Diary of a Delegate: If I could ask one question…

I mentioned that I happened to run into Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter a couple of nights ago. As is almost always the case, I thought of what I really wanted to say after I walked away. I wrote it down, and sent it to him as a letter. Can’t hurt right? It’s part of our global conversation of church restructuring, so I’ll share it here (minus the greeting and stuff).

Twitter cloud image for 4/30 from @andrewconard

Dear Rev. Hamilton,

Regardless of what plan for the UMC we (move on toward) perfect and adopt, I had one process conversation that I hoped to share. I read the whole report months ago and really loved the theology and push behind it; I just think there’s one more question that needs to be asked.

The Call to Action folks asked what makes a vital congregation. I want to take one more postmodern step back and ask, what makes a congregation? Put another way, what is the model of a local church?

I submit that the presumed model is something like: a relatively fixed congregation that meets in an old (usually) building once a week for worship, and a smaller, more fixed subset of that group that trickles in and out in between to handle the administration and ministry of the congregation.

This model of the church is dying. Definitely. I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing.

There are a few very prominent exceptions, places where what appears to be this model is still very successful, but I believe the Church-of-the-Resurrections and the Glide-Memorials of the world are actually not living this model. They are exceptions that prove the rule.

See, I think the strategists looked at vital and vibrant churches, presuming the current model, and asked, what do these congregations have in common? What do they do that we can measure and teach that makes them the same? From there they developed measures of vitality, some of which are really great, but some of which I feel are trying to make us better at being a church in the model that is broken and dying.

I’d suggest that what makes those magnificent churches vital is not what they do that’s the same, but what they do and have done that has deviated from the presumed model of local church. What makes them different? Because that’s where they are living into a new way of being a local church, and that’s what we need to learn.

I’m not an analyst or anything. I’m a local church pastor with just under eight years of ministry experience behind me. I can’t answer that question, although I suspect it has something to do with smaller, intimate groups of people in prayer and action together, connected to one another and to their context/community, gathering in worship to celebrate, equip, and uplift, and then living out their connection to God where they experience deep and true meaning in their lives in ways that are relevant for them, and engage and transform the world around them.

In any case, if we see what we need to equip congregations in a new evolving model of local church (for example, I am horribly under resourced for how to identify and nurture leadership ability in the laity with whom I serve—been making it up as I go along!), then I think we can better evaluate vital congregations, effective lay and clergy leaders, and the effectiveness of our global church to resource, inspire, and equip those churches and leaders.

It is important to me that this conversation

happen somewhere, because I believe in the UMC of today and tomorrow, I love it dearly, and I want us not to survive as an institution, but to die if we must and rise again to newer and more abundant life. I deeply appreciate your work on behalf of our worldwide church, and passionate, relevant ministry. I am honored to be in this Church—the whole big multi-denominational movement of people loving and serving Jesus—with you.

Grace and peace, and God’s resurrection promise,

Becca Clark


7 thoughts on “Diary of a Delegate: If I could ask one question…”

  1. All models of ministry will die eventually. However, the Church of Resurrection type models have quiet a few years (probably a few decades) life left to be relevant in our culture. It is premature to talk of dying and rising again. The challenge of those of us who disagree with the models Call to Action Committee studied or at least find their models inadequate is to come up with alternative models of vital congregation in the context of inadquate resources and declining morale. However the vitality is defined, it needs to include 1) superior results in its defined mission, 2) significant impact in the larger community it exists and 3) lasting endurance one or two pastoral leader. (Jim Collins) We should stop searching for right ideas, but for right people who can do this. Then, we will have multimple models of vital congregations and we can afford one of the models “dying.”

    1. Albert, I agree with you. In fact ultimate that was the conclusion of the IOT – the key is leadership, starting with clergy who need to be equipped to develop appropriate “models” of ministry for a given context. Ultimately these leaders develop lay disciples who see themselves not merely as consumers, but as servant leaders who are equipped, inspired and sent to serve God in the world.

      Becca, take my comments here with a grain of salt – I feel brain tired tonight.



      1. I’ll get to your comments in a sec, Adam, but thanks for being here and being a master multitasker!


    2. Albert, I appreciate your comments and I think you are right. The reason that I think “all models will die” is that we build for what we need at the time and then culture shifts. We are in the midst of a huge cultural shift (just after it actually, I think), and our models need to adapt. I argue that the ones that are dying are being pruned out and new models need to emerge.
      I love your three points. I think my problem with the Vital Signs idea is that it defines what the “defined mission” is, rather than letting/encouraging the church to define the mission and what measurable success will look like in that context. Now this discerning and articulating of mission takes time, and time is not on our side in a typical appointment in the UMC. I think points 1 and 2 speak to contextual relevancy and adaptability– what are we calling it– nimbleness! Point 3 I think is important, but the strength of the pastoral leader must be met with the strength of lay leadership, or maybe (even better for me as I said above) intentional training for clergy in how to be better at nurturing leaders.


  2. Hi Becca, I’m replying at a lull in voting at GC, and this is too long, you’ve given me a nice menatl diversion for a moment. But first, it was great to meet you and to hear a bit of your story. Thanks for introducing yourself!

    I think your question is a good one. I don’t believe there is one model for church today, but multiple viable models that share in common certain attributes. I may not, however, understand what you mean by model. At least at Resurresction we have multiple “models” of church, depending on what is meant by the word. Or we may have one model (if by that we mean a shared vision, mission, values and DNA) with different favors or characteristics that speak to different people.

    At Resurrection we have four campuses and three different venues on our main campus, as well as four partner churches – and these campuses and partners are located in five states and five annual conferences. Each is distinct, yet they share some common ground.

    Our venues – six worshipping communities at Leawood – have six different musical styles, in three very different rooms, with a different feel to each. They range in size Fromm 300 to 2,500 in attendance. We’re beginning to treat each as a separate community, developing fellowship, community, care and serving opportunities for each worship service in order to make this large church feel smaller.

    Our downtown campus meets in an old bar. There are 600+ who gather there each week – mostly young adults, 25% gay and lesbian, reflective of their community in the urban core. Our east campus is a church of 180 per weekend – a turn around of an existing church that had declined to 70 by the time they asked if they could become a campus of our church – they have a distinctive feel and do ministry differently than our other campuses. Our smallest partner church has 20 per weekend in rural Arkansas. We also have a multiracial partner in Baltimore that has 40 per weekend.

    What these churches have in common is a. Common mission and vision, quality worship (of varying styles with relevant, practical but moving preaching – at least some of the time 🙂 ), strong efforts at building community (that are contextual), and a huge focus on missional service to the community.

    Blessings and thanks for a thoughtful blog and questions.


    Adam Hamilton

    1. Yes, yes, yes, and yes, Adam. I think you have answered my question. Of course what you describe differs drastically in size from my ministry context, but if I extrapolate, I think what I’m hearing is that COR differs from the model of fixed congregation corporate worship and subset admin/mission by: having more than one building/location, having more than one worshiping body/congregation/experience, intentionally cultivating community between worshipers (as opposed to having them kind of just sit near each other while we all try to relate to God), emphasis on outward service and relevancy, and an understanding that sometimes church has to look completely unlike church (pubchurch!). And yet, you hold a core mission and vision together. And yes, I’ve heard that preacher speak a couple times and found him relevant and engaging both heart and head. Once I even used a book study/sermon series by him to begin to transform our congregation’s pretty unhealthy relationship with money. Something like a 60% increase in identified giving, and 100% increase in conversations about stewardship, because we can talk about what it means to live with “enough.”

      So. I guess my disconnect at this point is that the vital congregations drivers for me don’t seem to be the things that would move me toward a model of church that is more contextual, relational, missional, and transformational. I’m not sure how we get there. And I’ve never been sure if a smaller board and fewer voices is the best way to increase efficiency, accountability, and the necessary work of equipping churches and their leaders. I’ve said that I think we need to ask different questions– not just how many, but what quality? How many people come every week or 3/4 weeks a month? How many people retain membership in a small group? How much time and energy (in addition to money where applicable) do people invest in mission and witness?

      Again, there are pros who look at data for a living. I ask questions.

      Thanks so much for breaking from the riveting work of whatever we were legislating to ponder with me.

      God bless,

  3. Hi Becca, I’ve appreciated your Tweets from gc2012, and now your blog posts. This probably looks like just a book promo, but honestly I think you might find this book useful related to the local church needs you’ve articulated—Leading a Life with God: The Practice of Spiritual Leadership by Daniel Wolpert (Upper Room Books, 2006). Hope you’re getting some rest!
    Jeannie Crawford-Lee

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