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2011 Missouri Annual Conference

The Missouri Annual Conference session met in Springfield June 3-6, just 70 miles from Joplin, where less than two weeks before an F5 tornado ripped through the town, killing 156 people.

Extravagant Generosity was the theme for this year's annual conference, and the Missouri Conference lived into that theme. The offering gathered for HydraAid Water Filters for Haiti on Friday night totaled $32,977. The offering collected for Joplin recovery during the retirement service totaled $79,524. The offering collected for Ludhiana Christian Medical College and Hospital in India totaled $6,678. The offering for Mozambique self-sustainability projects was $24,159. There was $2,266 given to the Ozark Council of Churches, even though this offering was replaced by the offering for Joplin and never actually taken up during conference. The total amount given was $145,603. In 2010, the total amount given at annual conference was $37,212.

Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase wanted one thing to be clear during his Episcopal address on Friday afternoon: a sustained focus on congregational fruitfulness and excellence changes churches.

"A persistent, relentless focus on starting new congregations, strengthening growing congregations and transforming existing congregations, changes churches," he said.

The bishop explained that he and other conference leaders have tried to determine what activities are so critical to the success of the church's mission that failure to perform them with excellence leads to decline in the church. The office of Congregational Excellence is built around this idea of identifying areas were improvements will strengthen ministry.

A video was shown from First UMC Sikeston as an example of a church that has taken transformation seriously. It was the eleventh church to enter the Healthy Church Initiative. Worship attendance is up 40 percent, and small group participation is up 75 percent. The video closed by referencing Matthew 28:19, the commission to make disciples.

Bishop Schnase said that while all the conference staff and district superintendents direct their energy on strengthening congregations, the principal person responsible for this area is Bob Farr.

Farr explained that his office of Congregational Excellence is responsible for the Healthy Church Initiative, Small Church Initiative, Lay Leadership Development, Youth Leadership Development, new church starts and Hispanic ministries.

Through the Healthy Church Initiative, Farr focuses much of his energy on the transformation of established churches.

"Of the churches in the Healthy Church Initiative, 40 percent have seen worship attendance grow, and 80 percent have seen worship decline stop," Farr said. "This year there will be 25 churches go through the consultation process."

Of all the Missouri conference churches last year, 302 grew, 424 declined and 104 stayed the same.

"We still have more to do, but my friends, we have turned a corner on reaching a younger, more diverse population in the state of Missouri," Farr said.

Regarding new church starts, there have been 16 since 2008. Of those, two were discontinued and 14 are in various stages of development.

"Due to these new churches, over 1,300 new people are in worship who were not in worship a year and half ago," Farr said.

This year 20 elders were ordained, and four deacons were ordained.

The full General and Jurisdictional election for laity was completed in nine ballots. The clergy delegation election was completed in 12 ballots.

The Rev. Cody Collier was the first clergy delegate to General Conference elected and will head the Missouri Conference delegation. Also elected to the General Conference clergy delegations were: Emanuel Cleaver III, Dr. Steve Breon, Bob Farr, Amy Gearhart and Matt Miofsky. Laity elected as General Conference delegates were: Brian Hammons Larry Fagan, Beverly Boehmer, Shannon Meister, Randy L. Biggerstaff, Margie Briggs and Andrew Ponder Williams.

Clergy elected as Jurisdictional Conference delegates were: Ron Watts, Jim Downing, Andy Bryan,Dr. Sally Haynes, Yolanda Villa, Lynn Ann Dyke and Kendall A. Waller. Alternates were Jeremy T. Vickers and Nora S. Jones. Laity elected as Jurisdictional Conference delegates were: Michael Sykuta, Casy Andrews, Don Mowery, Ivan C. James, Nathan Jeffries, Christian Ricks and Jerry Akins. Alternates were Meagan Sinn and Jerry Ruth Williams.

Membership stands at 166,528, down 761 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 80,163, down 1,411. Church school attendance stands at 28,760, down 1,596.