I’m excited by the proposed merger that would create a new Southern New England UCC conference. It a chance to experiment and find out what kind of structures are best able to support the work of the church.
The landscape of ministry is changing. There are radical shifts in how people perceive the role of faith communities. The ways in which companies and schools are organized are changing as well. The way we organize ourselves in the local and wider church serves a purpose: to help us live out our faith together, following in the Way of Jesus.
By merging, the conferences will be able to take advantage economies of scale in doing ministry. By scaling up, our conference staff can focus in more depth on the projects they are best suited to. Pooling our resources will allow us to take more risks and try more innovative ideas.
For instance, I wonder, how might we in Massachusetts grow doing Outdoor Ministry, once we are joined with Connecticut's Silver Lake retreat center and Rhode Island's Irons Homestead center? How might the new ministry initiatives team in Massachusetts learn from and add to the work being done in CT and RI?
I find the merger idea exciting because we don't have to do this, but we are choosing to make a bold change. I wonder, what else might it inspire in the way of experimentation? Local churches could experiment in doing ministry together to make a bigger impact. For instance, this year, three churches in metro Boston are partnering together to offer the "Our Whole Lives" comprehensive sexuality education program. Could each church have run its own program? Perhaps, but with duplicated effort and a program not at the same level of quality.
What else might we do together that we couldn't do separately?
Might a few local churches coordinate on a standardized set of software programs for accounting, member database, and website infrastructure… and then share support staff who could be experts in a particular domain?
Perhaps our associations could organize church youth programs where individual churches don’t have the scale to do it—instead of individual churches each with 3 teens in a basement, perhaps an association could run an area youth program with scale and dynamism that makes our kids excited to be part of the UCC.
I’m hopeful. This is a bold move that is about innovation, not decline. It’s about adapting to do ministry more effectively, rather than the way we’ve always done it.
Keith Marzilli Ericson is a member of First Congregational, UCC, Somerville, MA. He is online at www.practicingeconomist.com and on Twitter @KeithMME
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