Skip links

Regionalization Series, Part 2: It’s Customization (UMCom)

At its heart, regionalization in The United Methodist Church means connectionalism customized to enhance local effectiveness.

While the underlying theological, missiological and basic polity commitments of The United Methodist Church can be and are deployed across the worldwide connection, it is unrealistic to try to deploy them  in the exactly same ways in Kampala, Uganda, as in Frankfurt, Germany, or Manila in the Philippines and expect them to be equally effective or applicable in each place.

That is why regionalization has been implemented as part of the very fabric of The United Methodist Church since its founding in 1968. Central conferences, the regional bodies outside the United States that organize annual conferences, elect and assign bishops, and develop and support connectional ministries across their geographical area, have always been able to reject or amend parts of the Book of Discipline to suit their particular settings.

The customization made possible by the regionalization that already exists has enabled a variety of variances across the worldwide church. The Germany Central Conference, Cameroon in the West Africa Central Conference, and the Laos Mission Initiative, among others, have developed their own hymnals. In addition, the Germany Central Conference, Tanzania in the Congo Central Conference, Zimbabwe and Mozambique in the Africa Central Conference, and Côte d’Ivoire in the West Africa Central Conference have all developed their own books of worship or core worship resources. And all United Methodists outside the United States have always relied on seminaries not certified by the University Senate in the United States for the training of their clergy.

Overall, however, central conferences have tended to limit the rejections or adaptations they have made. The reality is they could customize the Discipline to their contexts far more than they have.

For example, central conferences have not substantially altered the basic governance structures of the local churches. Five mandatory administrative bodies (church council, nominations and leadership development, pastor-parish relations, trustees and finance), each with its own set range of members, may be a helpful structure for midsize or larger churches in the United States. But these ways of organizing church administration in such numbers may not make the same sense outside the United States generally, nor for smaller congregations anywhere, including the United States. Nothing in the Discipline at this point would, in principle, prevent central conferences from authorizing their annual conferences to develop their own policies for local church administration, consistent with the cultural assumptions, laws and capacities of the congregations within their conference bounds.

In a similar way, central conferences could develop and approve alternative structures for the annual conferences within them in ways that better suit the gifts and capacities of each conference while also being sure to maintain clear connections to the other central conferences and the churchwide agencies and organizations of the denomination.  They could use the existing legislation of the General Conference to provide a template for the kinds of ministries each conference must provide for, but then let each conference design its own ways to do so subject to approval by the central conference.

Taking such additional steps to customize both local church governance and the organization of the annual conference with its local and connectional work could go a long way to improve the two most significant ministry structures in The United Methodist Church, the annual conference and the local church. Requiring final approval by the central conference, or, with central conference permission, the annual conference, also ensures that proposed customizations maintain what is needed to keep the church or the conference fully connected within The United Methodist Church.

Read more from the series “What is Regionalization?”