Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Denominational board adopts a Strategic Plan for the decade.

A Strategic Plan for denominational ministry in this decade, 2011-2019, was adopted by the Church of the Brethren’s Mission and Ministry Board at its spring meeting. The meeting took place March 10-14 at the church’s General Offices in Elgin, Ill. The board used a consensus style of decision making, led by chair Dale E. Minnich.

Also on the agenda was a thorough overview of the current financial situation of denominational ministries, approval of the annual report, and reports on new church development, work in Haiti and southern Sudan, a delegation to Israel/Palestine, and the Christian Churches Together annual meeting that centered on the continuing problem of racism in US churches, among others.

The board spent an afternoon in private conversation to seek a working relationship while dealing with controversial issues facing the church, including the Special Response conversation on matters related to sexuality.

Strategic Plan:

As in its fall meeting last year, the board spent much of its time on a Strategic Plan. It adopted a final document at this meeting. (Find the Strategic Plan at The plan received verbal accolades from board members, both in a discussion of the plan by the Executive Committee, and in comments in the full board meeting.

"This is a major step for us," said Minnich as he introduced the item of business. In a slide explaining the process used to arrive at the plan, he identified its purpose in this way: "Provide a Christ centered focus for MMB (Mission and Ministry Board) program that fits the gifts and dreams of the Brethren."

"I desperately want members of the church engaged with this (plan) and to see what we’re doing," said vice-chair Ben Barlow.

Repeatedly, board and staff leaders emphasized the interrelated nature of six sets of directional goals and objectives for ministry in the program areas of "Brethren Voice," church planting, congregational vitality, international mission, and service, and an organizational goal of sustainability. Each is based in scripture. The objectives were written with help from small working groups of staff and board liaisons, and in some cases advisory groups from the wider church.

Commenting on the objectives for church planting, Congregational Life Ministries executive director Jonathan Shively told the Executive Committee, "These objectives only work when they’re paired with the objectives for Brethren Voice and others."

"None of them can stand alone," Barlow said in agreement. He characterized the goals in their entirety as "envisioning a vital and dynamic church...into the future."

At previous meetings the board had approved several sections of the plan including a preamble prayer, six broad directional goals, and next steps such as how the plan will be implemented. The organization’s vision, mission, and core values statements ( are considered foundational understandings.

The objectives for congregational vitality, which in the words of Ministry Office executive Mary Jo Flory-Steury lay out a vision of what a vibrant and vital church is, began receiving positive responses even in advance of the board meeting. Board member Tim Peter already has written about them for a newsletter, and told the Executive Committee "how this particular directional goal resonated with people in Northern Plains District.... Yes, this is important to us!" he said.

The board spent an afternoon discussing the new objectives, asking questions, and giving feedback. One point of clarification requested was how the specific number of 250 new church plants for the decade was decided. Shively explained that the assumption is not that denominational staff are planting the churches, but that the denomination’s ministry is to support church planters in the districts. The number of 250 new plants is an achievable objective in terms of that support, he said.

"We can’t do this on our own power," he added. "This is a spiritual discipline.... That’s the spirit in which that number was imagined and offered." Shively also told the board that as he meets with district leaders, he is seeing the church planting movement "finding its wings."

Members of the finance staff also offered helpful explanations about the objectives for sustainability--that the goal is to be forward looking, with objectives designed to sustain the Church of the Brethren’s mission into the future, and not necessarily tied to current program and staffing structures. "We are not trying to sustain an organization," said LeAnn Wine, assistant treasurer and executive director of Systems and Services. "It is about creating sustaining resources for the mission. As the mission changes, we need to be flexible."

Two ex-officio board members raised concerns about whether the objectives give enough prominence to the peace witness, and whether an objective for interfaith relationships ought to be added. Their concerns were discussed but led to no changes in the Strategic Plan.

Work toward this new Strategic Plan began when the former General Board and the former Association of Brethren Caregivers merged to become the Church of the Brethren, Inc. Then, using an "appreciative inquiry" process focused on identifying strengths of the organization, data was gleaned from a five-year evaluation of the work of the General Secretary and a survey of leadership groups in the denomination. Rick Augsburger of the Konterra Group based in Washington, D.C., served as consultant. A Strategic Planning Working Group of board members and executive staff guided the effort.

A reading of the plan’s Preamble Prayer closed the business sessions of the board. Brian Messler, a board member from Frederick (Md.) Church of the Brethren, also shared how he will be bringing ideas from the service objectives back to his congregation, suggesting that other board members do the same. "The juices are flowing, the Spirit is moving, and praise be to God!" said Minnich.

Financial reports:

A review of the financial situation for denominational ministry centered on a smaller than expected net loss in the Core Ministries Fund in 2010, which reduces the anticipated deficit that had been budgeted for this year.

Other positive points came with news that since 2008 the denomination’s investments have rebounded and have regained $4 million in value--more than half of the value lost in the economic downturn of three years ago. Congregational giving continued strong in 2010 given the overall economic situation in the nation, beating budget projections. Online giving increased significantly. In addition the Annual Conference experienced a turnaround, reversing a deficit that had been greatly increased by poor attendance at the 2009 Conference.

While income to the Core Ministries Fund was less than anticipated overall, giving to all Church of the Brethren ministries was up significantly when the more than $1 million in donations to disaster relief work in Haiti was taken into account.

However, finance staff also reported several negatives, chief among them the negative net asset balance for the New Windsor (Md.) Conference Center, which doubled to over a half million dollars by the end of last year. In her report about a situation she called "very daunting," Keyser said the problem is a result of the wider economic downturn that has affected use of the conference center, along with costs associated with the older buildings and staffing. "We’ve never had a half million dollars" in a negative net asset balance before, she told the board. "Everything is being discussed by your staff. We’re talking about all the options."

The extensive financial reporting reviewed pre-audit income and expense results for Church of the Brethren ministries in 2010, designated fund balances, net assets balances, stabilization strategies for investments, cash flow analysis, a 10-year budgeting history of the organization, and other areas of concern as the board anticipates a difficult financial situation next year. The projection given by Keyser is that denominational ministries will enter 2012 with a potential shortfall in income of some $696,000.

During the meeting, a collection to support the work of the church received donations from board members and staff. A final gift following the meeting brought that total to around $2,500.

A detailed report of pre-audit financial results from 2010 appeared in Newsline on March 9, find it at A photo album of the meeting is at

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