Note: this E-pistle continues the reports about the next steps being taken as we move into the new Indiana Conference. You are welcome to share these reports:

As we continue the transition into the new Indiana Conference, the next step is the launching of our Ministry Clusters. The Cabinets and I will be hosting a series of “Tip-Off Events” in February and March. These events will be held within the bounds of the ten new districts, and invitations have gone out to pastors and lay leaders from each church with this information. At these Tip-Off Events, I will be sharing more about the Ministry Cluster model, and then there will be a time for church representatives (the pastor and lay leader) to start choosing their Ministry Clusters with some guidance from the District Superintendent and other lay leaders. The selections of those Ministry Clusters will help the Cabinets to finalize the district lines of the new ten districts by Annual Conference in June.

Ministry Clusters are a key component of the Imagine Indiana Plan adopted last year, and so I am eager to help launch these Clusters. As a part of the presentation, I will be answering the question, “What is a Ministry Cluster?” Here is a part of that answer:

A Ministry Cluster is a group of 4 to 9 local churches who choose to work together to accomplish the Gospel mission in their area, and it is also be a group of local churches who share common ministry needs and who work together to learn from each other.

Ministry clusters are designed to focus on answering two core questions:

  1. “How are each of our congregations doing in our local church ministries toward accomplishing our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?” and
  2. “What can we do better and more effectively together in our ministries to impact our area for Christ than we can do as individual congregations?”

Ministry Clusters are not about merging churches or closing churches or forcing churches to do joint programs – they are all about ministry and supporting one another as we seek to be faithful in our ministry. In fact the first task we will ask of each Ministry Cluster is to pray for one another regularly.

How will these Ministry Clusters be supported and resourced? The Imagine Indiana Plan calls for our ten districts to be grouped into five bi-districts with one office or Resource Center to house two District Superintendents and other staff. As the current Cabinets and other leaders have continued to plan for these Resource Centers, we have encountered concerns which are causing us to re-think that plan. Several have pointed out that these large bi-districts would make participation in district committees (such as the Committee on Ordained Ministry, the Committee on Church Building and Location, the committees for Leader Leadership and Lay Speaking, etc.) very difficult because each bi-district would encompass one-fifth of the entire state of Indiana. Another concern is that our District Superintendents want to be closer to their responsibilities in each district, rather than driving 1-2 hours to work out of a Resource Center. Others have raised the concern that these Resource Centers add another “layer” of administration rather than having a “flat” structure. A final concern is the added cost of having those 5 Resource Centers staffed and equipped on a full-time basis.

As the conversation has continued, this new option is being considered: drop the Resource Center idea, move most of the administrative responsibilities of such Centers to the Conference Office, have a team of Administrative Assistants available there by phone or e-mail to respond to local churches (and to process the information flow directly between the conference and local churches without going through the districts or resource centers), and keep the District Superintendents in their own district with a modest part-time staff focused upon resourcing clusters and local churches. In this model, no longer would the district be a conduit for information to the conference, because that would happen directly by improved technology. Instead each district superintendent and any district staff would focus upon helping local churches and clusters of churches with the ministry they choose to do (hence the phrase in the Imagine Indiana Plan about “Inverting the Initiative”).

The Transition Team will be looking at this issue and considering what recommendations to bring to the Annual Conference in June. I know that the Transition Team welcomes your input as they do their work. I believe it is important to keep our focus upon resourcing local churches and their Ministry Clusters, and we are all looking for the best and most effective way to do that.

The next step is launching those Ministry Clusters. See you at the Tip-Offs in February and March.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church