Project JW is a strategy for missional and evangelistic growth, forged in the wake of Covid and disaffiliation, engaging a system (IGRC) that has undergone unprecedented mutations these past four years. Even before that, however, the system was feeling untenable due to problems such as shrinkage, worsening relationships between the conference and its churches, outside political tribalism, racial injustices, etc.
The project grew out of a conversation late last year between two old friends, both pastors, both grateful for their experiences in IGRC, both eager to be a part of its future. As the two of them talked week after week, others began to join the conversation, adding their insights. By early March, twenty pastors were in the conversation, tinkering with the basic concepts of what was named “Project JW,” praying for the future of IGRC, and sorting through ideas. Here is what has emerged so far:
There are six components in the JW strategy.
1) Reframing our realities
We begin by looking at the condition of our neighbors’ lives, not the condition of our congregations. The world is our parish, not just those who already belong to our churches. Within the bounds of IGRC, we have 3 ½ million neighbors, impossible to visualize unless we break that number down, which we do by reframing our reality in terms of 84 counties. In the document below, Blueprint for Project JW, we offer granular descriptions of the challenges that face the people who live within IGRC’s 84 counties. About half our people live in urban areas and half are rural. Where life is hardest, UMC presence has been shrinking. Instead of retreating from our neighbors, as our conference is currently doing (with church closings and disaffiliations) Project JW proposes to reverse the direction and momentum and move us toward people.
An annual conference’s congregations are not its mission field, in the same way that a church’s building is not its mission field. Whenever congregations occupy the frame of our annual conference’s reality, we become less and less likely to see all the human souls hiding in plain sight. For a local church, the building is just one instrument for serving the mission field. Likewise, for an annual conference, congregations are just one set of instruments for serving people. Too much emphasis on either buildings or congregations can distract from the real needs of real people. Project JW reframes the mission field, starting with a compelling look at life in our 84 counties, focusing on real people who are outside, as well as inside the walls of our churches.
2) Redeploying our pastors in teams
The thing that has most surprised us in these conversations is the high percentage of pastors (from our small sample) who would like to be part of a team deployment rather than a “lone ranger” ministry. On the other hand, when older-generation pastors have critiqued our blueprint, they almost universally respond that “pastors can’t work in teams and don’t want to and there is no point in trying, because where it has been tried in the past, it has never worked.”
With such contradictory comments, it’s time we asked the question directly of those who are in ministry: would you rather be part of a team? We have noticed that the most successful effort at a clergy team in our conference is in the work of the cabinet, where despite the egos and personality clashes, team ministry works quite well; so much so that many DS’s who go off the cabinet and back into a local church grieve the loss of such collegiality. Why can’t the bishop offer to the rest of us the same advantages of “team appointment” superintendents have?
In our conversations, “appointment by team” came up when people of color in our circle began sharing their experiences regarding being appointed to lone ranger ministries in congregations that didn’t really want them. It began to dawn on us that “appointment by team” may be one way for us to address this one facet of institutional racism afflicting IGRC. Even though it is still in development, Project JW offers the most extensive blueprint we have for helping teams succeed.
3) Reprioritizing marketing over programming
Project JW takes a close look at how we have fallen into the program trap, prescribing programs that don’t really fill the holes in people’s lives. We expect people to connect with the UMC through our activities, events, and properties. When people aren’t connecting, it is usually because we have not done the marketing necessary for serving our neighbors. Marketing finds the holes in people lives, designs products that fill those holes, tests and perfects the products, and then engages people in ways that are sustainable for the church. It borrows the wisdom of those who know how to listen, empathize, and identify people’s needs. It applies the self-discipline of listening before creating a product. It practices common sense by experimenting with products and adjusting them before mass producing them. It doesn’t bypass the importance of personal, word of mouth invitation.
4) Reviving seven signature UMC product lines
Project JW identifies seven traditional United Methodist product-lines and helps teams serve their populations by developing and adapting the products within each of those lines: 1) worship and the arts, 2) community and friendship, 3) volunteer work, 4) faith journeys and access to biblical wisdom, 5) healing and holistic strength-building, 6) sanctuary and pastoral attention, and 7) civic enhancement. While we identify product “lines” that need to be offered throughout the conference, we do not prescribe how those products look from place to place. We trust the ministry teams to understand the importance of UMC signature products and adapt what we offer in each locality.
One paradox of Project JW is that it sets local teams free with to develop products according to the needs of local people—without setting them adrift. Acquaintance with our product lines keeps us rooted in our generative traditions while allowing us to adapt and innovate in serving others.
5) Restructuring our venues for delivering ministry
Project JW seeks economical and efficient ways to reverse the shrinkage happening to our conference: church closings, disaffiliations, and insular congregations that have left large areas, rural and city, without any viable UMC presence. The two key concepts for expanding UMC evangelism and mission are circuits and service posts.
In Project JW, a “circuit” has two definitions. First, it is simply a geographical area, roughly equivalent to a county, identified by the cabinet for a Project JW trial. Second, a circuit is the local system Project JW assembles and creates in that place: personnel, products, and administration. Circuits would include all the UMC congregations, organizations, and personnel in that area who choose to participate. They would engage the entire population of that geographical area in mission and evangelism, be governed by a local council, and led by a team of clergy and laity.
A service post would be any location within the circuit that offered information and ministries on behalf of the circuit. Numerous service posts would be set up in order to get the UMC as close to people as possible. A service post might be a church building, a storefront, a rented room…
6) Recruiting 10% of a local population to partner in offering UMC products
The UMC, in recent history, has been a “membership-oriented denomination.” In other words, we emphasize “professions of faith” and “joining the church.” Our primary expectation of “members” is that they attend the principal worship service in a congregation. Every United Methodist knows that the three most important statistics are 1) church membership, 2) professions of faith, and 3) worship attendance. Project JW suggests that this trinity of goals might be underestimating the Trinity. While still respecting and encouraging the historic ways United Methodists have urged people to connect, Project JW expands the number of people we welcome into our work. Following the lead of religious organizations such as the Salvation Army, which includes millions of partners not formally members of their organization, Project JW establishes a way for people to partner in our mission and evangelism without formally joining the UMC.
The principles outlined in this introduction are expanded in the longer paper below: Blueprint for Project JW. The blueprint is attracting both excitement and critique. During March 2023, we are expanding the circle of pastors in the conversation, sharing our work-in-progress with conference officials, holding both live and Zoom conversations with each other. We will be reaching out to invite laity into the conversation in the first half of March, including people from every district in the conference. This is a conversation of goodwill, among people who pray for our conference and leaders, people who love our leaders and support them, people determined to abide in hope as IGRC wrestles its way into the future. We rejoice in differing perspectives, even though they sometimes make us uncomfortable. Through everything we are of one heart. The conversation continues, the prayer continues, and Easter is coming. Contact the project at: firstname.lastname@example.org
BLUEPRINT FOR PROJECT JW
The impetus behind Project JW
We start with what makes us afraid and angry. That’s where the energy flow exists these days. Even the most optimistic among us must admit that United Methodism is in kind of a mess here in Illinois. In the last two decades IGRC lost over 300 churches (out of 1100.) Another 400 are likely to close their doors or disaffiliate within the next five years, if we don’t do something new. Furthermore, the 300-400 congregations that remain in IGRC will continue to face uphill struggles with attendance, finances, program viability, leadership uncertainties, building upkeep, and cultural standoffs. We can barely take care of ourselves, much less our neighbors.
But our neighbors are messed up too: Covid, post-covid trauma, crime, making ends meet, population loss, loneliness, struggling schools, mental illnesses, relationship strains, bureaucratic red tape, political tribalism, environmental dangers, cultural erosion… It’s like the UMC jumped into the river to rescue our neighbors– but then started drowning ourselves, floundering in our own internal issues.
The United Methodist Church is becoming un-united, unplugged from our neighbors, our conference, and each other. Our platitudes, hashtags, structural downsizing, and saying ‘please’ aren’t working.
Project JW is a strategy designed to change the trajectory of our story, to bring us through this mess by means of order, resourcefulness, and new friendships. A good strategy always maps a path between reality (in our case– the mess we’re in) and intent (in our case– to develop fellowship marked by a humble love of God and a fruitful love of neighbor.) No strategy is viable that ignores current realities. Nor can a strategy work if the intent isn’t specific and sensual. We risk getting sensual, while trying to avoid being prescriptive.
Project JW starts with realities: the holes in our neighbors’ lives, the rural and conservative tilt of our 84 counties, the growing gap between the rich and the poor in our cities, population losses in 78 of our counties, 237 communities in our conference listed as economically distressed, dozens of congregations (soon to be hundreds) toying with disaffiliation, and congregations struggling to find the energy and resources for mission and evangelism. Project JW is also specific and sensual in intent by identifying seven signature, UMC product lines: worship and art, fellowship and friendship, volunteer work, faith journeys and access to biblical wisdom, sanctuary and pastoral attention, healing and holistic strength-building, and civic enhancement. The aim is to engage 10% of the population (where it is tried) with at least one product.
How it works
Project JW proposes to deploy teams and work with structures and resources already in a location. The project’s focus is on developing and supervising teams that will fill the holes in people’s ever-changing lives. New congregations may be formed as a result, and existing congregations will certainly find revival and new strength, but the direct focus is on the mission field, not congregations.
The players in Project JW include local congregations, individual members in local UMC churches, pastors, the bishop and local superintendent, local people who have never been involved with United Methodist ministries before, and non-locals who would like to be short-term volunteers.
The cabinet would begin the process by designating five counties for experimentation. Each county would become a circuit. (In some cases, a circuit might be better defined by listing the townships involved rather than a county.)
The bishop would appoint a team of pastors to each circuit. The pastoral team would have responsibilities for both the UMC congregations within that circuit and the general population that lives there. In other words, pastors will be appointed to mission fields, not just congregations. (Individual congregations may opt out.)
Each circuit would establish short-term and affordable service posts, (existing churches, vacant buildings, rooms for rent, storefront, etc.) throughout the circuit to get the UMC as close to people as possible.
A circuit council, made up of the clergy team and local laity, would be responsible for 1) caring for the existing congregations and UMC members within that circuit, 2) adapting and offering the seven UMC signature product lines to the people living within that circuit, 3) coordinating the work of the pastors and lay volunteers to assure that the bulk of time is devoted to serving the public—life beyond the church building, 4) establishing and staffing the various service posts, 5) securing funding for the circuit and 6) maintaining communication with the public. We trust our councils to make due, live off the land, be creative.
Funding for Project JW might be sought in the following places: funds already available from participating congregations, people served by the seven UMC signature products, disaffiliation funds, money and personnel from the Office of Congregational Development, and organized appeals for special contributions. Circuits with more funds could help circuits with too little. We plan, however, to rely most on infrastructure, money, personnel, and resources already in place.
Teamwork is critical in Project JW. When pastors and laity work in teams, they can handle congregational needs more efficiently, see that everyone spends more time doing what they are best at, devote more time to people outside the church, and create a fellowship of nurture and support for everyone doing ministry.
Having five pilot projects would allow us to learn exponentially more than if we had just one. The circuits would learn from one another, and the multiple experiments would keep our understandings from being skewed by oddities of place and personality (likely to be present in any single location.) The projects would be done with an eye toward replicating the work in other parts of the conference, as requested.
The rest of this paper takes up the following topics: the notion of a lost social contract between the conference and its congregations, the condition of the 3 ½ million people who reside within the IGRC boundaries, the struggles of IGRC congregations, the proposed seven UMC signature products, the organization of circuits, the concept of service posts, and the nuts and bolts of getting started.
In this period of disaffiliation, Project JW would offer congregations a compelling reason to stay United Methodist, no matter what the General Conference of 2024 decides. And with its emphasis on teams, it makes efficient use of both lay and clergy skills, frees leaders to expand the mission field for evangelism, and promotes a long-delayed egalitarianism among clergy, local pastors, and laity.
Three strategic principles are employed in Project JW: 1) application of a comprehensive marketing program in developing and offering our signature products, 2) identifying and appealing to the self-interest of existing congregations, pastors, laity, and local neighbors, and 3) doing more with less.
Project JW also involves two cultural shifts: 1) away from the culture of lone ranger pastors to a culture of teams, and 2) away from “the congregational is where it’s at”—to– “the hole in a neighbor’s life is where it’s at.”
I. The Big Picture
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…
Love your neighbor as you do yourself…
When did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or a stranger, or sick, or in prison?
Illinois has 104 rivers and creeks flowing through its 102 counties. Each Illinoisan lives inside one of those counties, between God’s rivers and creeks. Scattered within the southernmost 84 counties are 100,000 United Methodists, congregated into approximately 700 churches, constituting the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. United Methodist numbers are falling, but the number of rivers and counties remains the same. And while the population of our 84 counties is declining, there are still 3 ½ million people here, no mean number.
Those 3 ½ million aren’t getting enough of Jesus’ good news, not even the ones who are already connected with a church. We who live among the rivers are afflicted with Gospel-shaped holes that keep appearing in our lives. Those personal holes are gouged out by pessimism, disease, aging, loneliness, stress, anxiety, rage, apathy, loss of faith, addiction, mental illness, bigotry, political tribalism, population loss, economic distress… Project JW is designed for the people between the rivers–those whom God so loves.
Project JW is also for the stewards who shepherd the Illinois Area of the United Methodist Church. If you are a Methodist, the world is your parish, meaning, your mission field consists of every single person who lives within in the boundary of your annual conference. It is the responsibility of the annual conference and its leaders to secure a strategy that will get us as close to people as possible so we can share the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that the holes in their lives might be filled with God’s grace. Project JW is an innovative and pragmatic strategy for fulfilling the mission of the annual conference.
Project JW is designed to start small and then go big. It begins with Jesus’ simple command, “Love your neighbor as you do yourself.” It picks up the spirit of that command, as Jesus challenges his disciples to expand the concept of “neighbor.” Project JW is empathy in action, empathy to scale, evangelistic empathy, for all the people who live between the rivers. It is an experiment: curious, adaptable, hazarding a ride on the learning curve, tenaciously discovering why previous efforts didn’t work, persistently perfecting our approaches until they do, determined to include unlikely partners in our work, and trusting that God still makes rivers flow through the spiritual wilderness.
Project JW tackles three problems that are not being adequately addressed: 1) the breaking of the social contract that formerly existed between the annual conference and its churches, 2) the growing number of our neighbors whose lives seem to have no room for the programs we currently offer, and 3) the staggering and chronic internal issues our congregations are facing in trying to keep their doors open. Project JW offers practical alternatives so the church can get the gospel flowing past the bottlenecks in the system and into people’s lives, full force.
II: A BROKEN SOCIAL CONTRACT
The United Methodist Church (and its predecessor denominations) have functioned under a “social contract” since the first conferences were formed in the United States. The contract works like this: congregations (and pastors) agree to forego certain rights and choices in order to benefit from the security and opportunity that the larger conference provides.
Congregations give up:
- The right to select their own pastors
- The right to establish their own polity
- The right to withhold apportionment payments
- The right to determine their own social principles
- The right to transfer property held “in trust” to their own contemporary pleasure
In exchange for:
- Guarantee of a pastor who is competent and Christ-like
- Neutral adjudication of conflicts
- Venues for pooling money with like-minded Christians (to get things accomplished)
- Opportunities for service beyond the local church
- Expertise in church related matters: finances, communication, youth ministry, etc.
- Enchantment with bishops and superintendents
- Benefit of the brand: UMC
- A sense of being part of something much larger: worldwide, historic
- A chance to punt the most difficult decisions to conference officers
Pastors give up their rights to self-location. And in exchange, they get guaranteed appointments, outside arbitration when conflict arises with the congregation, removal to a safer parish when they are mistreated or in trouble, increased salaries with each move, and clergy benefit packages.
But the social contract has been fraying for decades, and is now coming fully undone in the light of Covid and disaffiliations. What we are seeing is no mere disagreement over human sexuality, for friends can tolerate diverse opinions among themselves. What’s currently being exposed is the outright repudiation of the long-standing social contract between the conference and its congregations/pastors. Too many United Methodists see the conference (and denomination) as the enemy of the local congregation: a drain on financial resources, a disgrace to local moral codes, and a threat to pastoral tenure. With the loss of our social contract, we’re struggling to survive in a new climate that is plagued by grievance and hostility.
The future of the UMC lies in understanding and addressing this broken social contract. How can we develop and invite people to a new, revolutionary contract, one that meets their needs and desires, soothes their anxieties, fills the holes in their lives, and is infused with the spirit of covenant.
Any contract must begin with the realities confronting us, identify what products the conference can offer, show how those products intersect with people’s needs, and spell out the means of getting those products to people throughout the Illinois area of the United Methodist Church.
III: HOLES IN PEOPLE’S LIVES
The Illinois Area of the United Methodist Church consists of 84 counties, home to 3 ½ million people, each one living out a story full of drama, opportunity, and need—each one our neighbor, according to the teachings of Jesus.
- 69 of the 84 counties are rural. The other 15 counties have significant rural areas within them.
- 78 of the 84 counties voted “conservative” in the last presidential election
- The perennial challenges for most rural people are remoteness and marginalization
- The biggest enemy to rural life is consolidation: it exacerbates remoteness and has gutted rural communities
- Only six counties in our conference gained population between 2010 and 2020: Monroe 7.3%, Johnson 6.9%, Champaign 2.9%, Effingham 1.5%, Williamson 1.4%, and McLean 1.0%
- 78 of our 84 counties lost population. One county (Alexander) had a 36.4% loss, the largest loss of any county in the United States. 21 of our counties lost between 10 and 20 percent of their population in the last ten years. Another 37 counties lost between 5 and 10 percent of their people since 2010. That makes 59 counties with life-altering losses.
- 29 of the rural counties in our conference are either “distressed” or “at-risk” according to the Economic Innovation Group, based on seven factors: poverty, education, housing vacancy, employment, income, job growth, and business openings.
- Our distressed counties are: Greene, Fayette, Perry, Franklin, Saline, Gallatin, Hardin, Pulaski, and Alexander.
- Our at-risk counties are: Stark, Knox, McDonough, Fulton, Cass, Mason, Pike, Christian, Montgomery, Calhoun, Crawford, Iroquois, Richland, Wayne, Jefferson, Marion, White, Randolph, Massac, and Union.
- Only six rural counties in our district are considered “prosperous” by the EIG: Washington, Effingham, Cumberland, Piatt, Menard, and Putnam.
- In addition to rural counties, our conference also serves 15 urban counties, as defined by the Census Bureau: Jackson, Williamson, Monroe, St. Clair, Madison, Champaign, Vermillion, Rock Island, Peoria, Tazewell, Sangamon, Mclean, Macon, Woodford, and Kankakee.
- The urban areas in our annual conference have their own problems with poverty, crime, racism, environmental health, jobs, quality of schools, affordable housing, and healthcare.
- According to FBI 2022 crime statistics, 13 of the 15 most dangerous cities in Illinois, are within the boundaries of IGRC: 1) Mt. Vernon, 2) Danville, 3) Centralia, 4) Wood River, 5) Springfield, 6) Cahokia, 7) Metropolis, 9) Peoria, 10) Kankakee, 12) Quincy, 13) Champaign, 14) East St. Louis, and 15) Bloomington. Only Chicago (11) and Rockford (8) are not in our conference.
- The state of Illinois lists 237 communities as being economically distressed. Of those, 209 are in the care of IGRC.
- The communities in IGRC listed as economically distressed: Abingdon, Alma, Alorton, Armington, Arrowsmith, Astoria, Atwood, Augusta, Bardolph, Bay View Gardens, Beecher City, Belknap, Bellmont, Bluffs, Bradford, Broadwell, Brookport, Broughton, Brownstown, Bryant, Buckner, Buncombe, Bureau Junction, Burnt Prairie, Cabery, Cahokia, Cairo, Cambria, Camden, Campus, Carbon Cliff, Carrier Mills, Caseyville, Cave-in-Rock, Centralia, Centreville, Chatsworth, Christopher, Clayton, Cleveland, Coalton, Cobden, Colp, Columbus, Concord, Cowden, Crossville, Cuba, Cullom, Cypress, Dawson, De Pue, Donnellson, Dover, Dowell, Du Quoin, Dunfermline, Dupo, East Alton, East Carondelet, East St. Louis, Eddyville, Eldorado, Elizabethtown, Ellsworth, Elvaston, Equality, Exeter, Fairfield, Flat Rock, Flora, Freeman Spur, Galatia, Galesburg, Galva, Gillespie, Glasford, Grandview, Granite City, Greenup, Harrisburg, Hettick, Hillsboro, Hillsdale, Hillview, Hoopeston, Hooppole, Hume, Hutsonville, Ina, Ipava, Irving, Iuka, Jewett, Johnsonville, Joppa, Junction City, Kane, Kansas, Kewanee, Keyesport, Kincaid, Kingston Mines, Kinmundy, La Fayette, La Rose, Lake Ka-Ho, Lawrenceville, Lewistown, Livingston, Loami, Lomax, Long Point, Longview, Louisville, Ludlow, Lynnville, Magnolia, Malden, Maquon, Martinton, Mason City, Maunie, McClure, Medora, Melvin, Mill Creek, Milton, Modesto, Mt. Clare, Mt. Erie, Mulberry Grove, Murrayville, Nason, Nebo, Neoga, New Bedford, New Burnside, New Windsor, Nilwood, Norris, Norris City, Oak Grove, Oblong, Odell, Odin, Ohio, Olmsted, Orient, Otterville, Percy, Plainville, Pleasant Hill, Plymouth, Pontiac, Pontoon Beach, Ramsey, Richview, Ripley, Riverton, Roberts, Rockbridge, Roodhouse, Royal Lakes, Royalton, Sailor Springs, Saunemin, Sawyerville, Silvis, Smithboro, Smithfield, Sorento, South Roxana, St. David, St. Francisville, St. Johns, St. Peter, Standard City, Stanford, Stonefort, Strawn, Streator, Summerfield, Sumner, Sun River Terrace, Thompsonville, Time, Tiskilwa, Toledo, Toulon, Tovey, Tower Hill, Vandalia, Vermilion, Waggoner, Walnut Hill, Wamac, Washington Park, Wataga, Watson, West Frankfort, West Peoria, Wheeler, Willisville, Wilsonville, Wood River, Wyanet, Wyoming.
- When it comes to alcohol related accidents and deaths, according to the latest reports from Illinois’s county public health departments, the five deadliest counties in Illinois are all in IGRC: Effingham, Monroe, Randolph, Washington, and Livingston. Clinton County also made the top 10 list.
- When it comes to drug abuse, the state of Illinois saw a 35.8% increase in opioid related fatalities and hospitalizations between 2019 and 2021. The counties in IGRC that were above the state average were: Livingston, Kankakee, Iroquois, Vermillion, Macon, Sangamon, Calhoun, Green, Madison, St. Clair, Wayne, Saline, and Union.
In short, people who live within the IGRC boundaries have ready access to drugs and demagogues, divisions and disaffiliations. But the United Methodist Church, due to church closures, district consolidation, and lack of imagination is evaporating from vast regions of downstate Illinois. IGRC is retreating and shrinking. Meanwhile, these 3½ million souls who live between the rivers remain our people and our mission, as much as they ever were. The holes in their lives are still our calling.
IV: STRUGGLING CONGREGATIONS
We had 778 congregations in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference on January 1, 2021.
Tough realities are hitting all of them. For example, the costs of maintenance often drain a church of the time and resources needed for mission and evangelism. A conventional congregation needs to pay a pastor, keep up a building, contribute apportionments to the conference, provide programming that satisfies its members, come up with additional programming that attracts new members, thread the needle with worship styles and music selections, provide life-support for declining Sunday School programs, keep culture wars from turning people against each other, raise funds for the budget, keep a lid on old wounds, settle leadership spats, and keep political tribalism from seeping inside the church.
Church activities which once produced synergy now produce stress. We see “fortress churches,” cut off from their neighborhoods and irrelevant to their neighbors. Far too many churches hint at impotence by reporting zero Professions of Faith, year after year. Furthermore, as church members age and their communities lose population, people have more problems to juggle in their lives than just their local church. Our existing congregations need outside help—something like a cavalry racing over the horizon with fresh personnel, tools, and supplies.
Our annual conference has long depended on congregations to be at the vanguard of evangelism and mission. Congregations have been the annual conference’s primary means for getting close to people and understanding their lives. We have counted on congregations to be first in line to share the deeds and words of the gospel. And while there continue to be abundant stories of people in congregations doing good, those anecdotes can be lethal if they lull us into ignoring our systemic dysfunctions. From a systemic perspective, the annual conference needs to replace its broken social contract with its congregations, and it needs to solve the bottleneck caused by congregations that are ill-equipped to fill the holes in their neighbors’ lives. From a systems perspective, new conference operations and operatives are critical and urgent.
Congregations need a sabbath, a time for convalesce, reflection, inspiration, and playful experimentation. That’s why an auxiliary network of operations and operators is needed.
But the biggest detriment to accepting auxiliary actors and agencies is that congregations have become the sacred cow of United Methodism, using up nearly all the oxygen in the system. This is ironic, since we are one of the few denominations in the world, historically, that is not built around congregationalism. Yet, beginning in the 1980s, United Methodists began uttering the mantra, “Congregations are where it’s at.” Cabinets and conference staff became preoccupied with congregations: keeping them happy, stabilizing them, appeasing them, finding them the best pastors available, nudging them to pay apportionments, mitigating their conflicts, pushing them to bring in new members, stroking them with praise in the conference newspaper, setting up workshops so each pastor and church could imitate a megachurch. Huge sums of money got funneled into church starts. By the early 2000s, even larger sums were devoted to “Congregational Development,” taking up the bulk of the annual conference’s programming budget. None of these benefits to congregations were necessarily wrong. Many congregations enjoyed some temporary relief. But the medicine that helped in the past may kill us in the future.
The more we turned our congregations into sacred cows, the sicker they became. Some sort of sacred cow disease was thinning out the herd. In the Illinois Area, we went from over 1100 congregations in 1996 to less than 800 by the start of 2021. The symptoms of the disease include broken social contracts with the annual conference, church closures, the illusion that grass is greener on the other side of disaffiliation, massive loss of participants in most local churches, tighter control by authorities at all levels, anger, and preoccupation with simply keeping the doors open. The worst is just ahead: when the 2024 General Conference will decide whether or not to eliminate the prohibitive language in the Book of Discipline regarding same-sex marriage.
An unintended side effect of “putting all our eggs in one basket,” (the local church,) was the slow decline of church camps, campus ministries, lay speaker deployment, district and cluster programs, ecumenical ministries, pastoral care and counseling for pastors and their families, social justice advocacy, and other conference-based ministries. By the 2010s, local churches became stand-alone ministries, silos, with fewer and fewer conference-wide partner ministries to supplement their work.
Yet, with all the exaltation the annual conference has showered upon congregations, the churches themselves increasingly see the annual conference as a danger to them: a drain on their finances, an enemy to their own moral codes, a threat to the walls they have put up to keep the culture out, and every two or three years– the distant giant who poaches the pastors they have just gotten used to.
The biggest losers in all this are the 3 ½ million folks who live between our rivers. Since 1968, the annual conference itself has become increasingly distant from much of the population. Our membership has been halved. Conference and district consolidations have moved power centers further away from our mission fields. Church closings and disaffiliations are evaporating United Methodist presence throughout the state. A growing number of people in Illinois are not on the radar of any UMC congregation or institution. Huge swaths of our conference have no viable UMC presence whatsoever.
And our existing congregations are simply incapable of reversing the trend. The energy and resources necessary to keep a modern congregation functioning, even a small one, are a distraction to evangelism and mission. Our annual conference simply cannot plant and revitalize enough congregations so that everyone in our sprawling rural conference will be close to one. The “traditional” congregation is not flexible enough, light enough, economical enough, or efficient enough to be the lynchpin of this decade’s missional strategy. There’s a hole in the current system: we need new components that are lighter, more flexible, closer to the people, and more economical than the traditional congregation. This is why Project JW introduces two new components: Signature Products and Circuits of Service Posts.
Granted, congregations are still the greatest source of our money and volunteers, virtually the only source of our annual conference’s current resources. So, they cannot be untended. Our care for them must continue. Congregations are indeed an essential means for making disciples and transforming the world. In the sections below, you will see how Project JW helps the annual conference approach congregations more realistically, assisting them not only in staying open, but getting stronger. Project JW is an indirect way of supporting local churches, more respectful, giving congregations more local control, and taking pressure off of them rather than piling on.
V: OUR SIGNATURE PRODUCTS
Back in England, at the start of our denomination’s story, even before there were Methodist congregations, there were annual conferences. The conferences coordinated distinct products that Methodists offered their neighbors: street preaching, classes and bands, literature, rules for everyday living, biblical commentaries, acts of mercy, justice work, new hymns, liturgies, and invitations to conversion. Coming to America, conferences produced camp meetings, revivals, colleges, Sunday schools, networking with other reformers, health care facilities… In time, congregations also appeared. Methodists were known for their products, and Methodism grew because those products filled the holes people had in their lives.
As congregations came into being, they too offered products to their members and public: organ music, chancel choirs, praise bands, Christmas Eve services, hospital visits, Sunday School classes, Vacation Bible School, revivals, potluck dinners, Bible Studies, confirmation classes, quilting circles, donuts and coffee, mission trips, pastoral counseling, funerals, weddings, membership status, bazaars, Easter sunrise services, youth fellowship groups, outings for retired folks, women’s circles, men’s breakfasts, food pantries, nursery rooms, support groups, sanctuaries, chapels, prayer gardens, stained glass windows, healing services… A product is an environment, activity, or service that the church offers people. Successful products fill the holes in people’s lives.
We develop holes in our lives whenever our basic human needs go unfilled. Those needs may be physical, economic, social, emotional, or mental. The more we love each other, the more we notice and understand the holes that are present in each other’s lives. Jesus offered tangible products to fill the holes he found in the people he encountered. Those holes were the motive behind his exorcisms, healings, feedings, forgiveness, parables, wisdom, insight, table fellowship, pilgrimages, prayers, proclamations, resurrections… To be the church is to continue the work of Jesus, through the products we offer.
To be human is to be blessed with creativity, agency, intelligence, and strength. But our humanity also holds a lifetime of need: for achievement, comfort, significance, intimacy, sexuality, respect, shelter, food, clothing, hospitality, understanding, healing, grace, work, attention… To be human is to come with holes that need filled, and to discover new holes day by day, all through our lives.
Project JW identifies seven signature UMC product lines as the gist of its work: 1) worship and the arts, 2) community and friendship, 3) volunteer work, 4) faith journeys and access to biblical wisdom, 5) healing and holistic strength-building, 6) sanctuary and pastoral attention, and 7) civic enhancement. It provides a mechanism for adapting and offering signature products locally, utilizing a network of geographic circuits and ever-present service posts. It also provides extra resources for those local congregations that choose to participate. It even offers a compact to help keep a church’s doors open.
The particularities of individual products need to be designed and adapted locally, and continually adjusted over time, for there is no need to offer a product if it doesn’t fit the holes in people’s lives. Square pegs don’t fit into round holes: the reason so many church programs flatten and fail. It’s not that people don’t have holes in their lives, it’s that too many of our programs are prescription-driven, not dynamically shaped and adapted to fit the fluid needs of our neighbors. The circuit leadership team is responsible for designing, monitoring, and updating the products offered in their own circuit. If a product doesn’t resonate with people, the team adjusts it. People will meet you halfway if they learn you have a product likely to fill a hole in their lives. If you hit the right spot, folks will stir, ask questions, slide closer, take risks, and invest.
Every United Methodist conference is called to deliver products throughout its territory. The conference knows its local groups and cultures and can figure out how to fashion its products in its various regions, making sure that everything we do is beneficial and accessible to the folks in our mission field.
The seven product lines are listed here, with definitions, examples, and comments about how each one aims to benefit people and fill the holes in their lives. There is some generality here in describing these product lines, as it is important we don’t over-prescribe what our products should look like. In order that they remain relevant and in demand, our products must be continually customized to meet local needs and changing times.
One: Worship and the Arts
Worship is a key product line in every church and denomination. It can include music, preaching, praying, praising, offerings, sacraments… Worship can be held anywhere, at any time. It can be elaborate or sparse. It might spring up among two or three persons or swell to a thousand. Worship is a relationship ritual, an artistic drama exalting God and humbling ourselves. It gives us an opportunity to express what is in our souls. Worship can teach us. It might include a process to become centered, rested, reset, or reoriented. It can be a time to experience fellowship and community. Through worship we can give our resources to the work of God and dedicate our own selves. Worship is often a place to find joy and inspiration. It creates time and space and guidance so we can pray for our loved ones, ourselves, and our world.
Local adaptations of worship are essential if it is to fill a hole in people’s lives. Music might include classical music, hymns, evangelical songs, contemporary music with a melody or a beat, children’s songs, ethnic or cultural favorites, secular choices, voice performances, instrumental numbers…
Worship often includes prayer, which comes in many forms: Psalmody, pastoral prayers, written litanies, voluntary prayers, extempore prayers, simultaneous praying, centering prayer… The sharing of joys and concerns can be prayerful, along with healing rituals, sacraments, and charismatic expression.
Sermons are often central to worship and come in various forms: biblical expositions, thematic sermons, exhortations, sermon series, informative lectures, proclamations, children’s sermons, testimonies, sermons in song, sermons using various art forms…
And worship contains sacraments, ceremonies, and rituals that are relevant to people’s lives: communion, baptisms, weddings, funerals, special commissioning, confessions and absolutions. People give themselves up to God in worship through altar calls, offerings, vows, sign-up sheets…
As circuit leaders decide how to offer worship opportunities within a region, they will figure out what resources and places are available and work to make a variety of locally appreciated worship opportunities attractive and available to everyone.
The arts (painting, theater, dance, music, literature, sculpture…) speak to the soul and give us a chance to express what is in our souls. They usher us into the mysteries of God. A circuit can promote the arts, particularly local folk art.
Two: Community and Friendship
Community is defined as: a collective bound by a sense of belonging, which finds its cohesiveness through shared rules and symbols, and is quickened through its customs and activities. Community fulfills our need for security, order, mercy, growth, and a sense of belonging. It is also an environment for fomenting and sustaining friendships.
Examples of community include: shared meals, pilgrimages, small groups, and activist networks (such as Marriage Encounter, Nomads, the Lay Witness program).
“Friendship” should be an essential product in any Christian organization. This is distinct from “friendliness,” which is a style, not a product. One of the biggest holes in the lives of modern people is the “friendship hole.” Most people simply don’t have enough friends. And as life rolls on, both the quantity and quality of our friendships tend to get thinner. How can we meet this critical hole in people’s lives? The UMC should be known as a friendship-greenhouse.
The primary mark of friendship is conversation. We can help people become better at conversation.
The benefits of having friends include joy, peace, comfort, excitement, humor, inspiration, empathy, adventure, better physical and mental health, strength, influence…
Examples of how we can offer friendship as a product include: social events where we can meet new people and engage them in conversation, conversation workshops, workshops and classes on friendship, pen pal projects, establishing networks for readily finding friends who have things in common…
Three: Volunteer Work
Christian work mostly consists of what we do and say in order to love our neighbors. Sometimes that work is direct. Sometimes it is indirect, focusing more on improving the physical or social environment for everyone. Through work we meet our fundamental human needs for significance, achievement, and productivity. Work is the way we make the world a little better.
The public welcomes opportunities and invitations to volunteer, particularly when work coincides with passions various individuals have. Every invitation to meaningful volunteer work is a product: programs that share love and faith with children, programs that help youth, programs that expand relationship opportunities for single folks, programs that enrich family life or marriage, programs that help people age in more healthy ways, opportunities to advocate for justice or peace, chances to distribute charity, fund raising for good causes, mission trips, programs that give neighbors a helping hand, venues to teach and train others, volunteering to drive others someplace important to them, building and maintaining communication structures like websites and newsletters, caring for communal property, administrative work, faith-based community organizing… People need and appreciate well organized work opportunities.
Much of our work is carried out through networking. Networks are beneficial because they bring isolated people into community with one another, get things done, create synergy, and increase people’s knowledge and skills for ministry. Networks allow us to connect people with other United Methodists anywhere in the world. They link us with ecumenical and secular organizations that share our concerns for justice and charity. The annual conference is well positioned to develop new networks that we may need.
A network is formed when 1) an organizer 2) creates a data base of people with a similar interest, 3) updates it regularly, and 4) uses the data base to put people with intersecting self-interests in touch with each another. 5) A network may also include a regular newsletter, gatherings, or online seminars.
Four: Faith Journeys and Access to Biblical Wisdom
Faith is what gives us the direction, moxie, and firmness we need in order to move forward through doubts and uncertainties. It is the path we take in hopes of connecting with a mysterious God. It is the imitating of others who lived loyally for God. It is a conceptual framework for thinking rationally about life, death, the world, and God. A journey of faith is anything that builds and nurtures these various definitions of faith within us.
The benefits of a faith journey include the ability to keep moving and living through life’s uncertainties and trials. It matters that we can find a deeper knowledge and communion with God. Stronger connections with other people of faith blesses us, including communication and fellowship with those whose faith is different from ours. Faith journeys infuse our lives with courage, imagination, and truth.
Examples of faith journey in a product line include: organized conversations about faith and religion; times and places to safely express our doubts and talk them over; classes introducing us to Christianity—including its history and theology; circles for prayer and praise; a library of devotional writings and musings on faith; counseling and group conversations about those things in life that attack and diminish our faith, faith application groups—gathering with people in similar situations to talk about how faith applies in those situations…
People expect churches to help them understand the Bible and apply its wisdom to their lives. Sometimes they need help finding a readable version of the Bible for themselves. A valued product might help them dig into the Greek and Hebrew origins of a text, explain historical and cultural backgrounds, and draw connections between one biblical passage and another. Discovering the relevance of a text for life today is enhanced when people can talk among themselves.
When we spend time with scripture we discover new ways of connecting with God. Scripture inspires and guides us in our daily living. It gives comfort. The more we know about the Bible, the more we learn how to ask the most fruitful questions about God, life, and faith.
Examples of biblical wisdom in a product line are: providing physical and digital Bibles for people, making study material available to individuals (through purchase, gift, or library-style loan,) offering Disciple Bible Studies, offering classes (in person or online) for introductions to the Bible, setting up Bible-exploration groups to take on a book or theme in the Bible…
Five: Healing and Holistic Strength-building
Strength is a necessity of life. It helps us survive and even flourish during times of illness, betrayal, failure, rejection, abuse, injustice, unfairness, death, loss, disaster, change… It takes strength to cope, adjust, and transcend life’s difficulties.
The primary product Jesus offered people throughout the synoptic gospels was strength: physical, spiritual, social, and mental. The stories of Jesus make clear that divine strength is holistic: he repaired physical bodies, fed minds, fortified souls, and nurtured relationships.
The church can offer a variety of products that will help people gain holistic strength for the living of these days. Examples include: relationship coaching, body strengthening, educational supplements (GED, reading, writing, etc.,) EMLS (English for multilanguage speakers,) conversation workouts, faith related classes, counseling, prayer and praise opportunities, pilgrimages, small groups, faith based community organizing…
The gospels are replete with healings. Jesus called on his disciples to be healers also, the Greek word (therapeuos) meaning to pro-actively give attention and do whatever we are able to assist individuals who are ill or weak. Healing gives us victory against disease, pain, and brokenness, in small ways and large. It is a way to love our neighbors. It saves us from being victims. It initiates miracles of health and restoration.
Examples of how healing can be offered as a product include: a parish nurse, healing services, seminars on wellness and disease prevention, pastoral care, reconciliation events in divided communities, a library with resources for wellness and healing, making facilities available for 12-step groups, making facilities available for support groups dealing with different mental and physical problems, distributing information on behalf of health-related groups fighting such things as Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, cancer…
Six: Sanctuary and Pastoral Attention
As defined in the Bible, a sanctuary is a safe place for those who have been accused. All locations associated with the UMC should welcome all persons, unconditionally. The only constraint is when a person interferes with the safety or hospitality shown others. All of us need respite from the world, from those who diminish us, and from our own guilt and shame. A sanctuary meets our needs for a safe place where we can rest. It gives us time and opportunity for restoration.
Examples of how sanctuary can be offered as a product include: pastoral counseling and confidentiality, non-judging small groups and friendships, focus on ethical biblical principles rather than judgmental moral codes, going out of our way to share hospitality with “judged” people, policies and actions attending to physical safety and accessibility in every UMC location, reconciliation projects to help alienated people experience common ground, house rules that identify and prohibit judgmental speech or unjust treatment…
Pastoral attention is a unique, disciplined, and intentional friendship that is offered to everyone. It may be practiced by clergy or laity. Its approach is always cautious and respectful, aware that every person has needs and holes in their lives. It is not nosey, but does exhibit curiosity. It refrains from advice and demonstrates humility. It conveys strength and loyalty. It is generous in sharing access to the gifts of the faith community, but not pushy. The pastoral friend is gentle, strong, patient, nonjudgmental, humorous, self-controlled, generous, and kind. A pastoral friendship is usually marked by an exchange of stories.
The benefit of pastoral attention is that it gives individuals a friend and mentor when needed. Pastoral attention offers comfort and assurance. It is a small sample of the greater love and affection that God has for us. The pastoral caregiver gives us access to and connects us with the wider community of faith.
Examples of pastoral attention as a product include pastoral counseling, pastoral conversations, home visits, visits in hospitals and nursing homes, drop in visits, and acknowledgement of important life changes and anniversaries.
Seven: Civic Enhancement
One of the primary ways we can love our neighbors is by repairing and enhancing our physical and social environments. Starting with the Garden of Eden, the Bible is filled with examples of God’s care for safe, pleasing, nurturing environments for people. We reflect that part of God’s holiness and grace when we enhance our own villages and communities, giving something back to the places that have blessed our churches and members.
Through civic enhancement, people are blessed with safety, community, moral direction, recognition, pleasing spaces and events, and reminders of the better angels of their own communities.
Examples of civic enhancement as a product include: appreciation events for essential workers, non-partisan election forums, faith-based community organizing, initiating round-table conversations with diverse people from the community, supporting or initiating heritage day celebrations, neighborhood ice cream socials, concerts, dinners, initiating common-garden spaces, working with an area agency on aging to help neighborhoods promote aging-in-place, making facilities available to civic minded groups, social events to help neighbors get to know one another…
Summary of Product lines
“Carrying on the ministries of Jesus” is the essence of Christian discipleship. And we do that by offering people the products they need and desire in their lives. When we offer people programs that are too much for their lives to handle, or irrelevant, or manipulative, then we aren’t channeling Christ. But when we pay attention to people, become aware of the holes in their lives, and find what we can do to be a blessing, then we are indeed fulfilling our call to discipleship.
The United Methodist Church has a long heritage of offering these seven signature products, even though they have not always gone by those names. If we want our denomination to thrive in the days ahead, as a system, we must focus relentlessly on our product output.
VI: CIRCUITS AND SERVICE POSTS
In Project JW, a circuit is a geographic area, usually coterminous with an individual county. By forming our circuits according to counties or townships, we adjust our focus to the people who live there. A large body of county information already exists to help us understand the lives of local folks. Focus on county and township data also helps us adjust our products to the rural or urban character of a particular region, as well as the unique cultures found there.
A circuit would be organized and administered by a team of clergy (appointed to the circuit by the bishop) and local laity.
Circuits and Service Posts would be an auxiliary apparatus, coexisting with congregations, designed to deliver our signature products to people in the area. If, in the years ahead, Project JW were to be spread through the whole annual conference, there would likely be 75-100 circuits in IGRC. But with the concept still in its theoretical stage, only five circuits are proposed for now, experimental laboratories to adjust and perfect the product for replication elsewhere.
Each circuit would identify a hub, a place no more than twenty miles from everyone who lives in that area. But since 20 miles is still too far away for effective product accessibility, circuits would establish numerous service posts throughout their assigned area. The service posts would include property from participating churches plus additional buildings and rooms as needed.
A network of “service posts” can be established that will both include and complement existing UMC church buildings. Existing congregations may choose to become a UMC service post or opt out. Here is what a service post includes:
- A service post is a physical place (church building, other facility, storefront, rented room, etc.)…
- Staffed at regular, posted hours (at least one half-day a week, if not more)
- With clearly posted contact information on the outside of the facility
- Providing the public ready access to UMC’s 7 signature products with information, on site events, transportation, or delivery.
The purpose of the service post is physical proximity: getting the UMC as close to people as possible, much closer than we can with only church buildings. The service posts will be two-way streets: gathering information about the needs and desires of local people while also making products available from the UMC to them. The two key qualifications of a service post are: 1) be economical and 2) be efficient.
Service posts will be determined and managed by the circuit. They can be the site of offering one or more signature products. But any products not offered at a given service post will still be easily accessible from that post.
Each Circuit will have the following components:
- A pastoral team of 4 or more pastors appointed by the bishop. The pastoral team will have two responsibilities: 1) care for UMC churches within that specific circuit, even those not participating in Project JW; 2) organize and execute Project JW within the circuit, particularly its products and service posts.
- A local governance team made up of the appointed pastors and 4-8 local lay workers The governance team will establish service posts, market products, and organize personnel and money for ministry to happen.
- Existing congregations and UMC organization within the circuit that choose to participate in Project Wesley
- All Service Posts within that circuit
- Volunteer rosters of residents within the circuit who wish to participate in Project JW
- Coordination of itinerate nomad volunteers, short-term workers coming in from outside the circuit
- A representative from the annual conference to facilitate research, access outside resources, ensure quality control of UMC signature products, provide training and accountability
- A phone center with a real person answering the phone, Monday-Friday, 8-5
- A bi-weekly newsletter, digital and hard copy, with up-to-date information about the signature UMC products being offered within that circuit.
WHERE TO GET THE PEOPLE AND THE MONEY
Funding and volunteer contributions– for Project JW might come from churches that participate, laity who volunteer, conference funds, and contributions (financial, in-kind, and labor) from those who are served by our signature products. Most funds will be generated by the participants and partners in the circuit. While all professing UMC members within a circuit will be welcomed and encouraged to participate, the work shall not be limited to those in UMC churches or on UMC membership rolls. People will be encouraged to partake and participate, even if in only some of the products, even if they are members of another church or no church. “If your heart be as mine, give me your hand.”
Neither the volunteers nor leaders in Project JW will be limited to the professing members of the UMC. Nevertheless, all leaders and participants will be held to strict accountability by the circuit council and IGRC officials.
VII. NUTS AND BOLTS OF GETTING STARTED
Phase I: three months
Phase II: three months
Phase III: launch, one year experiment
Phase 1: Groundwork and Assembly of Organization
- Cabinet suggests five the geographic mission fields by county or townships
- Approach and introduce the concept to pastors and congregations in that mission field
- Pastors and congregations may opt in or out
- If a pastor opts in but their congregation opts out, the pastor will be appointed to both the congregation and the circuit, with a reduced circuit workload than other pastors whose churches have opted in
- Bishop appoints pastoral team (pastors who opt in) to a circuit (churches who opt in) Pastors are appointed to both congregations and a mission field.
Phase 2: Orientation and Set up
- Pastors participate in week-long retreat/pilgrimage for team building
- Skill and gifts assessment of pastors
- Pastors recruit local lay partners willing to contribute their skills and services in the circuit’s work.
- Day long orientation session for lay partners, repeated as necessary to include everyone.
- A day long organization meeting is held, including all pastors and partners.
- Team building
- Selection of the Circuit Council
- The Circuit Council will meet and select the following teams, choosing from among the clergy and partners:
- Personnel Team: to deploy pastors and assign them duties to make sure all the congregations are covered with pastoral care and leadership, according to the duties in Paragraph 340 of the BOD. Also: coordinate circuit work of any staff members made available by participating churches. (3 lay, 2 pastors)
- Product Development Team to research the people and culture of the mission field and develop signature products
- Property, Finance, and Transportation Team to set a budget, establish service posts, equip them, and ensure that everyone in the circuit can participate in any product they choose.
- Communications and RecordsTeam to set up and maintain the circuit’s web page, newsletter software, phone system, hard copy mailings, and document library (budget, team rosters, meeting minutes)
- All the existing ministries of all the participating churches will be invited to opt in to Project JW. Those that do will be catalogued by product line and work with the Product Development Team to adjust and market their products throughout the circuit
- A website, (with a hard copy catalogue for those without internet) will be set up and kept current to keep both the partners and the public aware of all the products being offered by the circuit. It will have updated access and transportation information, service posts and hours, and links to contribute money and volunteer time.
Phase 3: Active Ministry
- The Circuit Ministry announces its start date when
- The Product Development Team four of the product lines are ready to offer something, and it appears that the other three product lines are within 3 months of offering a product.
- The Personnel Team has completed its set up responsibilities
- The Property, Finance, and Transportation Team is prepared to support the products ready to go live, and has plans to support those products expected to be ready to launch within three months
- The Communications and Records Team has the website up and running and phone and email equipment and personnel in place.
- Ongoing evaluation of the circuit and adjustments as needed
VII. Book of Discipline
The 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline encourages the work mentioned in this blueprint
Par. 124: “God’s self-revelation…summons the church to ministry in the world.”
Par. 130: we “must convince the world of the reality of the gospel or leave it unconvinced…”
Par. 202: “The church is a strategic base from which Christians move out to the structures of society…the local church is to minister to persons in the community where the church is located.”
Par. 204: “Each local church shall have a definite evangelistic, nurture, and witness responsibility for its members and the surrounding area and a missional outreach responsibility to the local community…”
Par 205.2: “A pastoral charge of two or more churches may be designated a circuit…”
Par. 205.3: “A pastoral charge may be designated a teaching parish…a teaching parish shall have a demonstratable commitment to a cooperative or team ministry style…”
Par. 206.1: “Local churches…may enhance their witness to one another and the world …through forms of mutual cooperation.”
Par. 206.2: “the Annual Conference shall implement a process of cooperative parish development through which cooperative parish ministries are initiated and developed in both urban and town and country situations…”
Par. 206.2: “the conference shall direct the appropriate conference boards and agencies to develop strategies designed to make use of cooperative ministries as a means of creating greater effectiveness n the nurture, outreach, and witness ministries.”
Par. 206.2: “The Annual Conference shall prepare and adopt a formal written policy concerning cooperative parish ministries, including a plan for financial support…Parish development is an intentional plan of enabling congregations, church related agencies, and pastors in a defined geographic area to develop a relationship of trust and mutuality that results in coordinated church programs and ministries, supported by appropriate organizational structures and policies…”
Par. 206.2: “The DS shall submit recommendations annually…regarding those churches in their districts that would benefit from being included in a cooperative ministry.”
Par. 206.6: “Cabinets shall give priority in the appointment process to appointing directors and clergy staff to cooperative ministries.”
Par. 212: “Since many communities in which the local church is located are experiencing transition, special attention must be given to forms of ministry required in such communities.”
Par. 212.4: that “…commitment of resources in terms of money and personnel to ministries in transitional communities be of sufficient longevity to allow for experimentation, evaluation, and mid-course correction.”
Par. 212.5: “The ministry of the local church in transitional areas may be enhanced by review and possible development of some form of cooperative ministry.”
Par. 461: “The task of superintending…is…to facilitate the initiation of structures and strategies for the equipping of Christian people for service in the church and in the world in the name of Jesus Christ to help extend the service in mission…”
Par. 408.1.c: “The role of the bishop is to lead the whole church…in an even better way of being Christ’s people in the world.”
Par. 416.2: “…to divide or unite a circuit…as judged necessary for missional strategy and then to make appropriate appointments…”
Par. 419.1: The superintendent is to “be the chief missional strategist of the district.”
Par. 419.4: “to develop faithful and effective systems of ministry within the district…”
Par. 419.9: “The superintendent, in consultation with the bishop and cabinet, shall work to develop the best strategic deployment of clergy possible in the district, including realignment of pastoral charges as needed and the exploration of larger parishes, cooperative parishes, multiple staff configurations, new faith communities, and ecumenical shared communities.”
In summary, the Book of Discipline not only allows for the ideas presented in Project JW, but encourages and prioritizes them.
 A contract is distinct from a covenant. A contract spells out the responsibilities of each party. It is all about responsibility. A covenant, on the other hand, is responsibility + grace. In the church, a new contract must focus on articulating responsibilities. But from the very beginning, everyone also commits themselves to grace: pouring grace upon grace into the renewed relationship. A covenant is a contract infused with patience, compassion, mercy, self-control, kindness, joy… And the more grace we pour into our work, the more able we are to fulfill our own side of the contract.
 As of January 1, 2022, IGRC had 778 congregations and 106,277 members. This is prior to the bulk of disaffiliations starting in 2022. In 1996, IGRC started with over 1,100 congregations and more than180,000 members.
 In the Old Testament, God offered people land, leaders, liberation, love… And what are the fruits of the Holy Spirit if not products: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
 A conversation workout is a workshop that has been developed by Stories with Strategies to teach conversational rules that are likely to lead to friendship. The workshop gives participants a chance to practice their conversational skills.