News and Views

BWC Restructuring Plan unveiled

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By Melissa Lauber

When considering how to restructure the Baltimore-Washington Conference for more vitality, more than a thousand clergy and laity made it clear. 
They were seeking a configuration that created increased relationships, collaboration, innovation, discipleship, and connection. 

With the input of 1,400 BWC members, the Discipleship Council and Connectional Table, the 14-member Restructuring Task Force has designed a plan to deliver just that

On March 19, at an online town hall, the Task Force, led by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, unveiled a scenario for restructuring – crafted by the input of a diverse cross-section of lay and clergy throughout the conference through an online survey and 12 listening sessions.

The restructuring process allowed BWC members and leaders to examine if their current web of interactive relationships and connectional structure are serving them well as the Conference seeks to enable 100 percent of its churches to be 100 percent vital. One thing is paramount, the bishop said. “Everyone wants to create a structure that keeps the main thing the main thing: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

Bishop Easterling praised conference members for their willingness to “be open to a new way of doing this sacred work. Dream with us,” she said. “Let us boldly imagine how we can live into our sacred task in new and innovative ways. … Jesus always beckons us forward into God’s preferred future, forward into new ways of showing God’s love, and forward into new ways of serving the present age.”

An Overview of the Scenario

The scenario for restructuring creates an intentional grassroots movement of transformational discipleship that places local churches in “Collaborative Hubs” in shared, geographically-based mission fields. These hubs, of 5-12 churches, will each have a Connecting Church that facilitates shared ministry. Each hub will also have access to a district Resource Coordinator. This is a new position, created to support the hubs and provide them with the needed expertise and assistance to increase missional effectiveness. These Collaborative Hubs of local churches are at the heart of the restructuring plan.

The hubs will be grouped and organized into one of six non-geographic districts, which will be designed around population density. This new configuration of districts will allow congregations and hubs to focus on the context and culture of their communities which also increases the sharing of ideas across the conference. Churches in more rural settings, or low-population-density areas, will be in a district with others in a similar setting, and those in medium- or high-population-density areas will be similarly grouped.

The new restructuring plan will also free up some superintendents to focus more on missional strategy by creating two geographical administrative regions in the BWC. These administrative regions will be staffed by conference teams, led by superintendents, and will handle information sharing, forms, databases, event registration, training, conflict resolution, building concerns, and more. They will also streamline the administrative processes church leaders are asked to perform and help congregations to become more operationally healthy.

The plan has been designed to be “budget neutral,” and will not increase the headcount of the conference staff once fully implemented. Some funding gathered from closed and disaffiliated churches, which was already earmarked for congregational development, may be used. But despite all the additional benefits, the restructuring will not cost local churches any additional mission share dollars.

At the May 29-31 Annual Conference Session, as per the Book of Discipline, members will vote on the number of districts in the BWC. At the May 29-31 Annual Conference Session, as per the Book of Discipline, members will vote on the number of districts in the BWC. Several components of the plan will be implemented throughout the coming year, regardless of the change in districts. If the annual conference approves a change in the number of districts, conference and church leaders will spend the next year preparing for the new district structure to begin July 1, 2025.

Collaborative Hubs and Connecting Churches are heart of the plan

The hubs, made up of five to 12 churches, will be formed based on proximity and shared missional interests. Hub leaders – lay and clergy – from each church will meet regularly to develop relationships among the churches in the hub and discern, develop and implement a Missional Action Plan (MAP) that enables them to use their God-given resources and gifts to partner with community members to meet expressed community needs. When forming the hubs, conference leaders will honor existing vital clusters and cooperative parishes. 

Each hub will have a Connecting Church, which may be of any size but will be a vital congregation, as identified by its spiritual fruit and the living out of discipleship. Vital churches see and value all people, deepen discipleship, live and love like Jesus and multiply their missional impact. The role of the Connecting Church is to facilitate the work of the hub. Resources will be provided to the Connecting Churches, as needed, to help them with this work. Connecting Church leaders will meet monthly with their designated conference superintendent.

Resource Coordinators enable growth in vitality

Resource Coordinators are BWC staff who will serve as a primary point of contact for churches and hubs seeking support. They will work to enable a hub to meet its vitality goals and live out its missional action goals.

The current plan is for three resource coordinators to serve two districts each, alongside conference superintendents. In addition to connecting churches and hubs to resourcing and training, they will ensure that pastors receive pastoral care. They may be clergy or laity who will be compensated for their work, but they are not supervisors, nor will they serve on the appointive Cabinet. 

Administrative Regions create efficiencies

The Baltimore-Washington Conference will be divided, geographically, into two administrative regions. Each will be overseen by a superintendent.

In forming these regions, a second kind of superintendent is being defined. The first is a missional strategist, who will work with churches and hub leaders on their vitality and  Missional Action Planning. The second will focus on streamlining all processes and support churches in becoming operationally healthy and track support and compliance.

Pastors and congregations will have two points of contact: one for congregational and organizational health and another for mission strategy.

Six Non-geographic Districts enable contextual ministry

Today, our districts are divided geographically. The new structure will form districts based on population density.  Realigning districts based on community context, and not geography, provides opportunities to experiment and be innovative in creating contextual ministry with the understanding that there is “no one-size fits all” ministry. This plan also eliminates artificial geographic lines, which have become perceived barriers for collaboration. 

An analysis shows that in the BWC, 35 percent of church buildings are located in low population density areas; 35 percent of church buildings are located in medium population density areas; and 30 percent of church buildings are located in high population density areas.

Taking these numbers into account, there would be two districts of each population density type and one resource coordinator for each population density.

Looking to the Future

Following Annual Conference on May 29-31, members will take information on the restructuring plan back to their churches in June. In mid-June, a survey will be sent out to pastors and local church leaders to facilitate the formation of congregational groups and hubs.

In January, a list of the collaborative hubs will be published and the process of implementing the restructuring scenario begins in earnest. The list of churches in each district is expected to be published in March 2025. By July 1, 2025, the hubs, districts, centralized administrative regions, and accountability systems, along with the resource pools, are expected to be in place.

Members at the town hall asked several clarifying questions and expressed curiosity about the details that will be developed over the next few months. Please see the Restructuring Frequently Asked Questions. Many of these questions are from the town hall. Others are direct inquiries.

Bishop Easterling promised that conference leaders will continue to be involved in deep listening as they perfect and further develop the restructuring plan. “Let us trust God and the power of the Holy Spirit to do all that we need to do,” the bishop said. “With God, and together, all things are possible. Baltimore-Washington Conference, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do this to the glory of God.”

Restructuring Plan offers many benefits

The Restructuring Plan meets specific needs brought forth in listening sessions and survey. The requests and benefits include:

  • Keep making world-transforming disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world the main thing and minimize the rest.
  • More collaboration and connection; smaller groups of churches and leaders working together as one. “A cluster of congregations in a shared mission field” was the most commonly selected answer (41%) when people were asked what they thought was the best way to make and grow world-transforming disciples.
  • Explore new ways for DSs and others to support/guide/encourage local churches and honor our connectionalism to advance the mission and ministry of Jesus.
  • While smaller districts were the clear preference of respondents (77%), there was acknowledgement that we’d need to get creative about how we supported churches and met the other aspects of district superintending.
  • Reclaim our zeal for bold, community-focused ministry – both evangelism and social justice were named as key focal points.
  • A more nimble and responsive structure and more porous boundaries so local churches feel the support and permission to collaborate across district lines.
  • Clear and frequent communication with feedback loops so that all understand expectations, opportunities, roles and the benefits of being a United Methodist.
  • Diversity is a value. Many want the restructuring to help us live into the gifts of our diversity.
  • A reasonable span of care for DSs and other staff who resource churches.
  • Potentially separating administrative aspects of the DS role from mission strategy work.