News Archives

Connectional Table affirms four 'provocative proposals'

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Gordon

Bishops Sharon Rader and John Hopkins confer during a break in the Connectional Table meeting in Forth Worth, Texas.
Nov. 1, 2006

By Fran Coode Walsh*

FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS) -- The Connectional Table, a 60-member group responsible for coordinating the mission, ministries and resources of the United Methodist Church, has proposed four goals for the 10 million-member denomination.

The group selected the four from 54 "provocative proposals" that were considered during an Oct. 22-24 meeting. The four proposals will be further developed and presented to the 2008 General Conference, the church's top legislative body.

"We've now come to the point where our listening needs to be turned into some proposals for 'how does this church move forward into the future?'" said Bishop Sharon Rader, interim executive secretary of the table.

Proposals selected for further development:

  1. Address the leadership crisis in the church in the United States.
  2. Create a strategy to develop new congregations.
  3. Partner with the poor.
  4. Implement a global health initiative.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Gordon

The Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications, demonstrates text messaging for Nothing But Nets during the Connectional Table meeting.
Covenant for collaboration

The first proposal would ask each of the 13 churchwide agencies to address the leadership crisis in the church in the United States through commitments of time, money and staff.

Statistics show that the average United Methodist is 57 years old, and United Methodists under age 18 account for only 4.6 percent of church members. There are 850 ordained and commissioned elders under age 35, and U.S. membership has slipped below 8 million for the first time since the 1930s. In contrast, churches in the central conferences (regions in Africa, Asia and Europe) have seen membership increase.

The denomination's general agencies, annual (regional) conferences and local churches could improve the way the church recruits, trains, and supports clergy and lay leaders.

Developing congregations

The second proposal suggests a national strategy for new congregational development. Recognizing the church's commitment to make disciples to transform the world, the proposal suggests re-casting the vision for evangelism in the United States, and reaching out to urban, rural, and ethnic groups; youth and young adults; and newly arriving immigrants.

A national strategy team would work with the general agencies of the church, annual conferences, local churches and the network of congregational developers and the team would staff a senior level position within the General Board of Discipleship.

The group set a goal of 350 new churches a year in the United States, with 80 percent of those churches averaging 250 people in worship within five years of their launch. If successful, the United Methodist Church would welcome 87,500 new members in five years.

Partnering with the poor

Five action steps were suggested to strengthen ministries with the poor:

  • Discovery: Each agency would be asked to survey its works with the poor and report on the findings by January.
  • Review: Each agency would name one executive staff member to review the findings and form a team to plan collaborative initiatives to move forward.
  • General Conference consideration: The team would create an affirmation of ministry with the poor for consideration by the 2008 General Conference.
  • Pilot project development: During the 2009-2012 quadrennium, the team would develop six pilot projects for ministry with the poor in collaboration with jurisdictional and central conferences in East Africa, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Honduras, a U.S. annual conference with a large urban population and an annual conference in Appalachia.
  • Education for United Methodist action: The team would develop multilingual education resources with emphasis on advocating for public policies that empower the impoverished and alleviate conditions that compromise quality of life.

Global health initiative

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Gordon

"Nothing we can do at General Conference, nothing that we can do, will be greater than if every United Methodist wakes up in the morning and says, 'I'm going to live a Wesleyan life today," Bishop John Hopkins says.
An interagency working group on health and wholeness proposed a global health initiative to engage all levels of the church in a campaign to prevent and treat diseases that result from poverty. In December, an informal advisory meeting of key leaders in the church will meet in Washington to consider the most effective methods.

One element of a global health plan would involve the Nothing But Nets campaign, an effort to raise funds for anti-malarial bed nets. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Communications, and the Division on Ministries with Young People at the Board of Discipleship are teaming with the United Nations Foundation, the Millennium Promise, the Measles Initiative, Sports Illustrated magazine and NBA Cares to promote the program.

There will be an emphasis on good health practices at the next General Conference, and efforts will be made to strengthen community-based health care through radio and other communication tools.

During the meeting, the health task force presented information to the group that health care claims by United Methodist clergy in the United States are 16 percent higher than those of other employers with more than 500 employees across the nation. Barbara Boigegrain, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits, explained that the surveys showed United Methodist clergy are also obese in greater numbers than the national average.

Boigegrain said the data lead the group to question: "What is going on in the lives of the clergy that is causing them to be heavier, to have higher stress, and to be measurably less healthy than the rest of the population? …We need to look at the systems of the church." The task force suggested that annual conferences and agencies provide comparative data and best practices to focus on the systemic issues and prepare recommendations for General Conference.

Health task force members were asked to calculate budgets for each of the four proposals. The propositions will be presented to the Council of Bishops' Nov. 1-6 meeting in Mozambique.

Other reports

A task force dealing with the global nature of the church also presented findings. Three basic changes were proposed:

  • Group all of the jurisdictions and annual conferences of the United States into one central conference.
  • Revise the Book of Discipline to delete portions that only apply to the United States.
  • Publish a book of discipline and other publications specific to each central conference.

These suggestions will also be presented to the Council of Bishops at their meeting in Mozambique.

Preliminary findings for a "State of the Church" report were shared with the group. Meera Buck of the Martec Group described findings based upon one-on-one interviews and phone surveys with 300 United Methodist lay members and clergy, who were asked to describe their feelings about the denomination and their spiritual lives. An online survey is under way with similar questions. A complete "State of the Church" report is expected by the group's next meeting in May.

Proposals to General Conference

Bishop John Hopkins, chairperson of the Connectional Table, said the proposals and reports for General Conference can reinvigorate the church. "Nothing we can do at General Conference, nothing that we can do, will be greater than if every United Methodist wakes up in the morning and says, 'I'm going to live a Wesleyan life today.'"

Dora Washington, a representative from the Southeastern Jurisdiction, said these proposals are "consistent with our mandate to be visionary. This will answer for some what the Connectional Table is doing."

Washington and other members of the table said the group worked to determine its role in three previous meetings. Following the Fort Worth gathering, she said, "We are more and more seeing concrete results of the Connectional Table. It was a new thing, and we had to envision what it's all about. We are becoming clearer on what our charge is."

The Connectional Table's next meeting will be May 21-24 at Simpsonwood Conference Center near Atlanta.

*Walsh is strategic project coordinator for the Media Group at United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or

Video Interview

Bishop John Hopkins: "We represent the vision of the church"

Video Interview

Barbara Boigegrain: "clegy claims are 16% higher than the national average

Related Articles

Researchers complete first phase of 'State of Church' report

Survey to help assess "state of church" for United Methodists

Connectional table considers church's "global character"

Connectional Table Articles


Connectional Table