By Don Meyer
CHICAGO, IL (November 15, 2011) – The appointment of Richard Lucco to serve as executive director for ministry development of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) represents just one of 27 recommendations developed by a 20-member task group as part of a year-long process known as Organizing for Mission (OFM).
The appointment also signals movement into the implementation phase, building on the work of the task group.
The OFM initiative has had three core objectives: crisply define the mission of the church, identify the mission and ministry priorities to guide the denomination in pursuit of the mission, and evaluate the structural capacity required to accomplish the mission, not only for the present, but also the future.
In analyzing the Covenant’s consistent growth pattern over the past 19 years, the task group projects that during the coming decade, the Covenant will see:
- 1,000 local congregations, with more than 30 percent of congregations among populations of color or intentionally multiethnic
- 250,000 average attendance on any given Sunday – (based on a projected constituency of 400,000 regular attenders)
- 2,500 credentialed clergy
- 1,000,000 lives impacted globally through international partnerships and initiatives
Given these projections, the question of structural capacity to adequately serve the increased needs comes sharply into view. A key challenge, as ECC President Gary Walter sees it, is maintaining the current mission and ministry momentum while bridging to the future, putting into place additional capacity and structures that can adapt to change.
The OFM process, endorsed by the Covenant Executive Board and managed by former Pacific Southwest Conference Superintendent Evelyn Johnson, focused on three questions.
First – mission: What are we trying to accomplish in the lives of real people in real places?
“We join God in God’s mission to see more disciples, among more populations, in a more caring and just world,” was the response, which embraces elements of both evangelism and discipleship.
To see more disciples means a commitment to individuals both experiencing new life in Christ and an ever-deepening walk with Christ, Walter says. Among more populations reflects the call of the Great Commission, both the multiethnic mosaic in local communities and the whole world. A more caring and just world is intended to serve as a constant reminder of the need to address both hurts and the causes of hurt, joining God in making things right in the world.
Second – strategy: What are the key priorities that will help us accomplish that mission?
The OFM report identifies five key mission and ministry priorities:
- Start and strengthen churches
- Make and deepen disciples
- Develop leaders
- Love mercy—do justice
- Serve globally
“As we talk about our mission going forward, our reference will not be so much to the various parts of Covenant organization, but to these priorities,” Walter notes. “We want people to identify with what we do, not how we are structured.”
Third – structure and capacity: What is the best alignment of personnel, structures, and resources?
The task group took a hard look at growth projections over the coming decade and drafted recommendations for change to meet the new challenges those projections represent:
- To achieve 1,000 congregations means church planting must remain a central priority to the Covenant’s mission in the United States and Canada, across all conferences, Walter says. “This means we will need to resource all conferences for church planting, including those with limited finances and staffing. It likewise implies a sustained commitment to congregational vitality, taking a proactive approach to congregational health, ensuring that more of our congregations have strong traction into the future.”
- To achieve greater than 30 percent diversity of congregations will require that one-half of all church plants be among populations of color or intentionally multiethnic, Walter observes. “This requires a fresh look at long-term and sustainable strategies for ethnic and multiethnic ministries, particularly for immigrant and urban contexts. It will mean living with even greater intentionality around becoming a more authentic multiethnic movement and all that it implies.”
- To see 250,000 in average attendance means the Covenant will need to be resolutely engaged in evangelism, “with people finding meaningful pathways to deepen faith and obedience in their walk with God,” Walter adds.
- To see 2,500 clergy implies a deeper commitment to raising up the vocational option for women and men, as well as contextualized and life-long training, Walter notes. And for laity, it implies a major step forward in the development and delivery of relevant resourcing.
- To see a global impact of one million lives will require not only the continued sending of missionaries and partnerships that strengthen national churches, but also additional initiatives and coming alongside congregationally generated projects.
The OFM recommendations seek to bring resources associated with the five ministry priorities closer to congregations, particularly through resourcing regional conferences. Recognizing that expertise resides across the breadth of the Covenant – ministerium, laity, congregations – the recommendations incorporate the use of expert practitioners and best practice centers that model and share effective ministry.
A new mechanism – collaboration tables – will bring together representatives across departments, conferences, and affiliated institutions to advance cohesive development in each of the five ministry priority areas.
Other important operational areas that support the whole of the mission also will be assessed, including communication, information technology, business functions, loans and financial services, and insurance and pension benefits.
Although the OFM initiative helps crystalize both needs and responses, Walter cautions that summoning the required resolve to address the underlying implications will be a decisive factor. “This marks a turning. We now move from organizing for mission to mobilizing for mission . . . to take this movement to its next level.”
Throughout the history of the Covenant Church, there have been defining moments that have carried this movement to new levels of faithfulness and fruitfulness, Walter observes. “We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses whose legacy of vision, sacrifice, and priority over the course of 126 years has moved us forward at critical junctures.
“Now it is our turn.”