Open Letter to Conference Laity

March 05, 2014

Dear Laity of the Kentucky Conference:

Most major denominations have experienced decline in North America including our own United Methodist Church. However, the religious world is not falling apart! The United Methodist Church is experiencing extraordinary growth throughout the rest of the world. 
God expects His servants not to preserve the church, but to multiply it. Recently, the Kentucky Conference has made changes resulting in some growth in Kentucky that bucks the national trend. However, additional changes are necessary because of changing dynamics in the nation. Some of these changes are going to be uncomfortable, but they are necessary if we expect to grow rather than decline.
The Conference is not just the district superintendents, Bishop, and staff. The Kentucky Conference is comprised of the sum of every person who attends our local churches. We, the people both laity and clergy, comprise the Kentucky Conference!
The leadership of the Kentucky Conference understands that if we continue doing the things we have been doing, the Methodist church has no future. Christ’s church will continue forever, but not the United Methodist Church. Einstein once stated that to do the same thing and expect a different result is insanity. Thus, the Kentucky United Methodist leadership decided to do something different to ensure we enhance our ability to win souls to Christ and ensure we remain a strong effective church for Christ!   
The giving patterns of the church have shifted over the past twenty years as more tithing Christians have died. Statistics reveal that the church continues to receive approximately the same monetary gifts as in the past, but fewer people are giving more. While this giving pattern will keep us afloat for a while, it cannot sustain us indefinitely. While fewer older people are giving more, the younger generations are giving less. Our leadership expects this trend to continue.  Our younger generations are just as concerned about poverty, drugs and alcohol, and, justice, etc., as the older generations. However, they believe there are other secular organizations that are doing a better job of addressing these problems. Thus, the younger generations give less to the church, but volunteer more with organizations they deem are doing a better job than the church. 
With these thoughts in mind, let us turn to the changes you will see occur in the next several years in the Kentucky Conference. The leadership of the Kentucky Conference developed a plan eventually dropping the current asking of 15% for apportionments (Mission Covenant) to 12% over the next several years. This would free up more money in the churches to address local needs. In this way, the church will fulfill the desire of the younger generations to reach out and making a difference in the world while offering them Christ.  We can all learn something about Christ from the passion of our younger generations!
If we are going to cut the apportionments, then we have to become more efficient in managing our resources. The Church’s leadership determined that reducing the number of districts from twelve to nine would result in additional savings that can operate just as efficiently as twelve districts. This will not be a popular change, but it is necessary.   
In addition, the leadership of the Conference encourages the local churches to start collaborating directly with the various local ministries around the Kentucky Conference. Examples of these ministries include the Wesley Foundations, colleges, urban and rural ministries, and others.     
During the past year, the leadership of the Kentucky Conference took a course in leadership known as the Spiritual Leadership Incorporated or SLI. Because of this course, the leadership set about to reorganize the way we conduct business with an expanded role for the laity. Church leaders will start asking many of you to “step up to the plate” and fulfill certain roles.  Our own creativity limits the roles for the laity. If we, the laity, start stepping up and fulfilling these roles, our ministers and district superintendents become free to concentrate on improving the performance of every aspect of our churches. The clergy cannot do this without the laity! We must work in a cooperative effort with the clergy in building the church!
Finally, the plan includes an emphasis on the development of leadership for both the laity and clergy. The church has provided the laity with numerous opportunities for leadership development. The laity created and developed the Leadership Academy of Church Excellence program (LACE). If you have not taken this course, I encourage you to contact your local district superintendant’s office and sign up for the next round of classes in your district. The laity can play additional roles as servant leaders and certified servant leaders. Coming soon, the Board of Laity is working in cooperation with the Board of Ordained Ministry to develop a new leader in the church known as a “certified lay minister”. These “certified lay ministers” will assist clergy acting as a “force multiplier” for the clergy. The certified lay minister will come from the lay members of the local churches and receive training through LACE and other sources for this specialized calling.   
We can sit back and complain that Satan has won and retreat to the security of our unfilled churches, and predict the end of the world. On a trip to Israel in 2011, I saw the effect of a group of Jews known as the Essenes who took this view. Because they retreated to the desert to live out their lives refusing to engage the world, they disappeared and are only a footnote in history today. I do not want the United Methodist Church to become a footnote in history. Instead, we can act as the Methodists John Wesley envisioned and engage the world once again improving the lives of those around us who need a helping hand, while introducing them to Christ! Therefore, I encourage each of you attend one of the listening sessions scheduled throughout the Conference so you can learn more about these changes. These listening sessions are as follows:
·         Sunday, March 9, 3:00-5:00 at Fern Creek UMC, Louisville
·         Saturday, March 22, 10:00-12:00 at Centenary UMC, Lexington
·         Sunday, March 23, 3:00-5:00, Louisa UMC, Louisa
·         Sunday, March 30, 3:00-5:00, Central City UMC, Central City
                             (All times are prevailing local times)
Listen to the rational and decide for yourself the necessity of making these changes. I intend to embrace and support these changes because I have seen the work that went into their development, and considered the logic of their necessity.  After you have listened to one of the sessions, I hope you will support them as well, so all of the people of the United Methodist Church can bring relief to a hurting and dying world while introducing lost souls to Christ!  
Lew Nicholls
Kentucky Conference Lay Leader