Bishop Coyner was directed by both conferences to appoint a task force to develop a plan for recommendation to the 2007 Sessions of the North Indiana Conference and the South Indiana Conference.
This task force became the Imagine Indiana Planning Team and is composed of co-chairs Adolf Hansen (SIC) and Cindy Reynolds (NIC), Mark Eutsler (NIC), Shalimar Holderly (NIC), Carolyn Johnson (NIC), Joseph Johnson II (SIC), Marie Lang (SIC), and staffed by David V.W. Owen.
Bishop Coyner and the Planning Team invited 28 individuals, clergy and laity, to co-chair 14 Discernment Teams (each team having a representative from each conference). They carried out diligent research and provided considerable information, all of which has informed the report of the Imagine Indiana Planning Team. Their very useful work will be forwarded to the team that continues this process in the coming year (if the recommendation that is proposed receives approval). The Imagine Indiana Planning Team expresses deep gratitude for their very fine work.
The Co-Chairs of the Discernment Teams are as follows:
Administrative Technology (How can we use technology in our administrative tasks most effectively?)
Jay Love and Jill Wright
Benefits: Pensions and Insurance (Is it feasible to merge our benefits and how might this be accomplished?)
Don Spence and Greg McGarvey
Communication Technology (How can we use technology to communicate most effectively?)
Mark Need and Stan Abell
Congregations: Small to Large (How can we support and provide ministry options for all sizes of churches?)
Rob Seewald and Doug Witt
Effective Pastors (How can we recruit, educate, nurture, and support effective pastors?)
Albert Bohnstedt and Karen Powell
Feedback (What do we hear being said and what does it mean?)
Kayc Mykrantz and Ike Williams
Gatherings of Conference (What constitutes very meaningful conference sessions?)
Katurah Johnson and Corinne Boruff
Leadership Models (What are the most effective models for leadership in the 21st century?)
Linda McCoy and David Michel
Mission Field (What is the demographic understanding of the mission field in Indiana?)
Heather Clinger and Scott Cassel
Prayer Support (How can we engage United Methodists in Indiana to pray for this process?)
Beth Ann Cook and Paula Gast
Professional Staff (What professional staff is needed to fulfill our mission?)
Jim Coy and Kevin Miller
Relationship with Institutions (What are the United Methodist institutions in Indiana what is our relationship with them?)
Gene Robbins and Sarah Evans Barker
Stewardship of Assets (How do we steward the real and financial assets of the conferences?)
Jack Wolfe and John Shettle
Supervision and Connexion (What is the best way for us to organize ourselves for effective ministry?)
Linda Dolby and George Purnell
New Dynamic Environment
As a means of painting a broad view of the ministry context in Indiana, a number of characteristics were examined that helped to define the present situation. Demographics of the state of Indiana, including population growth and decline, ethnic presence, age distribution, school districts, economic centers, cultural shifts, transportation routes, and church locations revealed how significantly the state has changed since 1968. Statistical categories related to churches such as church growth/decline in membership and worship attendance clearly indicated that we have been and are losing members in substantial numbers. The data further established that the large potential of new members coming from those who are unchurched - estimated to be 50% of the population - may be in geographical locations where churches are needed.
Additional Resources for Informing the Process
Annual conferences visited or consulted were: Arkansas, Dakotas, Great Rivers, Kentucky, and Missouri. (Texas and Wisconsin also provided helpful input.)
Common threads of learning included:
Every conference expressed energized momentum as the result of coming together.
Every conference affirmed great rewards in the ability of their bishop to focus mission and ministry within one conference.
Every conference expressed a positive result in the ability to utilize clergy gifts and talents.
" Every conference said: "We would do it again!"
Meetings held with representatives of other institutions included: Craig Dykstra and John Wimmer, Lilly Endowment (organizational planning); Greg Jones, Duke Divinity School (theological reflection); and Dan Evans and Craig Brater, Clarian Health Partners (merger of large institutions).
Throughout this past year, the Imagine Indiana Planning Team has been asking the question, over and over again, "What is God seeking to do in and through the United Methodist Church in Indiana?" One affirmation behind this question is a deeply held belief that there are many things that God is doing, and many more that God is attempting to do. That "God is good" (Psalm 100:5) and that "God works for good in everything" (Romans 8:28) are the foundations for this affirmation.
A second affirmation that is also deeply held is the belief that all disciples of Jesus Christ are called to work cooperatively with God and with each other, whether laity or clergy. Each is essential in the ongoing process of "equipping the saints for ministry" (Ephesians 4:12). Neither is more important than the other.
Each of these affirmations is undergirded by the belief that "God is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20). The challenge, therefore, is not to limit the possibilities of God's transforming power!
Such affirmations form the basis for a new conference, one that will be firmly committed to a dependence on the power of the God, and a dependence on the mutual ministry of lay and ordained women and men.
The primary means by which these commitments will be carried out are prayer and worship that brings glory to God, personal discipleship that exemplifies the spirit of Christ, and transformational witness that makes a difference in the lives of others ("personal piety and social holiness"). As important as these are, there are also profound commitments to carry these out in ways that respect, affirm, and honor differences (theologically, culturally, and racially), that connect all laity and clergy in a covenant community that fosters accountability to God and one another, and that responds in ministry to situations that emerge from a hurting world.
The primary and most basic component of the conference are local congregations. Through the ministry of local congregations, persons are brought into saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The Discipline states that "it is primarily at the level of the local church that the church encounters the world." Without the local congregation and the grass roots ministry of United Methodists in local communities, no other conference entity, including the conference, could exist. Local congregations, shaped through their common experience of worship and sustained by the sacramental rites of baptism and Holy Communion, serve as a witness to the communities in which they serve. The total ministry of the conference must begin with the faithfulness and commitment of individual Christians and local congregations in their task of making disciples for Jesus Christ.
Effective ministry must begin with the call that God places upon each individual believer to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28: 19). By virtue of our baptism we are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God's new creation, and in our membership vows we covenant with one another and God to participate in the ministry of the church and to further God's Kingdom through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service. Groups of believers come together in congregations in order to bear witness to God's Kingdom through congregational worship, mutual support and encouragement, and missional outreach. Through the faithful witness of local congregations, the gospel of Jesus Christ is spread throughout the earth and the Kingdom of God is made real. As local congregations partner together in ministry to one another and the communities in which they serve, the church's witness to the world is strengthened and the church's effectiveness in making disciples of Jesus Christ increases.
As a new conference is created the primary focus must be the ministry of the local congregation and the responsibility of the conference to affirm, encourage, empower, and equip local congregations in the task of disciple-making and to connect them to ministries beyond the local congregation.
The idea of 'clustering' emerged in a number of Discernment Team reports. Indeed, within its first few meetings, the Planning Team had begun to envision a system of collaborative, interdependent congregations complementing each others' ministries within their communities, with regions based on considerations like proximity, ease of travel, trade and economic centers.
Two cluster models that were developed suggest that churches be linked to each other as 1) covenant communities or 2) ministry partners. In either model, both laity and clergy would participate as accountable members of the cluster. Cluster conveners (perhaps presiding elders) would moderate cluster councils and clergy covenants, and might assist with administrative responsibilities. The position of convener might even be rotated among ordained elders in the cluster. The number of congregations participating in a cluster would need to be determined.
Imagine a web of churches sharing resources of leadership, expertise, personnel, facilities, etc., to strengthen each other's effectiveness in a particular area of ministry. Each congregation would share its strengths with one another and would bolster fledgling ministries through participation in one or more affinity groups. In some situations such partnerships might also be ecumenical.
Such possibilities of affinity groups, as well as geographic clusters, generated a great deal of discussion and positive energy. The Planning Team feels strongly that these two methods of organization hold great promise for the future of The United Methodist Church in Indiana.
The idea of regions as an organizational model surfaced in some of the Discernment Teams, defined by factors such as shared population characteristics, demographics, media and economic centers, transportation routes, and geography. The number of identifiable regions in Indiana might be somewhere in the range of five to eight.
Clusters, affinity groups, and regions, could offer an increase in leadership opportunities that would more than offset the contraction in numbers of conference leadership positions.
The role of superintendency would involve shared leadership in ways that would model collaboration and cooperation. It would also provide such leadership, coupled with accountability, to clusters, affinity groups, and regions, as well as to the conference.
Clergy and Staff Benefits
Pensions of conference clergy retirees, lay retirees, or surviving spouses will not be negatively affected by the creation of a new conference. On the contrary, the Discernment Team studying this area reported that the General Board of Pensions requires that the service rate of an annual conference be consistent. The past service annuity rate of the North Indiana Conference retirees would have to be increased to the level of that currently used for South Indiana Conference retirees. The pensions for South Indiana Conference surviving spouses would have to be raised to the level of that currently provided by North Indiana Conference.
Initial studies indicate that the additional costs could be managed within the limits of current resources and reserves.
Health insurance benefits in both conferences cover active and retired clergy and surviving spouses and lay persons. In each conference there are differing methods of sharing the costs among conference, participants and local congregation. Because of these differences, a joint plan will result in cost changes for all partners. Such changes can be determined on a fair basis. While it is not expected that cost trends will decrease under a joint health plan, a larger insured population will enable the new conference to minimize cost increases.
Although there are many different styles of leadership, some common marks of leaders, both lay and ordained, were identified, explored and affirmed:
seeking God's will,
seeing the big picture,
leading by example,
creating new leaders, and
pointing the way.
Although the effectiveness of pastors depends on many variables, those that are of paramount importance are found in a system that:
affirms the ministry of all believers,
offers leadership opportunities to youth,
holds high expectations and standards in the process of discerning and nurturing the call to ministry,
develops a profiling process for local church and clergy leadership where appointments are based on gifts rather than salary,
holds clergy and congregations accountable, and
explores the creation of centers for clergy and congregational excellence.
Several discernment teams named accountability, interdependence, and supervision as highly important in measuring ministry effectiveness.
Specific issues raised included:
accountability regarding church statistics (attendance, membership, financial health, professions of faith, baptisms, discipleship groups, tithing, community impact, etc.)
pastoral accountability for support of cluster and other connectional ministries (as well as determining who holds pastors accountable to each other and to our churches)
congregational accountability for living up to their mission/vision statements (perhaps carried out within cluster groups for lateral accountability)
Openness to New Possibilities
This theme occurred over and over again as a common thread, permeating a large number of Discernment Team reports.
The possibility of failure as a precursor to success was recognized as something that ought to be embraced, and not feared. The pace of societal change will accelerate and the church needs to make attempts to respond to the challenges that will emerge. In doing so, the church also needs to be firm in its mission, but flexible and fluid in carrying it out.
Administrative professional staff will centralize common tasks. They may or may not be in one location. They may be located in various regions and connected through technology. Programmatic professional staff may also be located in various regions, but must be flexible and deployable. They will need to be driven by the needs of the local congregations. The role of the programmatic staff is not solving the problems of the local congregation, but helping the congregation identify resources and individuals, both lay and clergy, who can provide assistance to the local congregation.
Episcopal Office and Centralized Systems
Reports from several Discernment Teams affirmed the importance of a central location for the episcopal office that is linked with a centralized system that can respond to caring for the needs of a new conference. Communication across the state is currently very difficult because multiple data gathering and storage centers are not compatible or linked. This creates a significant gap in the transmission of information for and about pastors and churches at critical times of decision making.
In addition, the perceived differences between both conferences are augmented by a lack of communication, contact, and understanding of the activities and initiatives in the individual conferences. From our discussion and dialogue with other areas which have merged or united in the past 10 years, all of them reported the significance of having a unified vision articulated by their episcopal leader and supported by a unified leadership. This often resulted in making a more significant impact in the area with respect to mission outreach, transformational witness in areas of justice and human need, and congregational revitalization.
Annual Conference Gatherings
A state-wide annual conference gathering (perhaps as many as 3500 members and guests) is feasible. Host communities having facilities of sufficient capacity to accommodate a gathering of such a conference have been identified (e.g., Evansville, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis.) A new conference might not always meet at the same site. Rather, it might rotate its location from year to year.
The Discipline states that "the purpose of the annual conference is to make disciples for Jesus Christ by equipping its local churches for ministry and by providing a connection for ministry beyond the local church." A new state-wide annual conference could reclaim a vision of the conference as missional and purposeful through active engagement with the host communities and intentional networking between churches and church leadership. While administrative details must be attended to, opportunities for outreach ministries, leadership training, and spiritual renewal for lay and clergy members and conference guests could rise to the forefront of the annual conference experience. A new annual conference could provide the best of worship, training, technology, and resources for the purpose of encouraging and empowering lay and clergy leadership in local congregations, clusters, and regions. A more purposeful use of pre-conference briefings and the use of modern technology, such as web casts, e-forums, and teleconferencing, for more efficient means of communicating information and dealing with administrative details prior to and during annual conference will be explored.
Relationships with Institutions
There is a need to conduct an in depth study of all affiliated institutions that will add to the basic information that has already been collected on 36 organizations that have been identified. This study would examine the historic, present, and emerging roles of the institutions as related to the church and how each might add value to the other.
Individual task forces may need to study each of the higher education institutions, hospitals, retirement communities, children's homes, camping programs and facilities, and foundations.
Other institutions with which we might relate include charter schools (elementary, middle, and/or secondary), language centers that teach life skills and bilingual services, and domestic abuse shelters.