Discussing the purpose of our United Methodist Annual Conferences (FYI for non-UMs, the "annual conference" is more than a one-time-a-year gathering, but also the name of our regional church affiliation) with some colleagues, we wondered: What is the ideal Annual Conference structure?
For me the answer is simple - Google.
Google is a noun. It is the name of a website through which people can access a seemingly unlimited amount of information on just about anything they want to know about.
But google has become a verb. It means “what you do in order to access that information.” If you don’t know something and you want to know it, you just google it.
Whereas “google” is a noun that has been verbified, it feels like the word “conference” is a United Methodist verb that has been nounified.
Conference is actually a verb, in the Methodist lingo. In one sense, it means “google,” an action word describing what we do in order to access information, resources, equipment for ministry.
But it seems “conference” has become only a noun, it means the group of people itself, or even the meeting of this group of people. I’d like for it to be verbified again.
The United Methodist Church is uniquely structured to resonate with the way people connect with each other. We even call ourselves a “connection,” or a “connexion,” if you prefer the British version. In order to realized the potential of that connection, we need to verbify the conference.
Not sure what resource to use for VBS this year? Conference it.
Need an idea for a new worship song on the theme of hospitality? You could conference it.
Need an architectural concept to make your building more hospitable? Hey, why not conference it.
And as other needs emerge, they could be conferenced in order to crowdsource potential solutions.
The sole mission of the conference staff would be gathering and updating and providing access to ideas, resources, and guidance. Conferencing would connect congregations in ways that multiply their impact on communities. Conferencing would equip congregations to change people’s lives in ways they would not necessarily be able to do alone.
And we are already basically structured to operate this way, which is pretty cool. We are not a congregationally based system (and I hope we never are). We are a connectional system, but the problem is that we have nounified it, and in doing so our structure has become burdensome.
I envision a denomination that is a robust yet flexible network of congregations that transcends the regional thinking by which we are still geographically imprisoned. The Conference App on your smart phone would be the portal through which every Methodist around the world could access the connection with all of its resources for mission and ministry.
Just Conference it.