Church agency structure is overdue for overhaul

By Kent Millard, Special Contributor…

If a local United Methodist congregation was organized and administrated like the general agencies of the denomination, we would have a silo-driven, competitive and dysfunctional congregation.

For example, we realize how dysfunctional it would be if the local congregational education committee, music committee and missions committee each owned and operated their own part of the local church building independent of each other. Furthermore, think how dysfunctional it would be if the local church education, music and missions committees each had their own separate boards of directors who elected, supervised and fired their own staff. If there were no local church administrative board or council to which each of these groups were responsible, it would be difficult for a local congregation to coordinate and fulfill its ministry to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

However, this is how the current general agencies of the denomination are organized. The general boards and agencies own their own facilities and have their own separate boards of directors who elect, supervise and fire their own staff. It is no wonder that our current boards and agencies are seen as silo-driven, competitive and ineffective in increasing the number of local vital congregations.

It is not about having good people in the general agencies; we have many wonderful, faithful, committed and effective leaders in many of our agencies. However, we have designed a system which is not facilitating our mission of increasing the number of vital local congregations and reaching more people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Structural problem

Simply keeping the same structure and decreasing the number of members serving on the boards of general agencies will not solve the problem. The problem is in a general agency structure which is by nature competitive and independent rather than cooperative and accountable.

I was a part of the Call to Action team which conducted the outside evaluation by the APEX organization on the effectiveness of our boards and agencies in order to “improve decision making, implementation, effectiveness and accountability.” (Call to Action Report, page 131)

Our leaders most closely identified with the boards and agencies of the denomination were surveyed to give their assessment of the effectiveness of the church’s current structure for “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and pursuing the four areas of focus.”

United Methodist bishops, general secretaries, agency treasurers, boards of directors, seminary presidents, directors of connectional ministries, conference treasurers, district superintendents and the Call to Action steering team were all surveyed. Sixty percent said we have below-average accountability. More than 50 percent of respondents said we are below average in “decision-making effectiveness, ability to collaborate on making strategic decisions, ability to deliver results, ability to resolve conflict, competencies to deliver results and ability to lead in the effective and efficient use of financial and human resources.” (Call to Action Report, p. 217)

These results indicate that more than half of the church leaders who are most informed and associated with our program and ministry agencies believe we are ineffective in key areas of leadership, accountability, coordination and effectiveness in our current system.

It is for these reasons that the Interim Operations Team recommended that we restructure ourselves so that all of the program and ministry boards are accountable to a new group called the United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry.

There may be appropriate legal reasons why administrative agencies like the General Council on Finance and Administration should remain separate but there can be little justification for keeping program and ministry boards independent of and competitive with each other when we all should be working together to increase the number of vital congregations.

Data-based change

The Interim Operations Team has also recommended that we have a “set aside” bishop who can serve with the same authority and accountability that a local pastor has in a local congregation. A local pastor is accountable to the bishop and to the staff parish relations committee for the effectiveness of her/his ministry. In a similar way a “set aside” bishop would be accountable to the Council of Bishops and to a governing board for the effectiveness of his/her ministry.

I encourage serious consideration of the Call to Action, Interim Operations Team and Connectional Table recommendations because they are based on actual research data and best practices for streamlined and efficient use of personnel and financial resources.

Out of the 33,000 United Methodist churches in the nation, about 5,000 are vital congregations. To increase the number of vital congregations we need to restructure our boards and agencies so our focus is on strengthening local congregations and being good stewards of the time, talent and treasure given by faithful United Methodists around the world.


The Rev. Millard retired in 2011 as pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis.

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