Editor’s Note: As the 2012 General Conference approaches, United Methodist News Service is looking at details of legislation and offering information to help readers better understand how the church works. A number of proposals are aimed at restructuring the denomination and its general ministries, so UMNS asked the top executives of each agency to answer five questions about their agency's role in the church. This is the response from United Methodist Communications.
1. One issue to be debated at General Conference is restructuring. What would the church miss if your agency no longer existed?
First, the church would miss having a voice in the public arena. Through media opportunities, messages encouraging audiences to Rethink Church, news stories and features produced by United Methodist News Service and UMTV, press releases and spokesperson training provided by the Office of Public Information, United Methodist Communications facilitates and sometimes leads the church’s participation in conversations around issues of the day. It provides a window into the breadth and depth of the church throughout the world.
Second, the church would miss the connection among United Methodists worldwide that effective communication provides. Communications is the link that connects people as we tell stories of United Methodists living out their faith and making a difference. Offered through multiple communications channels – websites, email, video productions, apps, social media, brochures and magazines – the work of the agency informs, engages and inspires people to renew their commitment to the church and its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
As one reader said, “This story was absolutely amazing. I wept, I smiled, I felt sad and I felt encouraged. These people are the epitome of what it means to be a United Methodist. Thank you for this beautiful story.”
2. What is your agency’s primary mission? How do you accomplish this in the most effective manner?
United Methodist Communications serves the totality of the church. We help advance ministries that change lives. We tell stories of need and response and the challenge of living faithfully. Through the denomination’s website, UMC.org, the continuing story of United Methodists as a people and as a movement unfolds worldwide. We show how the work United Methodists do together transforms the world.
We also provide local churches with helpful, easy-to-use tools, resources and training to equip them for communications ministry. Through print and electronic publications, such as Interpreter and Interpreter Digital, el Intérprete, United Methodists in Service, MyCom and Noticias, we highlight local church ministries that can be adapted by other congregations and challenge leaders to consider new ways to minister inside and outside the church.
For those in the church who might be marginalized by language or geography, we provide information, tools and training to affirm unique ministries and help develop the leaders of these groups. The agency works to equip United Methodists in Africa, Europe and the Philippines with needed technology so they can reach out to their communities with information, education and inspiration.
For people seeking a spiritual connection, we offer relevant messages that invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ and a life of faith. The Rethink Church movement serves as an authentic living example of the church in action, offering seekers both digital entry points (RethinkChurch.org) and physical access points (local service events) which offer The United Methodist Church as a community in which people can experience connection to the body of Christ.
3. Name at least one exciting thing in which your agency has been involved during the current quadrennium. How does it relate to the Four Areas of Focus?
We have collaborated with congregations to engage both members and non-members in mission and outreach and to provide new means to express faith and constitute Christian community. First, through Nothing But Nets and now through Imagine No Malaria, United Methodists have been mobilized to save lives by helping prevent malaria deaths in Africa, especially among children and pregnant women. Re-energized congregations — as part of a worldwide, multi-organization effort — have been part of helping to reduce malaria deaths in Africa from one every 30 seconds to one a minute.
Through Rethink Church outreach events and the annual Change the World weekend, more than 500,000 volunteers mobilized to serve more than 4 million people over the past two years. Twenty-six percent of volunteers were not affiliated with the church. The agency has done strong storytelling online and in print and video lifting up all of the Four Areas of Focus.
4. How does the average United Methodist pastor or member benefit from your agency’s work? Social advocacy? Curriculum? Scholarships? Please give a concrete example, ideally quoting a testimonial from someone outside your agency.
We help churches and church leaders achieve their goals, whether it is by helping churches become more welcoming, teaching them to create web ministries, assisting with media buys, providing tools to create a marketing plan, sharing successful ideas, supplying communications tips or one of the many other ways United Methodist Communications supports local churches.
As a young clergyperson said recently, “United Methodist Communications has been a generational game-changer for The United Methodist Church, providing amazing resources that have made a significant difference for local churches (I still have Igniting Ministry materials on CD-ROM), providing great resources to communicate in a new age.”
We serve pastors directly through Interpreter and its Spanish- and Korean-language counterparts, helping them to share best practices and ideas as well as to tell their stories.
We encourage United Methodists to be generous givers through online and print resources that promote understanding of connectional giving and special Sundays with offerings. In 2011, that helped generate gifts of more than $2.2 million for Africa University, nearly $10 million for the Black College Fund, more than $17.3 million for ministerial education and $1.8 million for interfaith ministries, just to name a few examples.
5. How much money and how many employees does it take to maintain the work your agency is currently doing?
With staff cuts and a tight budget, we are operating with as much efficiency and economy as we can without reducing our outreach or our programming, so we will not be able to maintain what we are currently doing if we sustain further reductions. We have cut our staff back to 77, and our budget was $66 million for the 2009-12 quadrennium. We are seeking to develop ways to generate additional revenue to support needed initiatives.
It is critical for The United Methodist Church to continue to maintain its capacity to communicate inside and outside the denomination. Over the past several years, mainline denominations have reduced communications capacity by reducing staff and functions. As a result, those other denominations have lost their voices in the public dialogue and weakened their ability to reach out to people seeking a deeper spiritual life and understanding of Christian faith.
Learn more: United Methodist Communications website
For more information, visit the 2012 General Conference website.