From the Bishop

In many ways it would be fair to say that we have just completed our first full year as the new Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church. 2010 was our first year in the new district structure, our first year with a unified budget for the Indiana Conference, and it was our first year to function as one Cabinet and one clergy appointment process.

Many other groups also made 2010 their first year as a truly united Indiana Conference, including groups like United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men, and now our three former foundations have finalized becoming the new United Methodist Foundation of Indiana, Inc., as of January 1, 2011.

So let me be the first to say: Congratulations on completing our first full year as the new Indiana Conference. 2010 was a busy year for many folks, especially for your Conference and District staffs. In some ways, it is difficult to believe it has only been one year, because this transition has been in process for nearly five years. How do we look after our first full year as the Indiana Conference? I offer these observations on the “state of the conference” after one full year:

  • Our mission giving and mission involvement remain high. A recent “mission audit” has revealed we have even more local church mission efforts than we previously knew about. For example, we learned we have more than 400 churches who feed the hungry through food banks and community meals, and we actually have several dozen churches which provide free health clinics in their communities. Giving to Advance Special projects like Operation Classroom and a myriad of others remains high. We have more people going on Volunteers in Mission teams and mission trips than we can easily count. Those we can count amount to more than all of the other 10 conferences in the North Central Jurisdictions combined.
  • Our camping budget finished in the “black” in 2010. The camping capital fund campaign has resulted in the first new lodges being built at Epworth Forest Conference Center at North Webster in more than 40 years to serve more youth and adults than previously served. Total camper attendance for all of our UM sites in 2010 was 3,206 campers of which 495 youth made first-time commitments to Christ in our various camping programs and 213 youth responded to a call to full-time Christian ministry at those same camps.
  • We have launched the Rejuvenate Project to help our clergy be better financial leaders in their congregations and to provide additional financial counseling, support and transition to our clergy families. More than 260 pastors have already received Rejuvenate grants. This project, which was made possible by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., has also led us to launch a capital fund drive to raise $3 million in matching funds, and we have already received pledges of nearly $1 million toward that effort. More than 300 pastors have attended educational events sponsored by Rejuvenate, especially the David Bell workshops, and so have more than 300 lay leaders of local churches. We hope to change our Indiana financial culture from one of scarcity to one of generous and responsible stewardship.
  • Our Indiana Conference chartered two new churches in 2010, plus 14 new worship services and five new second-site ministries were launched. One other church was helped to relocate, and several other churches are considering vital mergers to move and reach new people.
  • Our tithing model seems to be catching on. We had a balanced conference budget in 2010. Giving through November was up more than $600,000 from that same time period in 2009. Most gratifying, through November 2010, only 56 of our churches did not pay any part of their tithe compared to 93 churches in 2009 who did not participate. Of course not every church paid its full tithe – usually because their own members are not tithing and thus the local church is struggling to meet its obligations. Finishing 2010 in the “black” financially as a new Indiana Conference is something to celebrate – something which has not happened in both former conferences in more than 19 years. This positive action also has allowed our conference to pay more than 80 percent of our general church apportionments for 2010, compared to 50 percent paid by the former North and South Conferences in 2009.
  • Our churches have organized themselves into 175 Ministry Clusters, with much help from their District teams. Many of those Clusters are meeting regularly to pray for one another, to ask each other important accountability questions about reaching their mission, and to consider some mutual ministries which they could not do alone. Not every Cluster is functioning well yet, but I see great progress in helping our local churches connect “horizontally” with one another.
  • It is too early to know yet about our membership and worship attendance numbers and other statistics from 2010, since those year-end reports are due in a few weeks. When it comes to these statistics, I am reminded that Adam Hamilton, senior pastor at our largest United Methodist church in the United States with more than17,000 members, has predicted our United Methodist Church statistics as a denomination will get worse before they get better, because we have waited so long to focus upon church development and evangelism. However, Hamilton predicts we are moving in the right direction now as a UMC, and I pray that he is right. I won’t be fully satisfied until all of our Indiana Conference statistics turn positive.

In order for all of this to happen, we have organized the new Indiana Conference with these changes to help support our local churches:

  • Our Indiana Conference is functioning for the first time with a Leadership Table, where the whole conference structure is brought together in order to coordinate ministry efforts and to consider the overall needs of the conference. It is almost embarrassing to say that never before in the Indiana Area in its many forms and structures was there any kind of similar coordinating group. I have the privilege of presiding over this group, and I am impressed with the commitment of those present and the variety and strength of the ministries they represent.
  • We have a new Conference Center in leased space on the northside of Indianapolis where a reduced but unified staff has learned to work together to serve the 1,200 congregations of the Indiana Conference. Our new Conference staff is functioning with 30 percent fewer total employees, but being together in one place with one data system and one structure seems to be working well. There have been some technical glitches, but more and more I am hearing from local churches that, when they call or e-mail the Conference Center, they are greeted by friendly people who find the answers and provide the help they need. I celebrate that our new conference staff better represents the diversity our church seeks to achieve than previous conference staffs.
  • We have a 10-district model (down from 18) and all of the districts have developed their own teams, often making use of part-time and volunteer help so the District Superintendents can supervise nearly twice as many churches that each did as a former superintendent. Again, the total numbers of district staff employees are about 30 percent fewer than before in terms of full-time equivalents. As I have visited each of our 10 districts twice this past year for my “district days,” I have noticed a huge change from the spring of 2010 to the fall of 2010 – with each district center and staff functioning much more smoothly and with greater focus upon serving our congregations. Remember, in the Imagine Indiana Plan that brought about our new conference, we called this “inverted initiative,” whereby the focus is upon how the district and conference staff can help local churches.
  • We have a new unified plan for medical insurance for all of our active pastors bringing together several different plans and models from the former conferences, a new model of providing medical insurance subsidy and a choice of Medicare Supplement plans for our retired clergy and spouses, and a whole new voluntary property, casualty and liability insurance plan for all of the 1,200 churches of the new Conference – replacing the old, mandatory plan in the former North Conference and the absence of any such plan in the former South Conference.

We have completed one full year – 2010 – as the new Indiana Conference, and I pray that it is a good foundation for continued ministry, mission and fruitfulness. Thank you for your good work.

Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church
“Making a difference in Indiana and around the world.”