facebook script

Can't find something?

We're here to help.

Send us an email at:

[email protected]

and we'll get back with you as soon as possible.

Conference focuses on vision and goals during restructuring

finance report

Due to budget cuts, on July 1, 2023, the Michigan Conference initiated several staff changes and is realigning efforts to meet the conference’s vision and strategic goals.

Content Editor

Starting this month, the Michigan Conference began the challenging process of realigning and restructuring staff and programs to meet reductions to the conference budget. Despite difficult employment losses and ongoing missional and financial challenges, conference leaders are confident that a creative, collaborative staffing model will emerge that continues to align with the conference’s vision and strategic directions.

The changes announced earlier this year took effect July 1, 2023, with some conference positions ending and others being reimagined. Clergy and lay members of the Michigan Annual Conference voted to approve the 2024 budget, a 20.1% reduction from this year’s budget. There will be 10 fewer staff positions by January 1, 2024. This represents a decline in nearly 30 staff positions since 2019. The resulting changes may impact how local churches experience interactions with conference staff as they begin a period of transition and live into this new structure with evolving roles.

The Conference Leadership Council, the steward of the Michigan Conference’s vision and strategy, in conjunction with the Michigan Conference’s Council on Finance and Administration, recommended staff reductions to help meet the reduced 2024 budget. This included the Associate Director for Multi-Cultural Vibrancy, the Coordinator of Latinx Ministries, the Director of Congregational Vibrancy, and a separate Director of Connectional Ministries. The Youth Ministry Initiatives Coordinator position ends on July 31, 2023, and the Mission and Justice Coordinator position ends on December 31, 2023. Where possible, retirements or reappointments within the conference if a staff member is an elder or deacon were utilized to make cuts. This allowed the reduction of two district superintendent positions and three district executive assistants.

In his State of the Conference report given at this year’s annual conference, Bishop David Bard spoke honestly about the post-pandemic financial difficulties the conference has gone through and the staffing changes that had to be made because of a reduced 2024 budget. He noted, “Budgets are not just numbers. There are people involved, and making staff changes in line with the budget has been challenging and painful.” Bishop Bard encouraged annual conference members to express appreciation for departing staff members’ good work.

Staff reductions are part of a broader restructuring of the conference program staff. The remaining program staff members are transitioning into a single team, shifting from the previous specialist-based model into a team-based model.

The new dual role of Clergy Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministries will be held by Rev. Dr. Jennifer Browne. As Clergy Assistant, Browne will continue to meet regularly with the cabinet and other directors. As Director of Connectional Ministries, she will manage much of the administrative work that the Director of Connectional Ministries did. In this role, she will work closely with the Council on Finance and Administration, the Committee on Nominations, and the Commission on the Annual Conference Session, as other Directors of Connectional Ministries have done in the past.

This new configuration has the potential for positive change as Browne moves into her new role. She explains, “My hope is that this new configuration will give me—and the conference—the opportunity to be more connected and collaborative than has been possible in the past. I am beginning to see how conversations and decisions made in one group affect others. I hope that my role can help foster greater understanding between and among our departments—understanding that results in creative collaboration which, in turn, advances and enriches our efforts to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Even though the Director of Congregational Vibrancy position has ended, Rev. Dirk Elliott continues as the Special Assistant to the Bishop for Congregational Vibrancy until the end of 2023. His primary responsibility will be helping the conference determine how to continue to carry forward the important work of congregational vibrancy. Working together, the program staff and cabinet will determine who might provide staff support for this vital work.

The supervisory responsibilities of the Director of Connectional Ministries position will pass to Laura Witkowski, whose title as of January 1, 2024, will be Associate Director for Connectional Ministries and Lead Program Team member. She will work directly with the other Associate Directors: Lisa Batten, Naomi García, and Rev. Kathy Pittenger. Sus’ann Busley will serve as the executive assistant for the program staff team.

Together, the program staff team will design, implement, and evaluate a limited number of common initiatives aligned with the Michigan Conference’s vision and strategic directions set by the Conference Leadership Council.

Rev. Dr. Devon Herrell, chair of the Conference Leadership Council, outlined these strategic directions in her recent report to the Michigan Annual Conference. These directions were originally presented in the fall of 2020; they include: (1) sharing God’s love with others—a renewed passion for personal faith formation and sharing, (2) building beloved community—intentional inclusiveness and the dismantling of systemic racism, (3) developing leaders—equipping people to lead the conference in its new priorities, and (4) doing all this in a financially sustainable way.

In her report, Herrell encouraged the Michigan Conference to live out these strategic directions: “Yes, change is difficult, but it also challenges us to get creative, to be curious, to rely on the Holy Spirit, and to think outside the box when it comes to being the church.”

Whatever common ministry initiatives are chosen, the goal is to ensure program staff can manage realistic workload priorities. Browne notes this is an ambitious task, and it will take her team a while to discern what that means in terms of staff time and energy.

“The last six months of 2023 are truly a transitional period,” explains Browne, “as the Connectional Ministries staff complete or hand off some of their programs and projects and work together to envision and implement a new, shared approach. The intention is to move away from assigning individual staff members to support particular groups in administrative ways toward offering support that is more strategic and visionary in nature.”

Browne also noted that the four Associate Directors for Connectional Ministries, in partnership with the Conference Leadership Council, will assist all the various conference boards and committees in defining their roles and goals, planning for effective outreach, communicating with other areas of the conference, and evaluating and redirecting their efforts.

In this six-month transitional period, staff liaisons for each conference board and committee have been identified. Board and committee chairs have been given this list. Later this fall, the Michigan Conference will offer a training event for agency leaders. This training will introduce them to the components of committee work that may have been handled by staff members previously. Details will be announced later, but it will likely include topics such as budget preparation, communication methods, how to obtain Zoom licenses, and so forth.

In conclusion, Bishop Bard asks the entire Michigan Conference to keep in mind that conference mission initiatives are not set in stone, and program staff responsibilities are evolving in this transitional period. He says, “During this time, expectations for conference staff on the part of our churches will need to be adjusted. We will need to discontinue some programs and look at new ways of accomplishing important shared ministry. I ask for your patience and prayers. It is my hope that amid all our changes, even when there are bumps along the way, we might live in ways that evidence all the fruits of God’s Spirit, as the Apostle Paul identified in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Last Updated on July 25, 2023

The Michigan Conference