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2009 Nebraska Annual Conference

Nebraska Annual Conference
June 10-13, 2009, Lincoln, Neb.

In 1950, the first organ transplant was performed; it did not succeed. The first modern credit card was introduced, and the first Peanuts cartoon strip was released. Senator Joseph McCarthy commenced the communist witch-hunt, and the Korean War began. Then United States President Truman ordered the construction of the hydrogen bomb. The United Methodist Church's growth strategy was this: hope six good United Methodist families move to town and come to church.

With pointed and memorable stories, Missouri Bishop and keynote speaker Robert Schnase quipped: "Even if it worked in the 1950s, a passive recruitment strategy is most likely not going to work in 2009 and beyond." In pointing out the deficiencies of such a strategy for growth, he reminded listeners that this strategy is the one on which congregations most rely. No longer: the days when opening the church doors brought good people in droves are gone.

That strategy and mindset does not work today for two reasons: first, baby boomer parents are not banging on the front doors of churches like they did after World War II; and second, the culture used to support the church's calendar, but not anymore, Schnase said. Baby boomer parents led the charge to keep Sunday off limits to church and club activities. Not many objected. However, according to research conducted on Saturday nights in motels, "motels are full of business people during the weeks, but Friday and Saturday nights belong to sports teams and their families. Even chess club tournaments have their big days on Sunday," Schnase said. "Is this a checkmate for church life?"

What is a nice United Methodist church supposed to do now? According to Schnase, emphasize what all good sales and marketing people know: go where the customer is, not where you think the customer ought to be.

John Wesley, largely credited with founding the Methodist movement in England, lived by the motto: "Go there." When he was banned from preaching in churches, he went where the people were-in the streets and marketplaces. The United Methodist Church became a "go there" church. That is what the church needs to be today, to thrive and maybe to just survive, Schnase said.

Rethinking Church, making it a "go there" church, involves people stepping a bit outside their comfort zones, but imagine if early Methodists like John Wesley wouldn't have been willing to do it. Radicalism of faith advanced their mission, and vehement profession and outreach of faith continues to be the key to congregational growth today. "We ought to be willing to cross the cul-de-sac or the hallway to invite someone to church!" Schnase said.

On the other hand, we can just hope six good United Methodist families move to our towns and come to our churches.

The above is the summation of the teaching sessions led by Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase, this year's special guest to the annual conference.

With the annual session theme "All Are Welcome," radical hospitality was the focus of the four-day event that included passing all 32 General Conference Constitutional Amendments. Those ballots will be forwarded to the Council of Bishops to be aggregated with other conference votes. All 32 amendments received a 60 percent approval or above with the exception of Amendment XVII which received 51.67 percent approval. Using Holy Conferencing techniques to guide the discussion, spirited dialogue preceded the vote taken on June 12.

Five individuals were ordained as elders in full connection and include: Mark Crist, Cyndi Stewart, Tamara Holtz, Anne Gatobu and Lorrie Kentner. The average age of the ordinands is 45, with the oldest being 58 and the youngest 38. This is in stark contrast to last year's 30-ish ordinands.

Revisions to conference rules were adopted as was a 2010 funding plan totaling $7,286,141, the same as 2009. The conference also adopted The Common Table recommendations concerning Leadership Development, Congregational Transformation and Risk-taking Mission and Justice, including a staffing plan that sees the elimination of the camping and outdoor retreat ministries position and the addition of a leadership development position as the cornerstone of the changes in staffing.

The 2010 annual conference session will be held June 9-12, at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, with the theme rooted in "Gracious Generosity." Special guests will include Nigerian Bishop Kulah.

Membership stands at 79,999, down 1,056 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 31,900, down 438. Church school attendance stands at 9,467, down 631. The positive aspect of these numbers is that the conference is losing at a slower rate than in past years.

-Kathryn Witte