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FACT Report to the Iowa Annual Conference – An Introductory Summary
(This summary is drawn from the opening section of the final report of the FACT Team)
The Council of Bishops commissioned the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (GBPHB) and the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) to partner in providing conferences with a Financial Advisory Consulting Team—known as FACT. With the presence of Bishop Don Ott, FACT worked with the Iowa Conference in July through September 2012, under the leadership of Bishop Julius Trimble, Reverend Bob Burkhart, Reverend Karen Dungan, Reverend Brian Milford, Reverend Chuck Smith (retired Treasurer) and Treasurer Todd Weber.
We were quite surprised when Bishop Trimble called to engage us. We were surprised because, if we had to rank the conferences that need assistance, particularly from a financial perspective, the Iowa Conference would not be anywhere near the top of that list. To the contrary, the Iowa Conference is currently in relatively good financial health. The leaders of this conference are demonstrating true leadership as they proactively seek assistance before a situation develops, as their overall concern (and goal) is best described as “the long term relevance and viability of the Iowa Conference.”
From a list of 22 Iowa Conference members provided by Bishop Trimble and his leadership team, we were able to carry out 21 detailed interviews and an initial face-to-face meeting on July 26, 2012 at the Iowa Conference Center. During these discussions Bishop Trimble and members of the Iowa Conference identified 14 critical “dilemmas” which the plenary consolidated and prioritized into 8 unedited dilemmas:
1. Defining in Iowa context what “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” means.
2. Continue to instill a sense of Christian hope.
3. Align mission and ministries with priorities?be proactive instead of reactive.
4. Need a culture change that values the shared mission more than personal preferences.
5. Recruit and engage more lay participation in ministry and governance within the ?conference.
6. Living up to stewardship kingdom potential by developing a culture of abundance (not scarcity) and addressing the sinfulness of greed that permeates our culture.
7. Shifting mindset: Build churches, wait for people—to go out in community to make disciples and transform the world.
8. Stressed finances
FACT concurs that these dilemmas are critical to the future of the Iowa Conference and that the possible solutions presented deserve consideration. Our recommendations, in part, are significantly influenced by issues and potential solutions identified by Iowa Conference members.
Our recommendations are based on several factors internal and external to the Iowa Conference, including extensive research that involved analysis of Iowa Conference data and processes, many e-mails and phone calls, our regular contact with other UMC conferences (including consideration of their successes and failures), as well as our experienced and diverse professional judgment. We received 42 pages of input from interviews, saw and heard a lot of good discussions.
Throughout the course of our work we found the people of the Iowa Conference to be friendly, proud and strong in their faith! Also, and perhaps more than any other conference, we heard nearly all the answers to your dilemmas articulated pervasively throughout the conference. In fact, we often heard perhaps the best input and discussions we have yet heard on common conference issues, by proportionately more people than we have ever heard, on what needs to be done and how to do it.
FACT believes the Iowa Conference is at a critical junction and the timing is right for laity and clergy to step up and make the tough decisions that will ultimately enable the conference not just to survive, but thrive. FACT’s purpose is not to close churches or merge conferences; our focus is on assisting both key bodies of the Church to regain their vitality and be self-sustaining.
Throughout our extensive work with the good people of the Iowa Conference and throughout the Connection, given the will, we have not encountered any hurdle that cannot be cleared. Often what is needed most is leadership (at all levels) and courage to make the tough decisions, lest we continue to do the same ineffective things over and over again, foolishly expecting different outcomes.
Please know we are not asking you to abandon your own recommendations and good works?in progress (e.g., Imagine No Malaria, New Places for New People, etc.) to solely run with our recommendations. Rather, we are challenging you to rethink some of your efforts in light of our current recommendations and your ultimate strategy. That is, assess if your current plethora of ministries and efforts are in alignment with the best manner in which to get to where you want and need to be and, if so, dovetail and prioritize them with our recommendations for optimal effectiveness. We intentionally suggest tight time frames.
FACT’s primary recommendations focus on the following areas:
1. Conference Leadership
2. Strategic Planning
4. Clergy Revitalization
5. Ineffective/Entitled Clergy
6. Laity Empowerment
7. Congregational Sustainability/Apportionments
8. Conference Benefits
9. General Financial Sustainability