The COB and the CT commissioned the TWR from which the CTA was derived. The COB and CT approved the CTA and named the IOT, which developed GC legislation that affects GBGM, GBHEM, GBD, and other agencies as well as the COB, conferences, and congregations.
If you understand that alphabet soup, you deserve an advanced degree in contemporary governance of The United Methodist Church! In brief, the above paragraph answers the question, where did the Call to Action come from? This affects every conference, congregation, pastor, and general board, so let’s unpack its origins.
The Call to Action comes from the passionate desire, deep commitment, profound concern, and great hope of countless United Methodist leaders, including bishops, laity, pastors, general secretaries, and consultants. It comes from focused attention on the mission of the church. It comes from prayerful attentiveness to God’s calling, the gifts of our theology and practice, honest confession about our own responsibilities in failing to be outward-focused. It comes from our love of Christ, our love for the United Methodist Church, and our dedication to the task of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Every United Methodist leader knows the disturbing trends of the last 50 years—the decline in attendance, the closing of churches, the aging of our membership, and the increasing financial stresses for sustaining congregations, conferences, and our collective general work. Many have experienced the intransigence and complexity of our organizational structures and polity to deal with these challenges. Laity, pastors, writers, consultants, conferences, boards, foundations, and organizations have noticed, analyzed, experimented, and made recommendations. The Council of Bishops (COB) and the Connectional Table (CT) explored how to receive the most accurate appraisal of our denomination as well as to identify congregations that thrive in spite of the trends. The Council and the Connectional Table commissioned the most extensive analysis of a mainline denomination ever completed, resulting in the Towers Watson Report (TWR). We wanted comprehensive, robust, reliable, honest research from objective professionals. We asked for data analysis from more than 32,000 United Methodist congregations as well as extensive interviews, observations, and visits.
In late 2010, the Council of Bishops received the Towers Watson Report and a set of directional recommendations titled the Call to Action (CTA). The Call to Action was prepared by a team of bishops, laity, clergy, and general secretaries working with analysts from the Towers Watson consulting firm. The Council studied and deliberated over the report and the Call to Action, and voted unanimously to approve it. The Connectional Table also approved the Call to Action unanimously.
The Towers Watson Report details many contributing factors to our decline, including a crisis of relevancy, lack of clarity about our mission, rampant mistrust, organizational distance between the people in the pews and the governance of our denomination, structural systems that are not conducive to our mission, and difficulty reaching young people. In addition, the report identifies churches that are vital, fruitful, and alive in their mission—outward-focused, forming new disciples, missional, engaging the community and world, receiving young people, providing vibrant and relevant worship—and isolates key drivers these congregations have in common. There are vital congregations of every size, including rural, urban, and suburban.
The Call to Action challenges The United Methodist Church to redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In addition, the Call to Action calls us to dramatically reform our clergy leadership development, deployment, and evaluation systems; to collect and act on metrics in key performance areas; and to reform the Council of Bishops to assume responsibility for improving results and for establishing a new culture of accountability throughout the church. Finally, the Call to Action calls us to consolidate program and administrative agencies, and to align their work and resources with the commitment to build vital congregations. (see the Call to Action report, 20–23).
The Council and the Connectional Table named an Interim Operations Team (IOT) to work on specific recommendations that would move a few priorities forward at General Conference. The team put forth several bold legislative recommendations, including consolidating most of our general boards, giving annual conferences the freedom to organize for greater fruitfulness, and providing for the Council of Bishops to elect a non-residential president to reform the Council and to focus its energies on the core challenges. Some bishops wanted to take bolder action and some preferred to move more cautiously. However, the Council and the Connectional Table voted overwhelmingly to support the recommendations because we do not want smaller differences to keep us from supporting the significant new direction in which these proposals take us.
Some recommendations will likely be approved; some will be modified and amended; and a few may not be supported by General Conference at all. Regardless of the outcome, the Call to Action provides direction and guidance to the Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table, and to our conferences for years to come. Increasing the number of vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world belongs to all of us at every level of leadership. This task does not begin or end with legislative initiatives, but with a rededication of ourselves to the ministry of Christ through communities of faith.
Where did the Call to Action come from? It has come from people like you and me—United Methodists who are passionate about the ministry of Christ, willing to deal honestly with the hard challenges, profoundly concerned, open to change, and full of hope for the future. Study the Call to Action with an open mind and heart. Prayerfully discuss it with colleagues and leaders. Enter the conversation that perfects and strengthens it. And consider how God may be using this conversation to prompt each of us to change ourselves, our churches, and our conferences for sake of the mission of Christ through The United Methodist Church.
The Call to Action calls for sustained refocusing of energy and resources toward increasing the number of vital congregations. How appropriate is this priority? What are the hopes this emphasis stimulates for you? What concerns arise?
For scriptural reflection, read Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 4:17-21; and Acts 2:41-47.
If you would like to delve more deeply into the Call to Action, review the Towers Watson Report and the Call to Action Steering Team Report. Also see “The Call to Action Study Guide” a small pamphlet produced for General Conference delegates by the Council of Bishops.