Friday, May 24, 2019

The Ministry Consequences of Reduced Apportionments

Today's post is the second in a two-part series by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

As discussed earlier this week, it is highly likely that there will be a significant reduction in the amount of apportionment money at all levels of the church in the future, due both to proposed reductions in general church apportionments and to protests and possible division in the denomination.

This situation naturally begs the question: What are the possible consequences of this reduction in apportionment funds? I will look at the range of possibilities on two levels: institutions and programs.

Apportionment money goes to support a variety of institutions – some components of the church itself, like annual conferences; some ministries of the church, like boards and agencies, church camps, and collegiate ministries; and some relatively independent but still church-supported organizations, like colleges, hospitals, and social service providers.

One possible impact on these institutions could be that the church (or churches, if there is a division) could decide to reduce the number of institutions it supports that are doing similar work. Thus, the UMC could reduce the number of supported seminaries or the number of episcopal areas, for instance.

The future of agencies no longer supported would vary – loosely controlled agencies like seminaries, hospitals, or colleges could try to continue on their own without church funds. Some might succeed; others likely wouldn’t. Portions of the church like episcopal areas or annual conferences would need to consolidate down to a smaller number.

Another possible consequence could be that the UMC (or its successors) could consolidate institutions with dissimilar but related functions. This option is most likely for general church boards and agencies, where reduced general church apportionments could lead to the return of something like Plan UMC, but this option could also play out at the annual conference level. The idea would be to try to reduce spending through shared services, fewer staff, fewer board members, shared facilities, etc. The amount of savings realized may or may not be sufficient to prevent other types of impacts, but this possibility would likely be combined with other types of cuts.

The model might even look like the unitary board model common in other smaller denominations, wherein the denomination has one board with various departments instead of multiple separate boards and agencies.

A third possible consequence could be that annual conferences or the general church decides to stop supporting institutions that do certain types of work. The church could choose to focus on or prioritize some forms of work and cease funding for others. Again, the implication for the institutions no longer receiving church funds would depend on how closely tied they were to the church and how significant church funds were for covering their overall operating expenses.

A fourth possible impact is that the church (either general church or annual conferences) could expect church-supported institutions to rely more on other sources of funding, perhaps direct giving, grants, or fee-for-service arrangements. This option is most likely for relatively independent church-supported institutions and ministry organizations.

This may or may not be a realistic expectation, depending on the type of institution, the type of ministry it does, and its previous experience with other forms of funding. It is unrealistic to expect an institution that has previously relied entirely on apportionment money to suddenly self-fund, but church institutions like hospitals, colleges, seminary, camps, and social service agencies with previous experience with other revenue streams may be more successful. Such a decision to push for greater institutional self-support may end up being a de facto decision to cut programming at those institutions.

Whether or not it impacts the programming of institutions, the decision to reduce church financial support of institutions will also have the effect of reducing church control of institutions. Control usually follows money, and less financial support likely means less control. That may or may not be a bad thing, either from the church’s perspective or that of the institution.

The final option for the church (either general church or annual conferences) would be to keep the same set of institutions but to expect them to do less, since they would be receiving less funding. That leads to the second level of implications: the programmatic level.

For any institution impacted by the reduction in apportionments, there are a few ways to cope with reduced funding: reducing overall business costs, doing less of the same programs, and doing fewer programs.

One main way of reducing overall business costs is by increasing efficiencies within the institution – finding cheaper paper suppliers, automating tasks, outsourcing IT support, etc. Due to the general business climate and specific financial pressures may church-related institutions have faced in recent years, the search for greater efficiency is already well underway. It is unlikely that institutions could realize a cost savings of 15% (the proposed reductions for some boards) just through greater efficiency.

The other way in which contemporary organizations reduce their overall business costs is by shifting the costs of business onto their employees. This is a general trend in American business and is carried out in many ways – changes to benefit packages, the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pensions, the use of more temporary as opposed to long-term employees, etc. There may be moral reasons why this form of cost-savings is unsavory to the church, but such proposals can often be presented in financial terms that obscure the impacts on employees.

The second programmatic option is to do less of the same thing. Under this option, institutions continue to conduct the same sorts of program, but spend less on them by operating these programs at lower levels – fewer clients served, less staff support, fewer scholarships given, fewer visits by the DS, etc.

Lower levels of inputs likely produce lower levels of outputs and outcomes, though the correlation between inputs and outputs is not always linear. Some programs may have outcomes that depend upon a certain scale, and for these, doing less of the same thing may result in a reduction in outputs that is proportionally greater than the reduction in inputs.

Some programs may also have a minimum size that they need to function based on staffing levels, physical space, or other criteria. There comes a point at which it is not possible to do less of certain programs and still do them in any meaningful way.

When that point comes, it leads to the third possible programmatic consequence: doing fewer programs. Institutions may decide to cut programs because they lack the funds to sustain them at sufficient levels or because they decide to focus and prioritize elsewhere. That saves the institutions money spent on salaries, supplies, services, etc, but means the church no longer try to prevent malaria or support ethnic new church starts or do whatever else happened through shuttered programs.

Again, the church, both at the annual conference and general church levels, is likely to employ multiple of the above strategies for addressing the reduction in apportionment funds. Especially if there is church division, multiple strategies will be necessary.

Moreover, because of the very wide array of church-financed institutions and programs and because of the large collection of decision-making bodies for these institutions and programs, it is impossible at present to say how reductions in apportionments will play out, either in total, or in any particular field.

What is certain, however, is that the connectional and financial troubles of The United Methodist Church as a whole will have dramatic and deleterious consequences for its connectional institutions and ministry programs.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Questions about UMC Separation

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

There has been a lot of conversation about the possibility of a coming split in The United Methodist Church since General Conference 2019. Secular media has speculated about it. Members of the Renewal and Reform Coalition have been calling for separation or "mitosis." The recent UMC Forward and UMC Next events discussed this possibility. Even the Council of Bishops "is exploring models and plans of new forms of unity."

There are, to put it mildly, many questions that arise from the possibility of such a split. On a basic level, there are many different ways separation could happen – one group leaving the existing structure and another staying, all current connections being dissolved with congregations or annual conferences left to determine their own plans, two or more groups negotiating a plan of separation, and probably other possibilities as well.

Assuming some sort of negotiated plan of separation, questions then arise of who will be doing the negotiation. What authority will they have to speak for a wider group? What voices will be part of the negotiation, and whose interests will they represent – theologically and in terms of a variety of identity issues (race, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc.)?

Then there are questions regarding the details of the separation, including the following:

1. What happens to the central conferences? Do they become autonomous? Do they go with one group as a default? Does each of them vote on autonomy or affiliation with one group? Is the central conference even the right body to make these decisions in all cases, or would it make more sense for episcopal areas or annual conferences to make such decisions in some cases? Allowing United Methodist outside the US to make these decisions themselves is necessary for a division to happen in a non-colonialist way. It is quite likely that different central conferences would make different decisions. It is also likely that there will be differences of opinion within some central conferences.

2. Who (if anyone) keeps the name “The United Methodist Church”? If one group keeps the name and the other doesn’t, then it seems more like an exit than a division. If neither group keeps the name, then it seems more like a mutual division.

3. Who (if anyone) keeps the cross and flame insignia? Again, if one group keeps the name and the other doesn’t, then it seems more like an exit than a division. If neither group keeps or both groups keep the cross and flame, then it seems more like a mutual division. Both groups continuing to use the same logo may cause confusion, though, unless there is some modification by one or both groups.

4. When determining which congregations and clergy become part of which group, is there a default option for affiliation, or does every congregation and clergy person vote? If there is a default option in the division, what is it – the progressive or the traditionalist group? Who determines that default? At what geographical level is it determined – jurisdiction? annual conference? This may be the most contentious issue, since whichever group is the default option with likely retain divided congregations or congregations reluctant to vote.

5. What happens to the boards and agencies? Do they go with one group? Is it necessary that they all go with the same group? Are at least some of the boards and agencies shared between groups? Do they become independent non-profits, able to serve Methodist groups and non-Methodists alike? If they do not continue to be part of one group solely, how will their boards be determined? In any case, what will their revenue streams look like? Will they be dissolved, their assets liquidated and split?

6. What happens to other United Methodist-related institutions such as seminaries, colleges, hospitals, non-profits, etc.? Do they choose a group? Do they cease to be church-affiliated at all? What does that affiliation look like? In cases where there are currently United-Methodist appointed trustees, who will appoint those trustees in the future?

7. What, if any, opportunities will there be for on-going relationship across newly separated parts of the church, including perhaps newly autonomous central conference regions? Will they all be part of the World Methodist Council? Will there be other avenues to foster those relationships, such as some non-law-making continuation of General Conference? Will boards and agencies continue to serve as means of fostering relationships? Will there continue to be direct relationships between annual conferences or local churches?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the question, to the extent that congregations, annual conferences, and/or church institutions are choosing between groups, what are the defining issues by which those choices are being framed? Will the choice just be about views on queer ordination and gay marriage, or will each group articulate a larger vision of the church, say around a particular understanding of holiness, full inclusion and affirmation of all people, and/or opposition to systemic oppression in all its forms? This question has particular salience for United Methodists of color and United Methodists in the central conferences, who may not see themselves aligning perfectly with either side in a split if the terms are set solely by white Americans.

Monday, May 20, 2019

A Primer on United Methodist Apportionments

Today's post is the first in a two-part series by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Today, we’re going to take a look at apportionments, the system by which The United Methodist Church funds many of its joint ministries.

The basic idea behind apportionments is that local congregations pool a portion of the money they collect to accomplish things that are either beyond their ability to do as individual congregations (run a seminary, for instance) or that can be done more effectively or efficiently together (develop resources on preventing harassment and abuse). Apportionments allow the church to produce goods and services funded by all for the benefit of all – collective goods.

Local congregations are requested to pay a certain dollar amount in apportionments that is determined by their annual conference. That amount is determined on the one hand by the budget of the annual conference, including the amount the remit to the general church, and on the other hand by the budget of the congregation and possibly its membership size (this varies by annual conference). Larger congregations with larger budgets are asked to pay more, on the principle that those with greater ability should contribute more.

Apportionments are often referred to as “church taxes.” This label comes from the fact that the government is the prime example of an organization that collects money from many individual to produce goods that cannot be produced by any individual yet are for the benefit of all individuals.

Yet it’s worth pointing out that governments are not the only such organizations. Subscriptions services like Netflix do the same thing. No one family can produce “Orange Is the New Black” or “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” but by collecting money from all of their subscribers, Netflix as a whole is able to produce these collective goods. Moreover, Netflix determines the fees it charges, just as the government determines the tax rate. Thus, apportionments could just as fairly be called “United Methodist subscription fees” as they could “church taxes.”

The system of apportionments evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Prior to apportionments, boards, agencies, and other collective ministries relied upon direct fundraising. The evolution of apportionments was driven by three overlapping desires: Boards and agencies wanted a more reliable source of income than the varying amounts they collected in fundraising. Local churches wanted a simpler approach to giving that the multiple appeals with which they were bombarded. And General Conferenced wanted more control over the boards and agencies. The apportionment system achieved all of these goals simultaneously.

As it stands today, the apportionment system in The United Methodist Church has several levels that reflect the broader polity levels of the church: In the US, there are apportionments paid that go to support the work of the district, the annual conference, the jurisdiction, and the general church.

Despite the frequent focus on general church apportionments in the UMC, the majority of apportionments actually go to the annual conference. For every dollar United Methodists in the US give to the church, only $0.02 goes to general church apportionments, whereas $0.07 goes to district, annual conference, and jurisdictional apportionments, mostly to the annual conference.

Within general church apportionments, there are seven different funds:

  •  The World Service Fund, which pays for the work of those general boards and agencies funded through apportionments, the work of the Connectional Table, and special ministries such as the Central Conferences Theological Education Fund. Just over half of general church apportionments go to the World Service Fund.

  •  The Episcopal Fund, which pays for episcopal salaries, housing, and travel costs for all bishops throughout the world. About 1/6 of general church apportionments go to the Episcopal Fund.

  •  The Ministerial Education Fund, which supports the work of the 13 official United Methodist seminaries in the US. About 1/8 of general church apportionments go to the Ministerial Education Fund.

  •  The Black College Fund, which supports the work of the 11 historically black colleges and universities in the US affiliated with the UMC. About 7% of general church apportionments go to the Black College Fund.

  •  The General Administration Fund, which supports the work of GCFA and GCAH, covers the costs associated with planning and holding General Conference, and covers the costs of the work of the Judicial Council. About 6% of general church apportionments go to the General Administration Fund.

  •  The Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, which supports the work of the Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Cooperation. Less than 2% of general church apportionments go to the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund.

  •  The Africa University Fund, which supports the work of Africa University. Less than 2% of general church apportionments go to the Africa University Fund.

Giving from churches in the US supplies the vast majority of general church apportionment funds – over 90%. Churches in Europe have long given voluntarily to support some general church funds. General Conference 2016 approved the collection of apportionments from churches in all the Central Conferences to support the Episcopal Fund and the General Administration Fund. European churches continue to pay at a level in excess of that requested of them.

Currently, the system of apportionments is facing two major developments that could significantly curtail the amount of money collected through the apportionments system.

First, the GCFA board of directors has proposed a significant cut in the amount of general church apportionments requested from US churches. Last August they proposed an 18% reduction. Since annual conferences and not local congregations determine how apportionments are collected, annual conferences will ultimately determine how much of that reduction is passed on to local churches. Again, general church apportionments are only a quarter of the total apportionments collected.

The Connectional Table has worked with the GCFA board of directors to determine how that 18% overall reduction for general church apportionments would translate to various specific funds. The CT controls the World Service Fund, Ministerial Education Fund, Black College Fund, Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, and Africa University Fund. GCFA controls the Episcopal Fund and the General Administration Fund. A full report of the CT’s recommendations can be found here.

The recommended budget from GCFA and CT needs to be approved by General Conference 2020 before it can go into effect. It is possible the GC would increase general church apportionments from the level proposed, but significant reductions are likely.

The other factor which will likely impact apportionment giving at all levels – district, annual conference, jurisdiction, and general church – is the conflict over the Traditional Plan and the uncertainty about the future of the denomination. Some local congregations are withholding all apportionments in protest of the Traditional Plan’s passage. Some annual conferences are working out system to pay only portions of the general church apportionments. Moreover, a division of the church, which seems increasingly likely, will reduce the amount of apportionments further.

My next piece will look at how the metaphor of apportionments as subscription fees can help us think about the future of apportionments and connectional ministries in a less united United Methodist Church in new ways.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The United Methodist Representational Problem, Part III

Today's piece is the second in a three-part series by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo. Dr. Wingeier-Rayo is Dean of Wesley Theological Seminary.

The previous part of this blog series discussed whether the UMC’s polity and election formulas are consistent with the UMC’s mission statement, which emphasizes making disciples.

This leads us to another problem with the representative system that only counts current members, but does not take into account potential. What about underrepresented people groups? The voices of the potential mission opportunities are largely absent at General Conference, which gives a disproportionate power to the status quo.

The Hispanic population in the United States is about 17% of the population (52 million) but comprises less than 1% of UM members. Asians-Americans are 6% of the U.S. population (about 21 million) and comprises only 1% of UM members, and both groups are large potential mission fields in the U.S. Yet there were only a handful of Hispanic and Asian-American delegates to General Conference. The same could be said for other underrepresented groups.

Every four years annual conferences elect delegates to General Conference. Usually mindful of the desire for racial and gender diversity, some annual conferences are more successful than others at achieving this aim. In the United States, the UMC is approximately 90% Caucasian at a time when ethnic minority populations are growing. The U.S. Census predicts that the U.S. will become majority minority by 2044. Generally speaking, Caucasians in the U.S. tend to be older, while people of color are younger.

We are already seeing this shift in the U.S. where African American, Hispanic, Asian American and Native American membership is growing in the UMC, while Caucasian membership is in decline.

There are many local churches that are islands of older Caucasians in the middle of black and brown neighborhoods. This reality is reflected in the power structure, where the majority of U.S. delegates to General Conference delegates are older and white, yet their churches are located in communities that are younger and ethnically diverse.

Although the United Methodist Church prides itself on being a global church, there is very little representation at General Conference from Asia and none from Latin America.

The Philippines had 50 delegates representing 5.8% of the total delegates. Sixty percent of the world’s population lives in Asia. The three most populated countries in the world, China, India and Indonesia (who together comprise 1/3 of the world’s population--approximately 2.7 billion people) have no voting delegates at General Conference.

Mexico, Central and South America, a region that is extremely important geopolitically to the United States and has a population of 625 million people, have no voting delegates. Can we call ourselves a global church when such large sectors of the world’s population are not represented in the United Methodist Church?

Within the United States, the Western Jurisdiction only comprises 3% of membership, and thus has 3% of the delegates to General Conference. However, the jurisdiction covers one-third of U.S. territory with vast natural and economic resources. Historically, Methodism arrived in the Eastern United States and slowly moved to the West. The Western Jurisdiction began as missionary annual conferences, and Alaska is still a missionary conference today.

Although the jurisdiction has proportionally small membership, the states of California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, and Utah have some of the highest populations of unchurched people among their collective 65 million inhabitants—many of them younger and ethnically diverse. The populations in these states are growing.

Losing this growth potential and mission field would be a huge loss to the United Methodist Church, but our current formula for representative democracy takes no account of the needs and potential of this population.

Our system favors conferences that have more current members, even though they are generally older, of a dominant ethnic group and male. These voices have disproportionate power and are not representative of the potential mission and future growth of the church.

The General Conference election formula is inconsistent with the mission statement of the UMC. A balanced and healthy church polity would have proportionate representation of those who are living out the mission statement with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.

Here are five practical recommendations that could make the process for electing delegates more representational of the reality of the UMC constituency:

1.    Move the dates of the General Conference to a time when more young people are available to attend (i.e. taking into account the academic calendar).

2.    Support the young people’s call to mentor and encourage young people to become delegates to General Conference.

3.    Require an equal number of men and women from each annual conference as delegates to General Conference.

4.    Ask each annual conference to be accountable for financial commitments of the general church proportionate to the number of its General Conference delegates.

5.    Give greater voice to those leaders from vibrant ministries making new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The United Methodist Representational Problem, Part II

Today's piece is the second in a three-part series by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo. Dr. Wingeier-Rayo is Dean of Wesley Theological Seminary.

The first part of this blog discussed ways that the representation to annual and general conferences is not proportionate or representational of the body of United Methodists. This second part will discuss whether the polity and election formulas are consistent with the UMC’s mission statement.

The mission of The United Methodist Church is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The mission statement calls us to make disciples, yet representation to General Conference is awarded to those who make members. Are making a disciple and making a member the same?

In some cases, the process of making a disciple and making a member overlap, and becoming a member of a local church is a logical outcome of becoming a disciple. However, they are not always synonymous. In our churches there are disciples of Jesus Christ who are not members, and there are church members who may not be committed disciples.[1]

For example, in the church I attend there is a young man who is active, attends worship regularly, gives generously, participates in mission and outreach, yet has not joined the church. After General Conference in February he commented to me that: “it would be a hard sell to invite any of my friends to the United Methodist Church right now.” Recently there was a whole confirmation class in Omaha, Nebraska who decided to not join the church.

There are countless others in our churches who attend worship regularly, volunteer, give financially, yet are not members. I would call them disciples, but not members.

Inversely, there are other churches that focus on maintenance of current membership. Some members have been on the rolls for decades with very little involvement. Some are “Christmas and Easter Christians.” Unless there are extenuating circumstances that prevent them from attending (such as illness, physical mobility or proximity to church), I would say that they are members, but not necessarily disciples.

A church may invest in ministries that make disciples for the transformation of the world without making members. I would argue that these are actually some of our most fruitful investments. I point to the example of our denominationally-supported campus ministries that disciple college students who will be the future leaders of society. They may or may not choose to join a United Methodist Church, but will participate in a lifetime of Christian witness (whether in the UMC or not) and the transformation of the world through their professional vocations.

Other examples are our new church starts and Fresh Expressions that de-emphasize denominational connections. Studies have shown that young people today are less interested in supporting an institution, and so these ministries often do not use the cross and flame logo in their publicity. These ministries emphasize making disciples but not necessarily members.

Ministry is contextual, and each local church decides its own budget based on its own priorities. Some churches see themselves as the salt of the earth and place major emphasis on social ministries. Many have outreach programs to serve their community. Others are very missional and support international missionaries and VIM teams.

All churches would like to grow, but this depends on how one defines growth. Is numerical growth the best metric for measuring a healthy and effective church? Is it not possible to be engaged in healthy, effective ministry that transforms the world (or a least the surrounding community) and yet be a small membership church?

In his book, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church, Reggie McNeal makes the case for using such metrics of church vitality as volunteer service hours. Conversely, there are many cases of members who do not uphold their vows to support the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

Should the voice and vote of the member be valued more than the active seeker? Should the voice of the elderly be valued more than that of the young? An 80 year-old lifelong member has representation, but a young person in the youth group or a new disciple who is not a member cannot vote.

Inviting new people to participate in decision-making and have ownership is part of discipleship and one of the best way to retain young people and their needs and opinions should be given serious consideration.

[1] For further discussion on the United Methodist mission statement see Dana Robert and Doug Tzan’s article “Is the UMC’s mission statement really Methodist?”

Monday, May 13, 2019

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The United Methodist Representational Problem, Part I

Today's piece is the first in a three-part series by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo. Dr. Wingeier-Rayo is Dean of Wesley Theological Seminary.

The United Methodist Church has a representational problem.

The recent General Conference in St. Louis was comprised of 864 elected delegates, half lay and half clergy, who were elected according to a formula proportionate to the membership in their home conferences.

A representative democracy was established at the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church at the Christmas Conference in 1784 in Baltimore. The conference system builds on the foundational system of Christian conferencing established by John Wesley in England, and moves from the local church, to the annual conference, to jurisdictional/central conference, and finally General Conference, which is the maximum authority of the church.

The question is how do we define representational?

Let’s take for example the basis of the United Methodist form of government, the annual conference, also composed of an equal number of lay and clergy delegates. Although seemingly fair and equitable, this model actually gives proportionately more representation to smaller membership churches than medium and larger membership churches.

Why is this? A small membership church may have 50 members or fewer, while a medium to large membership church may have considerably more—yet these churches may both have one appointed pastor, and thus be allotted one lay delegate. Larger churches may have several pastors on staff (e.g. youth pastor, children’s minister, pastor of visitation, executive pastor, etc.), but if they aren’t appointed, then they will not be delegates to annual conference. So a large church may have many more members and pay much more in apportionments, yet only be allotted one lay delegate per appointed pastor—the same as a small membership church.

And nobody knows if the lay delegate for each church will necessarily vote in a way that is representational of his or her church membership. The UM representational system has no way of holding delegates accountable for voting with their constituency. Once delegates are voted on at charge conference, each delegate is free to vote his or her conscience and does not have to vote as a representative of the wishes of his or her congregation.

There is also no way to assure fair demographic representation in the United Methodist system. If a congregation is comprised of 50% men and 50% women and elects a male delegate, then are the women represented? And if the church names someone who is retired, are the youth represented? And this doesn’t begin to address the ethnic diversity in a congregation.

The representative formula for General Conference is different from that of annual conference. While the annual conference is one lay and one clergy delegate per church, the formula for General Conference is proportionate to conference membership. Those conferences with larger church membership receive more delegates.

Similar to annual conference delegates, the formula for electing General Conference delegates has no way to guarantee that women are proportionately represented. Of the 864 elected delegates at St. Louis, 309 (36%) were women and (64%) were men. Among U.S. delegates the delegates were 56.3% men to 46.5% women. Among the Central Conference delegates, men outnumbered women 260 to 87 for a 3:1 men to women ratio. Of the jurisdictions, the Northeast was the only jurisdiction with a majority of women delegates (54.7%).

The majority of male delegates contrasts with the membership of local churches. Dana Roberts reported in her book, Gospel Bearers, Gender Barriers, that two-thirds of the membership of the global church are women.  And if we look at who are the people behind the scenes making ministry happen, women often play significant roles in churches, but are disproportionately underrepresented as delegates.

Young people are another group who were disproportionately represented In St. Louis with delegates under the age of 35 being only 7% of delegates.

Yet their voice was heard when they wrote a statement signed by 15,000 youth from around the world which encouraged delegates to: “elect a young person to your 2020 delegation. Not as a reserve, but as someone seated with a vote on the floor. Mentor a young person to run. Advocate for a young person to be elected. Show up for the young people in your life, and actually celebrate them around these tables in 2020. If we are actually part of the Body, it is time to bring our voice and vote around these tables.”  The statement went on to say: “Over and over, bishops and delegates have told us from the floor here, they don’t want us to leave, but with all due respect, you are not fighting to keep us here.”

Despite their under-representation, young people will be disproportionately financially impacted by a decline or division in the denomination through losses in support for ministerial education and impacts on ministerial pension plans.

The formula for delegates to General Conference has no way to account for equal financial responsibility and accountability. If a delegate votes for a petition that has financial implications, that delegate will not necessarily be proportionately impacted. The delegates at General Conference set the budget for the whole church. One supposes that these delegates are generous givers as members of their local church, but nobody knows how much they pledge.

So as a body the General Conference creates a budget that they personally will not cover. Some conferences may have larger membership, but their financial contribution to the general church is not proportionate to their membership. Conversely, a conference that is allotted just a few delegates may make a substantial contribution to the general church. The size of an annual conferences delegation to General Conference is not proportionate to its apportionment to the general church budget.

Yes, the United Methodist Church has a representative democracy, however there are different ways to interpret “representative.” At the annual conference level, representative is defined as one clergy and one lay delegate per church, and so large churches who contribute more are disproportionately underrepresented. At General Conference the number of delegates is proportionate to conference membership; however, there is no consideration for proportionate gender, age, ethnicity or financial contributions of the annual conference.

This formula without provisions for gender, age, ethnicity or financial representation leads to certain groups being disproportionately underrepresented and not having their voices heard. It also leads to other groups having a disproportionate power in spite of not being representative of their home church or conference.

As we strive toward perfection, I invite United Methodists to reflect on ways to improve our representative democracy to have people making decisions who are truly making ministry happen in our local churches through their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.

In the second part of this blog I will discuss the mission of The United Methodist Church and whether membership is the best metric to assess participation in the life of the church.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Recommended Viewing: Evangelism Videos

Both the Methodist Church in Britain and Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church have come out with videos recently about evangelism.

The video from the Methodist Church in Britain, entitled "Stepping Out in Evangelism and Growth" is a nice, 8-minute long introduction to the MCB's approach to evangelism and the importance of evangelism in the life of the church. It comes out of a recent MCB focus on evangelism and growth.

The video series from Discipleship Ministries is part of their See All the People campaign. While there is a series of 19 videos (and counting), the two videos "What is 'See All the People'?" and
"#SEEALLTHEPEOPLE" provide the best overview of the approach to evangelism embodied in this initiative.