Discipleship Ministries restructures

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United Methodist Discipleship Ministries announced Oct. 19 a restructuring that aims to simplify senior leadership and maximize the agency’s ability to assist in disciple-making.

Specifically, the agency will combine its New Church Starts (Path 1), Leadership Ministries and Young People’s Ministries into one strategic programming area. Under the restructuring, a single executive will oversee these previously separate units and take on the role of chief staff officer for the Division on Ministries with Young People.

The agency also will create a new stakeholder relations area that will focus on relationships with church leaders across that denomination. The new area will encompass conference relations, global relations, strategic partners and research.

Discipleship Ministries plans to implement this new structure over the next six to nine months. The agency does not plan any changes to the Upper Room, communications or chief financial officer’s areas.

Agency leaders anticipate the restructuring will lead to staff reductions but do not yet know the number of people affected. The restructuring also includes opportunities for staff to apply for newly created positions.

“The new organizational design is the culmination of a rigorous two-year process with our board of directors and leadership team to discern the best way to effectively live into our three priorities,” said the Rev. Junius B. Dotson, Discipleship Ministries’ chief executive officer, in a statement.

Those three priorities are improving the discipleship-making process in local churches; increasing engagement with people outside the church who claim “no religious preference;” and cultivating local resources around the globe.

The multinational United Methodist Church has long struggled with shrinking U.S. membership. Faced with that challenge, Dotson last year declared the agency’s priorities and its plans to reframe the conversation from fixing local churches to seeing the people Christ calls United Methodists to reach.

The agency launched the See All the People initiative to reach its first priority of spurring every church to focus on disciple-making. Agency staff plan to continue the effort — named for the nursery rhyme — and develop more related resources and training.

Ultimately, Dotson has said, Discipleship Ministries doesn’t want to dictate the work of “See All the People” but encourage conversation and an exchange of ideas.

Bishop Mark Webb, Discipleship Ministries board president and leader of the Upper New York Conference, said in the press statement that the initiative has deepened the agency’s understanding of its role as “brokers of knowledge” and “conveners of strategic conversations.”

The initiative also showed the shortcomings of the agency’s current organizational structure for reaching its goals, Dotson said in the statement. The new design, he said, is “holistic in that it keeps disciple-making as its goal and keeps us focused on what’s important for the church.”

Agency leaders also expect it to require fewer financial resources. United Methodist general agencies that rely on church giving, including Discipleship Ministries, are preparing for deep budget cuts starting in 2021.

A big concern will be what this means for the work that Discipleship Ministries is doing in the units being combined.

New Church Starts (Path 1) has set a goal of planting a faith community a day. Leadership Ministries offers resources for worship, evangelism and faith formation. Young People’s Ministries organizes the Global Young People’s Convocation and provides resources to assist churches in working with youth and young adults.

“The combining of the units does not diminish the importance,” said the Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston, the agency’s executive director of communications and brand strategy. “Rather, it allows the units to better coordinate their efforts and use staff in a much more integrated way.”

The elected advisory teams for both the Division on Ministries with Young People and Path 1 will continue.

“Discipleship Ministries is organizing around its missional priorities,” said Bishop Gary Mueller, chair of New Church Starts (Path 1) and leader of the Arkansas Conference, in the statement. “Championing and resourcing the new church start movement remains its main strategy for making new disciples of Jesus Christ.”

This graphic shows the new structure of Discipleship Ministries, which is expected to take six to nine months to implement. The names of the new areas, strategic programming and stakeholder relations, are not definitive. Graphic by Sara Hamdorff, Discipleship Ministries.  

This graphic shows the new structure of Discipleship Ministries, which is expected to take six to nine months to implement. The names of the new areas, strategic programming and stakeholder relations, are not definitive. Graphic by Sara Hamdorff, Discipleship Ministries. 

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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The Rev. Junius Dotson has been speaking at annual conferences this summer, introducing the “See All the People” initiative of Discipleship Ministries, the agency he leads. Here he was speaking to last summer’s  South Central Jurisdictional Conference, which met in Wichita, Kansas. Photo by Todd Seifert.

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