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General Board Redesign Steering Committee

Survey 1

by Christopher Bowman
(General Board Chairperson during Redesign)

Table of Contents


Survey 1 - Summary of Responses


In our first survey, the Redesign Steering Committee of the General Board
asked respondents what they would place a greater emphasis on in the work
of the General Board and what they would place less emphasis on.  Here is a
summary of responses:


Calls for greater emphasis

Support for congregations and districts. This was far and away the most 
frequently mentioned core function, gathering more than 50 percent more 
comments than any other category. Many said they believe the front line of 
ministry is at the local and district level, and that denominational staff 
and program should be geared toward supporting these activities.

There were many complaints about lack of contact with denominational
programs and staff, which can be viewed as a tremendous opportunity. Rather 
than simply dismissing the denomination as irrelevant, our congregations are 
hungering for denominational support that will make them more effective.

Communications
Congregations and districts want to know about each other and about
denominational activities. They want to hear what is working for other
people and what issues are important. Networking is a word that appears
frequently.

While there is support for current publications, there is also an
undercurrent that we rely too heavily on print media -- particularly at the 
expense of personal contact. There were several complaints that 
denominational staff are "always in meetings when I call;" don't return 
calls; and seldom (if ever) have contact with congregations, especially if 
the congregation is small, rural, and western.

Leadership development
This was a very close third (just three responses fewer than
communications). There is great concern about a perceived lack of leadership
in the denomination, all the way from local pastoral leadership to the 
district level to the national level. Several current programs were cited as
good tools for developing leadership: National Youth Conference, National 
Older Adult Conference, and work camps.

Another strong component in this category was a call for the General Board
and General Secretary to model leadership by establishing a clear vision and
clear goals for the denomination, then communicating this vision to
congregations. This was expressed in a variety of ways, but a very strong 
call was made for the board to focus on a few things we can do well rather 
than diluting our efforts by trying to do everything.

A related issue is concern about lack of leadership and management skills
among denominational staff. People want denominational programs regularly
examined to determine if we are getting our money's worth; if not, then the
program needs to be halted. There is a clear perception that at least some
denominational staff "live in ivory towers" and are more liberal than most
people in the pews. Whether or not this is true, the perception is real. We
believe it is likely this perception is related to both of the previous two
issues listed above.

Mission
Our people are still very concerned about reaching beyond themselves and
see the denomination as the place this effort is organized. However, most 
want much stronger congregational and district involvement in mission 
efforts. Mission needs to be packaged in realistic, "bite-sized" chunks 
that congregations and districts can take to heart. Individuals want to 
feel they are making a difference.

Other
Beneath the initial four categories listed above, support quickly
fragmented. However, there were a number of important items mentioned that 
should not be lost. They are listed below:

Denominational organization -- Many expressed concern that the issue of
redesign needs to go beyond the General Board level. There is great concern
about how congregations, districts, denominational structure, and Annual
Conference structures relate to each other. Who is in charge of what? How
can we coordinate the work of all levels rather than putting them in
competition with each other?

Following Annual Conference directives -- Many people believe a primary
function of the General Board is to carry out policies established by
Annual Conference. This was also expressed as a negative by some who said 
the board should not bypass Annual Conference, and that denominational staff
should not be allowed to pursue their own personal agendas at the expense of 
Annual Conference actions.

Brethren heritage and identity -- People want this incorporated in many
ways (Sunday school curriculum, leadership development, etc.). It perhaps 
most closely fits under the heading of support for congregations.

Promote management skills -- This can be viewed as a subheading under
leadership development. It was specifically aimed at denominational
leadership where it was observed we have too often hired people based on 
"church" skills rather than management skills. Perhaps surprisingly, this 
was more frequently mentioned by those who are not staff members.

Frequency of Annual Conference -- Several people questioned the current
pattern of holding Annual Conference every year in its current form. Some
suggested the event should be held every other year. Options for the off
years ranged from a shortened national gathering emphasizing worship, to a
handful of regional gatherings. One person suggested the off year emphasize 
some of the newer national meetings for special interest groups such as 
National Older Adult Conference and National Young Adult Conference.


Calls for less emphasis

Duplication of effort
There is a strong sense that some of the things the denomination is doing
on its own are also being done elsewhere, often better. A number of 
specifics were cited: The Andrew Center, the Washington office, SERRV, On 
Earth Peace Assembly in addition to denominational peace programs, and 
Brethren Press. The overall sentiment is more important than the specifics 
at this point. The message is this: Stop putting time and effort into 
programs that can be more efficiently and effectively done by someone else 
or in cooperation with someone else. Simply being able to say they are 
Brethren programs is not good enough justification.

This message also applies to denominational versus district functions.
People clearly do not want both levels of the church providing overlapping
services.

In addition, a number of people question the stewardship of supporting two
separate sites (Elgin and New Windsor) for denominational offices.

Special interest groups
There is a strong sentiment (missing first place by only one response) that
much of the denomination's efforts are being diluted by attention to
special interest groups. Specifics cited include women's issues, Hispanic
ministries, urban ministries, liberal versus conservative theology, 
homosexuality, evangelism, and several others. While none of these issues 
is considered unimportant, there is great concern that too much time and 
resources are being poured into them at the expense of issues that should 
be of greater priority. The fear is that a few loud voices are being 
allowed to sidetrack the denomination into a series of dead ends.

Ecumenical involvement
There is very strong sentiment that denominational staff members are
spending far too much time in this area. It is important to note that only 
one called for ending ecumenical contacts (e.g., National Council of 
Churches, World Council of Churches). In fact, many people listed this as 
important to the denomination, especially when cooperative efforts could 
end duplication of program. However, a large number of respondents believe 
too much time and effort are being spent in this area at the expense of 
more important things
--
specifically at the expense of congregations and districts. One respondent
summed up his feelings this way: "We should reduce our involvement to the
'observer' status we claim to have, at least until we have our own house in
order." This was also an area where a number of people believe staff
members have been allowed to pursue their own personal agendas at the 
expense of the denomination.

Local and regional fund raising
There is great emotion behind this one. Congregations and districts are
tired of denominational fund-raising programs being shoved down their 
throats that they see as being in competition with their own efforts. The 
new Behold program was specifically targeted as a case in point. Part of 
this ire can be traced back to the issues of communication and support for 
local ministry. The strong message was that denominational staff should 
spend more time promoting denominational vision. If this were done, money 
would not be an issue. (We recognize this is difficult for staff who are 
faced with the reality of current budget shortfalls.)

It should be noted this sentiment was not aimed at specialized stewardship
work such as that being done through Brethren Foundation. There was also a
strong call for more programs that will help local congregations work at
the issue of stewardship, particularly as it relates to money.

World mission 
On the surface, this would seem to be in direct conflict with what was
earlier cited as an important core function. However, deeper examination 
reveals a marked difference.

People believe we are spread too thin and should refocus our efforts so the
task becomes more manageable for a denomination our size. In addition,
mission efforts should be redesigned so programs are more closely linked to
congregations and districts.

The specific program cited for elimination more frequently than any other
program in the church (including non-mission related) was Korea. This is
somewhat ironic given the call for adherence to Annual Conference policy
since the Korean effort came about as a result of Annual Conference action. 
We suspect this is related to the sentiment expressed above about too much
effort being expended toward special interest groups.

SEB