Executive Council hears latest 20/20 progress report

October 17, 2003

At its fall meeting in Wyoming, the Executive Council heard a preview of the 20/20 Strategy Group's planned report to the 2003 General Convention from group co-chair Sarah Lawton of the Diocese of California.

'20/20 is more than church growth,' Lawton told the council. 'It's a shift in how we think about mission as a church.' Recounting 'the story so far' of the 20/20 movement, Lawton's presentation centered around strategies emerging in eight of the key areas identified by the strategy group at a January meeting at Camp Allen in Texas. The ninth area is the planning for General Convention itself.

'Now, even more than when the 20/20 initiative was first embraced by General Convention, the Episcopal Church faces variables of international scope that affect our approach to mission, including an ongoing worldwide war on terrorism, a globalized economic uncertainty, and scandals pointing to deficiencies of accountability in the wider Body of Christ,' the report said. 'We also face the challenge of speaking the diverse languages of the communities we serve--including idioms of generation, culture, and place. Thus, a major theme throughout the program areas is a call to offer a broad range of resources appropriate to this new time.

'The real work of 20/20 is local and a 'work in progress.' Thus, the work of the 20/20 Strategy Group and program groups will of necessity follow an iterative, spiral model of constant reevaluation and retooling to meet new challenges as they emerge,' the report continued. Most of that work, Lawton reported, has been done using the Internet as a meeting place.

Lawton's report emphasized that the 20/20 approach has been 'thoroughly integrated and woven into the fabric of existing programs at the Church Center, redirecting existing work and driving new initiatives.'

Wanted: strong leaders

'Without strong leadership--lay and ordained--none of the work of 20/20 can be accomplished,' Lawton reported. That includes recruiting leaders with church planting and revitalization skills, experience preaching and teaching the Gospel in a postmodern context and using appropriate technology tools, and multilingual and intercultural skills. The report recommends seminary courses in church planting, congregational 'turn-around' ministry, intercultural leadership, and contemporary foreign language courses or the equivalent. Night, weekend, and online/distance learning tracks should also be made available by Episcopal seminaries.

Canonical changes that will permit multiple 'tracks' for ordination, tailored to church planters or revitalizers, are recommended, along with allowing young adults to be sponsored for ordination by campus ministries or internship programs. Proficiency in a contemporary language other than English and intercultural field education, the report said, should be required of candidates for ordination. And clergy should be trained in how to lead congregations through change and conflict.

'The cost of a three-year residential seminary education is so prohibitive as to discourage talented potential leaders from seeking ordination,' the report stated, and so strategies must be developed to subsidize seminary education. These could include grants, debt reduction, or loan forgiveness to those qualified to serve in priority mission areas, including new church plants, multicultural and specialized cultural ministries, and rural areas. An advanced certificate in interim ministry should also be added to seminary curricula, the report suggested.

To attract high school and college students to ordained ministry, the report called for internship and leadership development programs aimed at 16-25 year-olds, increased funding for campus ministries, and a 'user-friendly ministry recruitment tool' on the national Episcopal Church Web site.

Spirituality and statistics

The church needs multilingual resources for faith formation and education of both children and adults, the strategy group decided. That means music and worship resources in Spanish that are appropriate to the wide variety of Latino cultures in the United States. The group also recommended regional 'music and liturgy unbounded' conferences and mission-based prayers of the people, to be published in print and electronically via the Web and for personal digital assistants (PDAs).

'The lack of current, accurate, and thorough demographic data on Episcopal parishes and membership is a pressing need,' the report said. 'We rejoice in the news that a highly qualified and experienced director of research has been hired at the Episcopal Church Center and that he will begin work on November 1.'

Recommended actions include changes in the annual parochial report to include 'snapshots' of ethnicity/race, language, gender, and age of congregations, and also of congregational lay and ordained leadership, and a requirement that vestries and bishop's committees review and sign the parochial report, and be held accountable for its accuracy--'zero tolerance for faking it,' Lawton added.

To aid in improved accuracy, software versions of the parish register (with an 'easy automatic calculator mechanism built-in to help arithmetic-challenged rectors') would be offered as inexpensive or downloadable 'freeware.'

But the information stream would not be one way only. Individualized annual reports on attendance, demographics, and stewardship results would be sent to every congregation and diocesan bishop, based on information in parochial reports, with easy-to-read graphics and trend projections out to 2020 based on current reporting.

Developing congregations new and old

The report envisions an annual national conference of church planters, to foster ideas for a variety of new church plants, including language- or ethnic-specific, multicultural, urban, and 'next generation' models. A matching-funds driven National Mission Fund to assist with capital campaigns for land purchase and construction costs for new church plants would draw on the resources of dioceses and national structures.

Dioceses would be encouraged to identify congregations by size and life cycle, and to 'work one-on-one' with them using parochial reports and local demographic data to identify trends of growth or decline and develop a 'plan for growth and vitality.' At the same time, dioceses would be discouraged from keeping any congregations on 'life support.'

Raising up a new generation

'Demographically, we are an aging Church with an aging clergy, in a world where most people make a commitment to follow Christ in their early adult years,' the report said. 'Blessed as we are by the leadership and faithfulness of those born in the first half of the 20th century, we must reach out to and raise up leadership from those born in its second half to sustain the mission God has given us through the 21st century and beyond.' Among the recommendations were the establishment of a resource fund and online resource kit for ministry with younger generations, more youth and young adult commissions churchwide, and the election of more General Convention deputies under 40 and under 30 years of age.

The report envisions an upgrade of the national church Website, with user-profiling tools to deliver content according to user preferences, and new multilingual and next generation resources for downloading. It also calls for a nationally-funded 20/20 radio and TV ad campaign, with companion print ads funded by local dioceses or parishes.

The report also asks that the Episcopal Church Center 'invest in linguistically and culturally skilled staff' so that news and materials will be available in multiple languages, with production values equal to those of English-language materials.

The report noted that 'significant fundraising, in the form of a capital campaign for National 20/20 Mission' must get underway at the national level, and encouraged the adoption and implementation of the Alleluia Fund in all dioceses, with funds raised to be used in part for local 20/20 initiatives.

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