December 2016 – We Have a Future

December 5, 2016 | | GNJ News, Bishop's Relay Column

We have a future

I see a 20 to 50-year view of GNJ, and I am encouraged.

Really? Can anyone look out over 20-50 years and anticipate the future; a bright future? Think about living in the 1970s or 80s and as a business leader anticipating and responding to some of these changes: digital music, cordless tools, cell phones, online banking and bill paying, the iPhone, Google Maps and the internet. Or think about these changes:  people living longer, people not trusting institutions, the de-churching culture, and the rise of terrorism.  How do they change the way we think about money, the church and life?

Individuals and leaders did not always see these changes coming and the impact they would have on people and society. Can anyone see 20 to 50 years into the future to know what will occur and how it will change and shape the church? Maybe it is not seeing the future that makes the difference but how we shape GNJ today to live into our future. How will we create a regenerative GNJ today?

Regenerative organizations continually remake themselves regardless of what occurs in the future. These organizations renew or revitalize their own resources and energy for a successful future.

In nature, forests regenerate by producing new trees as old trees die. A starfish can lose a point of the star and grow a new one. Why?  Because they are designed that way. They are a part of a system that regenerates. They produce new generations.

Can organizations or GNJ or congregations regenerate, particularly when we cannot foresee the future? Yes! The March of Dimes was started to eliminate polio, and when the U.S. became polio free in 1979 because of vaccines, The March of Dimes refocused its mission and is now the leading nonprofit organization for preventing birth defects and premature births.

Today, the 3M Company which originally was known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company is a $30 billion business with 88,000 employees and produces 55,000 products including post-it notes, duct tape, and surgical tape. It moved from mining and minerals to a company of new innovations.

The March of Dimes and the 3M are regenerative organizations. At first glance to the outsider they are generating new business models or products, but a closer look reveals they are really regenerating their mission and values. The March of Dimes is regenerating a commitment to the health and welfare of children, and the 3M Company is regenerating a commitment to employee innovation and offering products that make life easier or better for people.

In The United Methodist Church, the United Methodist Women (UMW) has continued to remake itself.  They have focused on resettlement for refugees and immigrants to women’s rights, to addressing poverty among women, children and care for the environment. The UMW was once known as the Women’s Aid Society, the Ladies Aid Society and The Women’s Society of Christian Service. Today, it’s the UMW. With each new name the organization was adapting their mission to the new environment and needs in which women found themselves. Today, the UMW is one of the strongest organizations in The United Methodist Church.

Even in an unknown and changing environment, organizations can regenerate their mission and values and adapt their ministry/services to a changing world. These groups not only survive but thrive.

These organizations have a core mission that is purposeful and meaningful to society, and they have organizational systems much like a forest and starfish have biological systems that continually regenerate the organization.

As a whole, we are not experiencing this in The United Methodist Church and particularly among most of our congregations. In GNJ as many as 66% of our congregations are declining in worship attendance each year. It is not only the congregations and GNJ that are not sustainable, but it is our very mission that’s unsustainable.

But we have a future, not of demise but of hope. I see a 20-50 year GNJ that is thriving because this is the work of God and our leadership is focused on leadership, congregations, disciples and mission.

Much of my leadership over the next several years will be working with GNJ leaders to create a regenerative GNJ that not only is surviving but thriving and growing for the next 20 to 50 years. When much of The UMC is declining in the U.S., I see a GNJ that is growing its mission and regenerating its ministry.

We are already seeing disciple’s increased engagement in mission, small group ministry and mission giving in GNJ and I believe we will also see growth in making new disciples and disciples in worship as we continue our present path and mission – to make disciples and grow vital congregations to transform the world. While over the last 45 years we have declined, I see a future of growth based on deepening spirituality, focusing on our mission, and resourcing congregational leaders to achieve the mission.

In the next four editions of The Relay, I will share more about the areas we need to develop regenerative systems:

  1. spirituality/faith,
  2. leadership
  3. congregations
  4. money

This is not something that one person can create but requires us to work together to build a regenerative system that is transforming lives and communities through a strong, robust GNJ for the purposes of God 20-50 years from now.


Keep the faith!




The United Methodist Church

Greater New Jersey