What I Heard, What We Did

As Annual Conference began this year, I looked back to the dozens of listening sessions that I conducted in my first two months as Bishop in North Alabama.  I wrote down ten key things that I heard.

I shared with the Conference, in rather brief form, some of the ways that we have responded to what was heard in those early sessions. I hope that the church takes heart that we have not only listened, but also responded during 2004 – 2012.

1. “We must start more new communities of faith.”

  • 10 million invested
  • Refined selection and training of new church pastors, created a diversity of models.
  • 4 new churches this year, two begun by African American pastors, two that target young adults.

2.“The Annual Conference meeting takes too long and costs too much.”

  • Two day AC in order to attract younger members and to accommodate laity
  • Worked on preconference sessions.
  • Moved Memorial Service and Ordination to local churches.

3.“The Cabinet must do a more careful job of appointing clergy.”

  • Created new structures for evaluating and consulting with clergy. (Triads of DS’s, Strengths Finder, Dashboard, First 90 Days, Transition Teams, Letters of expectation for DS, extended, intentional transitions)

4.“We’ve got to come to terms with a shrinking church.”

  • Cut Conference staff, deployed in local churches, moved from 12 to 8 districts (2 million per year saving), budgeting based on projected income.
  • Cost cutting and accountability for district budgets.  Sold conference owned housing.

5.“We need more effective clergy leaders.”

  • Natural Church Development, Strengths Finder, First 90 Days, training events in every district (such as the leveraging work in NE District, Paul Borden events in NW District), complete reorganization of BOOM, recruited 15 new clergy from outside of Conference, removed twenty ineffective clergy, listened and responded to clergy sermons, conducted twenty congregational consultatons.

6.“We need more money for mission and benevolence work.”

  • Move to 8 districts, one DS serving two districts, no bishop’s assistant, more teleconferencing by cabinet, experimented with a “tithe” from churches.

7.“We’ve got to save Sumatanga.”

  • Re-formed Board, cut costs at camp, secured $750,000 grant, $50,000 from districts, conducted capital campaign, changed Directors.

8.“We must pay for the new Conference Center.”

  • Sought additional funds, have been gradually paying down indebtedness, offered space to Birmingham-Southern.

9.“The Bishop needs to be present in the churches of the Annual Conference.”

  • I have conducted dozens of listening sessions in our most vital churches, in newest churches, with our most active clergy, refused Board responsibilities in first four years, preached in over 250 congregations, taught series in thirty of our churches, responded each week to Dashboard data.

10.“We must hold congregations more accountable.”

  • Created Dashboard as a tool for local church leadership, noted those congregations that fully participate in connectional giving, invite local church leadership to work with pastors to set goals for growth.

What a great joy it has been to be part of a responsive, eager-for-transformation Conference!  Thank you for the opportunity that you have given Patsy and me in North Alabama!

Will Willimon

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