Backers of agency consolidation ponder what went wrong

The dream some UMC leaders had of bringing most general church agencies under a single 15-member board, led by an executive, crashed and burned at General Conference on Friday.

And the dreamers were left to lament their defeat in the General Administration Committee, and try to figure out what went wrong.

“I trust the Holy Spirit is at work in all of this,” said the Rev. Adam Hamilton, who championed the single board approach. “I think it’s hard to look at making major change.”

The General Administration Committee voted Friday morning to use a less sweeping restructuring plan, dubbed by its backers as Plan B, as the working document as it moved toward a final recommendation to all delegates.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton was prayed for at General Conference by choir members visiting from the church he leads in Leawood, Kan.

Plan B would preserve most agencies as independent, with their own boards, though the number of board slots would be sharply decreased.

The Rev. Don Underwood, leader of the North Texas Conference delegation, had pushed hard for the single board plan put forward by the Connectional Table, and drafted by a small group called the Interim Operations Team.

Plan B, to Mr. Underwood, is an inadequate substitute.

“It leaves all of our secretaries and agencies in silos,” he said. “It doesn’t provide the opportunity for collaboration that we wanted with the Connectional Table legislation.  And frankly, from a structural perspective, in terms of best practices, it leaves us with an irrational structure. It just doesn’t work in today’s world.”

Mr. Hamilton made an impassioned address at Wednesday night’s plenary, arguing that the UMC needs to make bold moves to arrest its decline in the United States.

But his presentation, in which he repeated dire statics about the UMC’s decline in the United States and showed a video about a UMC church that closed last year, got some negative reviews from delegates who commented via social media.

On Friday, after the single board plan went down, he said he had no regrets.

“I had some people say, `Gosh, well, that wasn’t hopeful,’” he said. “And I told folks my goal wasn’t to give hope in that session … What I wanted to do was give them a wake-up call to say, `If we just have hope and no action, the outcome is going to look a lot like that video of the church we showed.’”

Mr. Hamilton did say the CT/IOT forces had not done a good enough sales job, particularly for those who feared the agencies’ work might go away with major restructuring.

“Our aim in the CT/IOT was not cutting costs or cutting boards for the sake of cutting boards,” he said. “It was `How do we bring them together into a team.’ And I don’t think we explained well enough the benefits of that.”

Mr. Underwood assessed the role of Central Conference delegates, who constitute a much higher percentage of the delegate pool this time around, mainly because of growth of the church in Africa.

“My sense is that the Central Conference folks are reluctant to change anything, because they are primarily the beneficiaries of the agencies,” Mr. Underwood said. “And even though the CT legislation doesn’t change any of the vital work that they are recipients of, they fear that the change will somehow make that work go away. And so, they are tending to vote against any kind of major change.”

But Central Conference delegates were hardly the only obstacle to the CT/IOT legislation. Different parties, voicing concerns about concentration of power and lack of diversity in a single small board, worked together for its defeat.

“We’ve got Southeastern (Jurisdiction) conservatives that have developed coalitions with some of our most liberal people,” Mr. Underwood said. “That’s very unusual. We’ll just have to wait and see how that comes out.”

Bishop Scott Jones said the thrust of the Call to Action reform effort, initiated by the Council of Bishops in 2009 in response to decline of the U.S. church and troubling economic conditions, is a ten-year focus on boosting the number of vital congregations.

“The Call to Action is going to go forward regardless of what General Conference does,” he said. “General Conference might help it, but it won’t stop it.


By Sam Hodges, managing editor of the United Methodist Reporter


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columbiarivSam Hodges, Former Managing Editor, UMRglpresleybert bagley Recent comment authors
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The last line answers why it failed. Why would we give more authority to those who are willing to ignore the will of the General Church? The unmitigated arrogance…


Why is it arrogant to say the adaptive challenge (for the next ten years we will focus all our energy and resources toward raising up vital churches…)will go forward? Whatever structure we adopt must go forward with this challenge or we have lots of those empty buildings with the last faithful one turning over the keys. God can use any structure we imperfect humans might create if we be listen "can you hear?"

bert bagley
bert bagley

Well, let's read about an alternative plan please.

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