more missional than people from ineffective churches.

But basing the formula for representation on size places too much emphasis on church size (and perhaps money), which is not necessarily an indicator of health/success. Who's the say that a church of 100 people in a small town is not more effective than a church of 1,000 in a metropolitan area?

I also question the practicality. Without doing the math, it seems that it would lead to an annual conference gathering that's way too large (if you start out giving the smallest church/charge one lay member).

But, on the other hand, while I'd have to review what the Book of Discipline says about the annual conference, it seems to me that when we changed annual conference from being a clergy-only body to a body with equal lay member involvement (I imagine that was NOT an easy discussion!), we made the move toward representation (whether intended or not).

Perhaps this is the next step in the process. But I still don't like basing it on size (and/or financial contribution).

Andrew Conard

Mark - You have a provocative proposal here. Others have raised the question as to whether larger churches are necessarily more effective in the mission of the church. I do not believe that larger does not necessarily equal more faithful. However, a church that is focused on its mission and living outside the walls is going to grow. I disagree with a few of the other comments that large churches would make policies that are not beneficial to small churches. The annual conference should be considering the whole area as its mission field and looking to the best ways to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ.
I do not think that this proposal would hasten the decline of the United Methodist Church. It may prove to be quite effective. It may be about the same. One possibility to deal with the logistics would be to have some sort of proxy voting. For example, there may be 10 or 12 people that would have votes of 60 or 70.
While I am not sure that this proposal would help the UMC, I do know that doing the same thing and expecting different results doesn't make sense.

Harold Gardner

It is intriguing to read the comments late in the week. I am interested that we so often examine change and react instantly that it is not possible. The physical problem of getting the delegates into a place; so we can keep doing AC the some old way seems a bit ironic in a blog. Certainly there is no way a Methodist preacher can ask wild questions about the state of the church and get answers back instantly from everywhere...wait that is what is happening here. Could we do AC with a virtual technology? If someone suggested that AC was 100 miles away during the early days of US Methodism, I suspect folks would have decided that was impossible. We can't change the way we do AC because it must be the way we did it last time. Perhaps we need to even move away from a representative (if that is the intention of church lay delegates) to a more direct form of inviting participation, discussion, and maybe even voting on issue from everyone in our connectional world. I guess that I am just wishing we could find the courage to consider new solutions, to risk failure, to take the big gamble. Unless we begin to accept creative change and perhaps even destruction, we cannot halt decline of our church.

Steve Manskar

Local churches DO NOT send "delegates" as representatives to Annual Conference. They send lay members of conference to participate in the work of the annual conference. The lay members do not go to annual conference to represent their particular local congregation. The annual conference session is not a representative legislative body like the US congress. It is the missional unit of The United Methodist Church in a particular geographic region.

The language of "delegates" and talk about large congregations deserving more "representation" than small congregations illustrates the fact that most United Methodists, including clergy members, do not understand the polity of their own church. This shows we need to do a better job of teaching the basics of United Methodist doctrine and polity.

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