Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Possibilities for Structural Change

My last post was about adequate staffing in local churches. How could we ever pay for it? It's a good question. How do other churches pay for adequate staffing? Without going all congregational, is there a way? In an earlier entry, we looked briefly at conferences stepping out in faith - hiring staff ahead of growth in healthy churches and seeing the tithe come in as the people come in.

But recently, I've come to the conviction that a large-scale structural change is needed, which would affect every level of church hierarchy.

Ever since 1983 (at least), serious changes to the Adventist five-tier hierarchical structure have been studied, proposed, and ignored. See this 1994 article in Adventist Today for a brief history of some organizational reform proposals.

One of the best recommendations I've seen was first introduced ten years ago, in October of 1995. You can read the whole thing at Atoday.com. Let me quote a little of the article for you:

To mixed reviews, Alfred C. McClure, president of the NAD, reported the recommendations of the Commission on Mission and Organization, which had worked for the past one and a half years. He suggested that the unions and local conferences examine their operations and initiate creative restructuring in order to work more efficiently.

"We have been in the same organizational structure since 1903... Now instant travel and communication, CompuServe, and video conferencing have produced a different environment. We don't want to change for change's sake but should periodically examine the way we do business." Whereas the denomination formerly took considerable pride in its structural uniformity at all levels, now experiments in organizational downsizing are encouraged at the union and conference levels.

The Commission's recommendations centered around three related moves: (1) dissolving all conference departments except youth and education, (2) eliminating duplication of departments at conference, union, division, and general conference levels by having the division office serve all churches with an 800 call-in number, (3) organizing churches in the same area into a district and designating one of the pastors a district leader.

The commission, chaired by McClure, specifically recommended dissolving smaller conferences into districts, giving the leader the title of conference vice president.

This was the actual recommendation. Ten years ago. And it makes a lot of sense to me. Local conferences were organized back in the day of the horse and buggy. Sometimes it took 3 days to get from the church to the conference office. But modern communications and transportation make the local conference presence quite redundant. The union would have to bear some restructuring, but the cost would be minimal, compared with the cost of all the local conferences.

If the local conference were dissolved ("except youth and education"), think how much money would be saved on a yearly basis. I believe we're talking tens of millions of dollars every year, just in North America! Now, imagine what would happen if that money could be used to adequately staff the local church... I believe it would result in the growth of God's kingdom. And I don't believe staffing at the conference has that effect.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that those who actually have the power to reform the Adventist structure are the least likely to do it. They seem to have a vested interest in the status quo. Last October, when the church planters met with Don Schneider to talk about the future effectiveness of the church, Don wouldn't even talk about changes in the area of Adventist education, because those changes would affect his daughter's employment. Mind you, he didn't base his arguments on church growth principles or theology or logic or best management practices or a clear "thus saith the Lord." He just didn't think that would be best for his daughter's career...

I'm waiting for the day when the church decides to do whatever it takes to please God and grow His Kingdom.