1997 Rev and Ev

Review and Evaluation Committee Report

1996 Progress Report

The responsibility of the Review and Evaluation Committee is to study and reflect upon the performance of the General Board in terms of its purposes and functions as established by the actions of the 1968 and subsequent Annual Conferences. The expectation is that the committee win appraise the work of the General Board in terms of its mandate from Annual Conference.

The Review and Evaluation Committee, elected by the 1995 Annual Conference, is Joan Daggett, Curtis Dubble, Andy Murray, Steve Reid, and LaVon Rupel. The committee initially met on November 10-12, 1995, to establish methods and processes for the study and the securing of information. Subsequent meetings and conference calls are enhancing our work. The final report on this evaluation will be shared with the General Board at its March, 1997, meeting and with the 1997 Annual Conference in Long Beach, Calif.

Curtis Dubble, Chair
Joan Daggett
Andy Murray
LaVon Rupel
Steve Reid, Secretary

1997 Report of the Committee

The Faith Context

In the New Testament, Christ calls us to count the cost of being his disciples. Jesus in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27) challenges us to be good stewards. Good stewardship compels us to regular evaluation.

Using the above as a criteria for review and evaluation, the greater mission of the church is kept before us. We are the Body of Christ and thereby challenged to seek to be a healthy expression of Christ’s unity and will (1 Corinthians 12). As good stewards of that which we have been entrusted foremost is the continuing ministry of the church of Jesus Christ as mandated in the two major mission statements of the New Testament The Gospel of Matthew ends with the great commission “Go to all peoples making disciples” (Matthew 28:111-20). The other mission statement comes from Jesus’ self-description of his ministry {Luke 4:16-19) which, as Christians, we take as our own: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go fee, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Isaiah 61:1-2).

The Social Context

There is an old Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times,” and these have been interesting times (1985-95). God challenged the prophets to preach in difficult times to a community not inclined to pay attention (see Isaiah 6:9-13), interesting times. Jesus challenged the disciples to go out to communities that would not hear their message (see Matthew 10:1-23), interesting times. The period of our review and evaluation was one of interesting times that brought challenges to Protestant churches across the United States. Recognition of the present culture provides a context for better understanding the outcomes of our denomination’s ministries. While reviewing and evaluating the ministry of the General Board during this time, attention to the cultural context of American Protestantism demonstrates two specific trends.

First, notice that in this period changes occurred in secular culture with regard in its perception of religion in general and Protestant Christianity in particular. More and more observers describe this as a post-Christian society, where the Christian values are no longer assumed as the norm for the dominant culture. One observer described this as the “culture of disbelief.”

Second, the core assumptions about cooperative ministry within denominations nationally and ecumenically seemed to either shift or dissipate during the period in question. Protestant denominations from the Southern Baptists to the Presbyterian Church U.S. A; went through an identity crisis. Hence, one could say that perceptions outside and inside denominations were in transition. Denominations which split during the Civil War were reunited in the years after World War II. Churches sharing a tradition but with different immigrant pasts united for the first time. In the decade of our investigation, these same denominations are immersed in conflict, shrinking in numbers and struggling with bleak economic challenges.

Conflict existed about the ecumenical ties of denominations as well.  Ecumenical groups such as National and World Council of Churches carte under serious attack about whether they expressed -the traditions of all their members. The Council on Church Union was narrowly approved as a project worth continued conversation by such denominations as the Presbyterians who had previously been strong supporters of ecumenical dialogue and work.

The debate over bow to do cooperative ministry within denominations and ecumenically was informed by the “culture wars” of secular society. “Culture wars” is a term coined by James Davidson Hunter to describe the debate about what sort of “people” we are going !n be in the United States. This debate has become intense and at times vicious in many denominations. One expression of the debate is the dismantling and reduction of the national staff of such denominations as the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. on masters of local control verses national mission. The “culture wars” have generated intense suspicion of programs not generated locally by like-minded persons. Many Protestant churches have not avoided these “culture wars” but rather have become willing or unwilling casualties in them.

The implications of this identity question and perception of religion in the broader society has an impact on the context of the ministry of Protestant churches. Protestant churches and their identity, both internally and externally, prospered after World War II.  Acceptance of Protestant thinking rose to record levels only to begin a decline in the debate concerning the Vietnam War. This decline continued during the period of our evaluation wish membership and giving in denominations like the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the United Church of Christ all declining. Statistics from the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. might be helpful. In the period from 1984-1994 the number of congregations fell from 11,639 to 11,399. Reported membership slipped from 3.1 million to 2.6 million. Even evangelical churches were losing members. The place of the church in the culture indicates a decline in giving, membership and even morale. This was the broader context of the ministry of the General Board from 1985-1995.

The Process

This committee was elected by Annual Conference in 1995 and given the assignment to review and evaluate the work of the General Board according to the following mandate given to the Review and Evaluation Committee at the 1989 Annual Conference: “The responsibility of the Review and Evaluation Committee is to study and reflect upon the performance of the General Board in terms of its purposes and functions as established by the actions of the 1968 and subsequent Annual Conferences.”

We began our work in November 1995 and held four committee meetings with additional communication by conference calls, fax and e-mail. Individual members of this committee also traveled to the 1996 Annual Conference and the Elgin offices for interviews. We understand that what we present here is “for the purpose of strengthening and enhancing the work of the General Board as it fulfills its original mandate and continues to implement the policies, statements and resolutions of Annual Conference.

The process of review and evaluation involved reading the published materials and minutes of the meetings of the General Board and Annual Conference. We reviewed the materials produced by the programs elements of the General Board in the form of brochures, books, videos and reports. We reviewed the 1989 statement of Standing Committee as it relates to the Mandate of the Review and Evaluation Committee of the Annual Conference. We also solicited information in interviews and surveys as well as correspondence from:

  • former members of the Administrative Council of General Board staff
  • present and former General Board members
  • delegates at the 1996 Annual Conference
  • present General Board staff
  • district executives
  • former moderators of Annual Conference
  • staff of related Church of the Brethren agencies

Our findings indicate that while the cultural context remains in flux, the faith context continues on a firm foundation of Scripture and witness of the transforming power of Christ. Our hope is that this firm foundation will serve us well in the years and decades to come.

Indicators

A review of ten years can seem overwhelming considering the volume of data and materials produced by our denomination. “What do we look at first?” was our immediate question. We began by asking persons we interviewed to tell us what indicators might help us in our evaluation of the General Board. We received numerous ideas, all of which were insightful and relevant to our task. Because of time and other constraints, we chose indicators for which data was readily available and understandable. We are indebted to many support and program staff members for their gracious assistance with our data collection.

Membership and attendance
Data collected from the Statistical Yearbook shows a continuation of the gradual decline in membership that began in the mid 1960’s. Attendance both in worship and church school parallel this decline until 1992 when totals go up slightly in both areas. An increased emphasis on evangelism and new initiatives in curriculum development may be the cause of this growth.

Congregational giving
Our review of congregational giving included gifts to General Board programs, districts, and designated areas such as the Emergency Disaster Fund, Brethren Vision for the 90’s, and other special appeals. As the chart below demonstrates, congregational giving to General Board programs has been steady over the period of review with a downward turn in recent years. However, if disaster and other designated lands are included, congregational giving has actually increased. Congregations and individuals appear to respond to special appeals which bring them closer to the mission project. Support for local and district ministries increased during this time period. Tight church budgets, a decline in denominational loyalty and a more local focus for congregations may be some of the factors behind these trends.

Personnel recruitment
The Office of Human Resources provided us with data and insightful assessments of recruitment and applicant flow for both support and program staff positions. With the exception of home-based positions such as Family Ministry, Planned Giving, Ministry Training, etc., applicant flow has been decreasing for both program and support staff positions. A drop in applicants from 6.2 per opening in 1986-90 to 4.4 per opening in 1991-95 is cause for concern.

Youth and Young Adult Ministry
Increased participation in NYC, Young Adult conferences and youth and young adult work camps is a cause for celebration. Work camps have shown an increase from 150 participants in 1992 to 310 in 1995. This increase clearly indicates the desire of our youth and young adults to be in mission and ministry to others. We commend our staff and the many volunteers who work to make these programs available to our youth and young adults.

Program materials
Our review of program materials from the various commission and related agencies was a time of reminiscing, celebration and amazement at the sheer volume of quality materials produced by our denomination. Videos, newsletters, and other materials show the desire of staff to communicate with pastors and the local church as well as provide quality programs for their use. We lift up the Jubilee curriculum and its comprehensive training program as a model of success in recruiting and training persons to be in ministry in congregations.

The Structure and Functioning of the General Board

The committee surveyed 724 delegates to the 1996 Annual Conference in order to develop a profile of the body and to collect perceptions regarding the structure and functioning of the General Board and national staff. The Committee used the 1985 Review and Evaluation Committee questionnaire as a starting point for developing its instrument. This was done in order to begin to create a base of information from which comparisons can be drawn from cycle to cycle in the review process. The questionnaire was reformulated to make it accessible to electronic scanning and to address some methodological weaknesses. Some new questions were added, but in general an attempt was made to preserve the sense of the original questions.

It is important not to draw conclusions which are not warranted from the following information, to be clear about what the information tells us and what it does not. In the first place we cannot draw conclusions about how well the Board has performed. We can draw conclusions about how the Board’s performance is perceived. We believe these perceptions are quite important

It should alto be noted that these perceptions cannot be construed an representative of the church at large. They can only be taken as representative of a delegate body to a specific Annual Conference. While the Committee believes that the profile of this delegate body makes it a very important group to which we should listen, we must not assume that these perceptions would be generally held in Church of the Brethren congregations. The committee desired to extend the information gathering process to local congregations but was not given permission by the Annual Conference officers to follow through on this task.

Delegate body profile
The delegate body to the 1996 Annual Conference was made up of 72 percent lay people and 25 percent ordained or licensed ministers. Nine out of ten delegates were from East of the Mississippi River with more than half of the group coming from northeastern and southeastern districts. Half of the delegates were between the ages of 46 to 65 and the body was split about even between men and women. Less than 1 percent of the delegates were under 15 fears of age and 3 percent were over 75. Nineteen percent of the delegates reported that they came from congregations that had an average attendance of less than 50. Average attendance from 50 to 100 was reported by 30 percent of the delegates. Thirty-three percent of the delegates reported an average attendance at their congregations of 101 to 200 while 15 percent of the delegates were in churches that had average Sunday morning attendance of more than 200. Ninety-three percent of the delegates reported serving in volunteer positions in the local congregation while 50 percent reported holding an elected or appointed office. One out of every three delegates had served as a national volunteer and nearly three out of every four delegates report knowing someone personally who is on the General Board.

Perceptions regarding the function of the General Board
Responses from 724 delegates indicate that there is generally a significant level of approval for the way the General Board has functioned. Seventy-three percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the Board fosters unity and harmony in the church. Ninety-two percent of the delegates believe that the Board responds well to Annual Conference referrals and assignments. In 1996 that approval ratio can be extended to all delegates with two out of three reporting that they agree or strongly agree that the Board program and staff has had a positive effect on their congregation.

Programs and materials
In addition to asking about general perceptions regarding the Board’s performance, we were anxious to see how delegates responded to specific programs and materials related to the General Board and the national staff. It was impossible to include all programs and materials in the survey and the Committee spent a considerable amount of time in earnest discussion about which should be chosen. It can be said that the choices were not made lightly. We tried to choose new initiatives as well as long established programs and materials. We tried to choose some of those that we deemed well known and popular and some that we deemed less popular. In the end, however, the choices are arbitrary and do not represent any compelling rationale. We asked the delegates about the following programs: Passing on the Promise; People of the Covenant; National Youth Ministry; Brethren Volunteer Service; Disaster Response and a more generic category called Mission initiatives. On the average for all programs 88 percent of the delegates claimed familiarity with the program. Ninety-nine percent of the delegates were familiar with Brethren Volunteer Service and Disaster Response. On the average 79 percent rated all programs as having a positive effect. Nearly one-half of the delegates report that the programs have had a positive effect on their own congregation or on them personally. This average represents a range that went from a low of 23 percent for mission initiatives to a notable 77 percent who said that Disaster Response has had a positive effect either on them personally or on their home congregation. Both Brethren Volunteer Service and Disaster Response garnered a 98 percent approval rating from the delegates and both programs showed unusually high numbers for a positive effect on the home congregation. A larger percentage of people reported that these programs have had a positive effect on their home congregation than reported that General Board programing in general had a positive effect on their home congregation.

The Committee asked the delegates to respond to questions about the following materials: Jubilee curriculum; Another Way of Living materials; Living Word Bulletin Series; Hymnal: A Worship Book; Messenger and Guide for Biblical Studies. On average for all materials, 77 percent of the delegates reported familiarity with a low of 42 percent for Another Way of Living and a high of 99 percent for Messenger. Sixty-five percent of all delegates believed that the materials had had a positive effect and 46 percent reported that they had had a positive effect either on their home congregation or on them personally. In this category, Messenger had both the highest and the lowest ratings with 66 percent reporting a positive effect on their home congregation and 6 percent reporting that they believed that it had had a negative effect. Another Way of Living was the lowest in this category with 13 percent claiming a positive effect for their home congregation.

Perceived influences on Board decisions and actions
We asked delegates to express their opinion about how much effect the following have on the decisions and actions of the General Board:

  • action of Annual Conference,
  • personal beliefs of individual Board members.
  • actions of district conferences,
  • congregational actions and opinions,
  • current hot issues in the Church and/or public life,
  • biblical study,
  • Church of the Brethren heritage, and
  • the leading of the Holy Spirit

An impressive 70 percent of delegates expressed the opinion that Annual Conference action has a great deal of influence on Board decision and action. Adding the category of some influence raises the tally to nine out of ten delegates. Personal beliefs of Board members and current hot issues in the church and actions of district conferences were believed to have a great deal of influence by about one of three delegates.  Nearly half the delegates rated biblical study. Church of the Brethren heritage and the leading of the Holy Spirit as having a great deal of influence on Board action. Only 13 percent of the delegates believed that actions and opinions of local congregations had a “great deal” of influence on the Board and 36 percent of the delegates rated local congregations as having very little or no influence on the Board.

Finally we were interested to see whether certain issues of profile affected the way delegates viewed the work of the Board. The most notable thing that we discovered was that age, sex, geographical region, level of church activity or size of local congregation have little if any relationship to how delegates answer questions related to the health of the church or the activity of the Board. There is weak evidence that men tend to be more negative about the Board than women. For example, 27 percent of all female respondents disagreed that Board program and staff has had a positive effect on their congregation while 40 percent of male respondents disagreed with this statement. There is also some evidence that youth and age tend to make people more positive about the Board. Negative responses tend to cluster around the middle years For example, checking certain age groups with the statement that the Board meets the needs of the total church we found the following percentages of disagreement:

This same curve can be seen consistently across a number of questions including the one regarding the Board fostering unity and harmony and the Board and staff having a positive effect on congregations Significance here is very weak however and the most reliable conclusion one can reach is that there is remarkable homogeneity in regard to responses across all areas of the delegate profile

There is one notable exception to this lack of correlation related to profile and attitudes. The Committee regards that exception as important and believes it should be of considerable concern to the church. This exception is in regard to pastors. In 1984, the Review and Evaluation Committee reported that two-thirds of all pastors at the Annual Conference believed that the Board program had had a positive effect on their congregation. In the 1996 survey, pastors are more negative about the national church and about the work of the General Board than are lay people. They tend to be less enthusiastic about program and materials and significantly more pessimistic about the contribution of the national staff to the work of the local congregation.

Comparisons with the ’85 survey
In general, Conference delegates are more supportive of Board work and more positive about its importance for the local congregation than they were ten years ago. The evidence simply does not support a conclusion that there is a growing widespread dissatisfaction with national program. Delegates were more likely in ’96 than in ’85 to say that the Board responds well to Annual Conference and to rate the Board’s activities as good for their local congregations and/or for the church at large. The exception to this trend is pastors as noted above.

Survey Conclusions

  1. We reject the notion that the General Board has become a “top down” organization or even that it is perceived as such by Annual Conference delegates. Delegates gave high marks to the Board for being responsive to Annual Conference actions. Perceptions about Board response to the needs of local congregations was more mixed and especially negative among pastors. On the other hand, delegates were positive about the effects of Board program and materials on their congregations.
  2. When measured against its actual mandates as established by Annual Conference in 1968 and reaffirmed by Annual Conference in 1989, the Board gets especially high marks.
  3. Although there are still indicators which cause concern, especially regarding church membership and attendance, progress has been made in slowing and, in some cases, reversing declines.

Board structure
Because of the redesign process the Committee did not place a great deal of emphasis on Board structure. We did note, however, that in contrast to the last Review and Evaluation report nearly half of the ’96 delegate body judged the structure of the Board as inadequate even though an overwhelming majority (83 percent) believed the Board to be representative of the entire membership of the Church. Seventy percent of the delegates thought that the Board had adequate staff to perform its mission. We did not ask the question whether the staff was more than adequate.

Planning and giving
It is observed that the General Board engaged in planning throughout the decade to adjust to flat budgets and to address concerns of diminishing membership and changing patterns of giving. A major strategic planning effort resulted in the decade-long Goals for the ’90’s accepted by Anneal Conference in 1988. Brethren Vision for the ’90’s, the fund raising effort which set priorities and tied them to anticipated fiscal resources, met its overall goals, but deferred gifts far out paced direct contributions, the result being that funds were unavailable for current operating budgets.

There were two major Annual Conference committees during the decade with plans to restructure the General Board. Also built into the Board’s strategic planning process, internal and ongoing review and evaluation took place within each commission and each portfolio of the General Board with major reviews at the end of every three years.

This Committee has observed the discouragement of those the church elects and hires to serve the church when the conference annually calls for more, but the congregations give less. We see evidence that the Board and its staff is diligent and responsible in its planning and implementation as it attempts to carry out the mandates of Annual Conference in the faith and hope that funds will come in to support the effort. General Board stewardship programs, while carefully planned, cannot always predict outcome.

Although the Goals for the 90’s began with and were built on input solicited from congregations and district boards and although most program directors report they work with local representatives and seek “consumer” feedback, congregations perceive that they have little impact on General Board programing. These observations together with the fact that the majority of Conference delegates we surveyed report that programs generated by the General Board have had a positive effect on their congregation, but congregational giving to the General Board continues to decline, may imply that communication and interpretation is missing its mark.

We note that communication to congregations has been extensive with the initiation this decade of the Brethren weekly Newsline, the Cobweb network, numerous quality videos featuring programs of the denomination, newsletters for most major programs, national staff liaisons to district boards and the Faces of Mission itineration of Board and staff personnel to congregations. Yet many “people in the pew” say they do not know what is going on in the denomination.

New program initiatives
The Review and Evaluation Committee reporting in 1985 “recognized the need for more adequate funding for programs Annual Conference has asked the Board to administer and “recommended that congregations and districts consider and endorse new ventures to raise financial resources to fund denominational program. The Committee has observed that the process for initiating new Church of the Brethren program responsibly has not improved since 1985.

We observed that in our face to face interviews with district executives, program executives and staff, and from the questionnaire replies of General Board members and moderators, unfunded policy and program decisions by Annual Conference delegates was troublesome.

Decisions for new program initiatives without careful understanding of the present staff workload, adequate funding, and needed expertise occasionally splintered staff work assignments and created a confidence gap with staff. Suggestions surfaced that Standing Committee and Annual Conference officers should take more initiative and time to study queries and their impact before sending them on to delegates. Unfunded new programs also increased the tension between unified giving and project giving. It was also observed that it appeared to some respondents that the Board tried to implement all Annual Conference decisions, rather than go back to the conference, when needed, for clarification or possible reconsideration.

Recommendations:

  1. We believe that if the Board has erred it has done so on the side of trying to do too much and please too many interest groups. Our committee was overwhelmed with the number of initiatives and the volume of material that the Board and its national staff has generated over the last ten years. Sometimes excellent programs are under-utilized because changing priorities and shifting mandates move so quickly that the church ends up with a short attention span. The “Another Way of Living” materials are an example of excellent work which has to some extent been lost in the shuffle. We believe that the Board should focus on making these materials integral to the life of every congregation and to every individual member; that these materials could/should set the “mission” directives for the church for an indefinite amount of time. We see no advantage to 10 year planning cycles and rather believe that some tasks and some initiatives and some “missions” might take five or fifty or five hundred years. In short, we think that the Board should do less and should do it with more consistency.
  2. Annual Conference should take responsibility for educating delegates and the church at large about what the Board is actually supposed to do. We believe that there is unnecessary widespread confusion about this issue. If Annual Conference is no longer comfortable with the 1968 mandates, it should revisit them.
  3. We recommend that the communication and interpretation of our denominational programs be researched to discern their effectiveness relative to giving patterns.
  4. It is recommended that the Annual Conference officers, General Board Executive Committee, general secretary and Conference executive director explore and present to Annual Conference a plan to assure the following:
    1. that district boards and district conferences reaffirm their responsibility to study carefully the thrust and impact of queries before passage to Annual Conference officers so that the integrity of the query method to bring issues to Annual Conference can be maintained (1968 Annual Conference Minutes, pp.55-57).
    2. that more extensive and careful preplanning including the possibility of adequate funding for new mission be done prior to presenting the item of business to the delegate body.
    3. that provision be made for the opportunity to hold new program in abeyance when necessary.

The Organization of the General Board

Relationships with related agencies
As the Church of the Brethren seeks to be i