Greater New Jersey leadership gave the Maintenance to Mission Task Force the green light to take the next steps in organizing conference staff.
Its proposal, presented at a meeting on Sept. 1, seeks to deepen conference resources, particularly to allow superintendents and connectional ministry staff to work together to assist congregations to make disciples, grow vital congregations, transform communities and start new faith communities. The proposal builds on the Strategic Ministry Plan of GNJ and deepens the commitment to congregations as mission outposts.
The Task Force proposal was enthusiastically endorsed as it was approved by 90 percent of those in attendance including members of the Connectional Table, Council on Finance and Administration, Episcopacy Committee, Commission on Communication and Chairpersons of the Superintendency Committees.
The Task Force’s goal was to refocus conference staff to the new mission field. They worked over the last several months to research other conference structures, evaluate how staff use time, interview current staff members, survey conference leaders and consider ideas to develop the plan. The new plan will allow district superintendents to move away from administrative duties and spend more time on disciple making, church plants and new faith communities.
The proposal was sent to all conference leaders in an email in August and includes:
- continuing nine districts,
- grouping superintendents into three regions,
- deploying connectional ministries staff into the regions,
- using circuit elders
- providing shared services for all conference administration.
“Most of the superintendents’ time is focused on administration and maintaining the conference and congregations as they are,” Bishop John Schol said. “This limits our potential for fulfilling our mission and growth. It continues patterns of decline which ultimately limits our mission. The new plan for staffing seeks to grow our mission and congregation.”
David Argo, a consultant with the Texas Methodist Foundation who worked with the Task Force, agreed with that observation.
“We have gifted and talented district superintendents who have had to work on things that do not move us forward in making new disciples and transforming lives,” he said.
Rev. Jeanette Block of Cape May UMC was chair of the Maintenance to Mission Task Force and felt strongly about moving forward with the new plan.
“We must do this,” she said. “People need the transformative power of a relationship with Jesus Christ. It transforms lives.”
The presentation generated a question and answer period where those in attendance were encouraged to voice concerns or share support. The discussion included questions on the speed of the change, how small churches will be affected, the need for more communication, how ethnic concerns will be addressed and assessment and benchmarks to measure success.
Argo believes the proposal will put the conference on a better long-term track.
“This is a plan,” he said, “that can help do what every congregation wants to do, and that is to grow.”
The new plan, which will take effect on July 1, 2016, is budget neutral and will cause a shift in staffing in the districts and regions and some changes in the responsibilities of the district superintendents.
The changes for superintendents will include no longer engaging in conflict resolution, contacting congregations and pastors about apportionment and billable payments, following up on statistical reports, managing supervisory concerns with clergy, answering church administration questions, and handling property issues. These tasks will be moved to shared services in the conference office.
“The superintendents will be more engaged with congregations particularly if the congregation or pastor participates in Team Vital, Communities of Hope, Coaching and PaCE groups,” Schol said. “This will allow superintendents and conference staff to provide leadership through these new resources.”
Block said the task force was encouraged by similar plans adopted by conferences elsewhere.
“Our extensive research and conversations with other conferences who have undergone similar transitions, let me know that this kind of plan works,” Block said. “We know there are new ways to do things.”
The other shift in staff will involve the district administrative assistants. These positions and job functions will be moved to the conference office to take advantage of shared services. The current district administrative assistants will be given the opportunity to relocate to new positions in the conference office. The Committee on Finance and Administration will meet to create fair severance packages for employees who choose not to transition.
“Our district administrative staff have been faithful and loyal for many years,” Schol said. “They have been a gift to us. We regret losing any of our staff but when this occurs and we will be generous and graceful in helping people to transition.”
The next step in the process will be creating position descriptions for shared services staff and creating a transition plan. Shared services staff in the conference office will be hired in 2016 and all district administrative functions will continue until the transition is complete in July.