Why is this shift towards regions happening?
In answer to the question “why the change?”, we describe a three-legged stool:
(1) Changing congregations and changing world require changed way of working. District structures the last thirty years have changed little. District staffs were based on what we took to be the ideal staffing structure for a midsized suburban congregation in 1980: two roughly parallel religious professionals, a parish minister and a religious educator, with support of an administrator. For both our larger congregations and our smaller ones this model now does not fit, and of course the model has never fit for our many lay-led congregation. Models of leadership structure are much more diverse and are quickly changed. We are becoming conscious of this as part of an overall series of changes which are exciting to engage and require of us some basic rethinking of how we work. Two summaries of the trends that we need to pay attention:
In my previous position I was director of research at the Alban Institute. I am excited to be lead staff person in a region so single-mindedly focused on the future and where so many leaders are thinking about what the future will require. The primary feature of religious life in North America is its dynamism—in short, you snooze, you lose. At the same time we must be able to be much more agile and must help congregations to be more agile, we also need to create space for being thoughtful and deliberate in our responses to rapidly changing circumstances. In future posts we will elaborate further our emerging thinking on staffing and governance structures.
(2) Restricted resources. After a decade of modest growth in budgets, congregational revenue plateaued or declined in 2007 for congregations and hence for district budgets. At the same time congregations needed, if anything, more from us. We adapted to this for the first couple of years by reinvention such as giving up brick and mortar offices, substituting virtual meetings for face-to-face ones, and trimming staff. In the last 18 month we have realized that there is going to be no quick climb back to prosperity. Congregations realize this also. Many of you are now looking to more structural adjustments in your budgets. Maintaining three separate administrative/program structures is not sustainable. Resources are tightest in Heartland District. It has very little reserves to buffer against such a time. But the basic situation is the same for all three. We need to profoundly reinvent to become sustainable.
(3) Technology One primary opportunity off-setting the lack of money is the explosion of technology—for us and for congregations. As one of our leaders observed about technology, “the jury is still out” on how well a lot of it works. But we are all learning and we have great confidence that we have huge capacity in this, if only we can learn to share better what we know. Learning how to live in a technological works draws us into the cultural world that is emerging. This January, our staff member from Prairie Star District, Phil Lund, taught a course at Meadville Lombard about social media and ministry. I asked him for the very, very brief version: he said the most basic point was that it is no longer optional. Technology is not only a tool to use. It has become a world in which those we wish to serve live. -- Rev. Ian Evison