“The Mountain Sky Area will re-energize a Christian movement that begins with grace, offers abundant life, and reclaims the life-changing love of Jesus Christ for ALL people.”
Goal statement for the Mountain Sky Conference
Those of us who love the church have been confronting an important reality for some time. We are a church organized for a 20th century world trying to do ministry in the 21st century. That has to change. There are simply far too many people today who have never had the opportunity to hear the good news to let organizational challenges get in our way. Mission Shaped Future, in which we are designing a whole new conference out of the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone conferences, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build the organization we need for a vital future.
I want to share with you over a series of articles how the Mission Shaped Future teams and other conference leaders are thinking through creating a new conference. In many cases work is already underway to help capitalize on the opportunities and address the challenges we face. In this article, let’s look at the first question on most people’s minds: geography.
There is no doubt that the combination of Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado is a large area. Larger than any other non-missionary or central conference in The United Methodist Church. I’ve been blessed to be serving this area for over three years and I have traveled from Cortez, Colorado, to Salt Lake City, Utah, to Sydney, Montana, and to Lovell, Wyoming. Our area is as vast as it is beautiful. We are bound together by a mutual love of mountains, rivers, and wide-open spaces. Yet our vast spaces also mean that we are not able to come together as often as we would like. So how will we manage the scale of our area?
One thing I am very clear on is that if we hope to bring renewed health and vitality to our local churches we must focus on laity and clergy working together in partnership. We need teams of committed Christ followers in or congregations who are actively working to join the Holy Spirit in mission and ministry. This means we must focus on equipping laity and clergy together not in isolation from each other. One place we often attempt to do this is annual conference. Unfortunately, of the 31,000 people who worship in our combined churches most Sundays only about 3% attend our annual conferences, with about half of those being clergy. Less than 1% of the 67,000 lay members of our local churches attend. This leaves a very narrow bridge between the church and the wider connection. What we need is opportunities for several people to gather from individual churches and be connected to the wider body.
We need to move beyond seeing the connection that binds us together happening solely at Annual Conference and conference level committees. Two few people already participate in them for it to be effective. We must recognize that the connection people are looking for is neighbor to neighbor. Whey people really need is a sense of connection to their fellow United Methodists around them. Whether the nearest other United Methodist Church is on the neighboring street or in the neighboring county, fostering a stronger regional connection is imperative. These are the connections we will build on to strengthen our local churches.
Next time we will talk about plans underway already to strengthen the local connections that matter most.