By Michael Wacht
SARASOTA — Participants at the latest gathering of the
Conference Table Feb. 15 at First United Methodist Church here
discussed giving the Florida Conference a slogan similar to “Catching
God’s Transforming Wave” and offered feedback on key issues
surrounding the conference’s efforts in congregational
The Table was approved at the 2002 Florida Annual Conference event
as a forum at which conference laity and clergy can discuss and
discern how the conference can best fulfill its mission of making
disciples of Jesus Christ. Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and 17 other
conference leaders are expected to attend each gathering, but all
conference laity and clergy are invited.
The Rev. Kendall Taylor, director of the Florida Conference’s
Office of Congregational Transformation (OCT), and the Rev. Rick Neal,
pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg and
chairman of the Committee for Congregational Transformation, were the
Taylor told participants he has focused on educating himself and
others in the five months he has been director of OCT. He has attended
several regional and national gatherings on church transformation,
begun consulting with churches and pastors, and visited seven
districts to talk about OCT.
Neal told participants the Committee for Congregational
Transformation has been working on ways to help Florida churches focus
on the issue of transformation. “We need to change the atmosphere…climate…attitude
in the Florida Conference if we’re going to work on congregational
transformation,” he said.
Part of the focus is to get a consistent definition of what healthy
churches are, Neal said. The committee has discussed using the eight
characteristics in the Natural Church Development model’s material,
which include empowered leadership, gift-oriented ministry, passionate
spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship, holistic small
groups, need-oriented evangelism and missions, and loving
Taylor said part of that focus is having a consistent standard for
measuring congregational health. He said the Natural Church
Development material provides a well-researched, usable, objective
measurement tool, and asked the Conference Table to recommend the
Florida Annual Conference adopt it as the conference’s standard.
Neal said the committee has also brainstormed an Academy for
Congregational Transformation, a system for teaching coaches, pastors
and lay people how to lead and participate in transformational
ministries. It also worked with the Rev. Linda Mobley, director of
Orlando’s Healthy Churches Initiative, to create and distribute a
six-unit Lenten Bible study on transformation based on Mark’s
One issue Neal said committee members are discussing is a way to
categorize congregations and describe their situations.
Taylor presented his proposed list of categories, which included
mission, new church, transforming congregation, exploring congregation
and maintaining congregation, and asked Conference Table participants
“A church that is healthy is always transforming,” he said. “To
make disciples, they must continually adapt to the situation and
culture they find themselves in. Exploring congregations are aware of
the potential of transformation and are in a decision-making process.”
Maintaining congregations are churches that are happy with the
status quo and wish to maintain their current status, Taylor said.
Several participants suggested adding another category for dying
congregations. “Maybe the reality of labeling themselves will be a
jolt,” said the Rev. Annette Pendergrass, pastor of St. Paul’s
United Methodist Church in Jacksonville.
The Rev. Bruce Jones, pastor of Fernandina Beach’s Memorial
United Methodist Church, said maintaining churches are committing “theological
“Maintaining churches should no longer be churches…they’re
not part of the Christian mission,” he said.
Taylor also asked participants whether they wanted the conference
to offer one plan for transformation, a preferred plan with other
alternatives or a variety of plans from which churches could choose.
The Rev. John Harrington, pastor of First United Methodist Church,
Coral Gables, said having one plan would help standardize language
when talking about transformation.
The Rev. Jim Harnish, pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church
in Tampa, was opposed to having one plan. “We are past the time when
we can dictate top-down,” he said, adding the conference should
redefine the role of district superintendents to empower them to look
at the reality in congregations and offer guidance.
Dottie Graves, a member at First United Methodist Church,
Melbourne, said the conference should help local churches choose the
best plan and stay focused “and stop reading the millions of books
that are out there.”
Taylor asked participants what they thought transformation should
cost. “What’s transformation worth to you?” he said.
Participants discussed the cost in terms of lost members, clergy
success and the pain that a transformational process can cause. Many
agreed that local churches need to bear a portion of the monetary cost
of the process, although many of the churches most in need of
transformation can least afford the cost.