The future of the United Church of Christ — the denomination's vision and vitality under a new president, current financial challenges, and changes to the leadership structure — were on the agenda of the UCC Board of Directors during its March meeting in Cleveland.
General Minister and President the Rev. John C. Dorhauer reported that though there are multiple financial challenges that could impact the well-being of the national setting, there are significant and encouraging signs of growth and vitality within the denomination.
Dorhauer noted "larger than anticipated" financial challenges which must be addressed through multiple means, including examining the staffing structure of the national setting. "We need to reach a point to fund not just our current capacity, but our future capacity. We can't get there by simply zero-balancing the budget," Dorhauer said. "We need to revise staffing patterns from the ground up and build a staff that meets the needs of rapidly changing world and church."
He also underscored several positive possibilities over the course of the meeting that could help shape the future of the church, referencing a 30-year analysis that forecast what the denomination might look like if it failed to adapt, a discussion of potential revisions to the UCC Constitution and Bylaws, and a report from a task force that offered survey feedback on what the church needs to look like in 10 years in order to remain relevant.
Offering a vision of optimism, the Strategic Visioning Task Force, a seven-person team from across the country charged with examining how the UCC might look in 10 years, shared research revealing that there is a clear passion among under-40 year-olds in the denomination for making a difference in the world, which points to the need to be a nimble and changing church.
The task force cast a vision of a church that uses technology to innovate, forges partnerships that — through advocacy, relationships and action — acts with the poor and young in the struggle for justice and freedom, and expands its welcome as a uniting church. Moving forward, the UCC Board will appoint a team to consider an implementation strategy for the Board's review in October.
Addressing leadership changes following the resignation of the Rev. J. Bennett Guess from his role as executive minister of the UCC's Local Church Ministries, the board — after respectful back-and-forth deliberation — voted to appoint Dorhauer as the acting executive of Local Church Ministries for a period of six months, until the fall meeting of the Board of Directors, at which time the appointment will be evaluated.
"I think we have to try this to be able to move the church forward," said board member the Rev. Dwayne Royster. "It's an opportunity to go to the wider church and say, 'We are testing this for six months to see if it works.'"
In discussion about the staffing change, Dorhauer noted that the national setting staff has decreased from over 300 in 2000 to just over 100 today. He also assured the board that he would distribute the workload fairly among the staff. "We think we are able to effectively manage the staff for a six-month period of time, without compromising the health of the organization," he said.