A Virtual General Conference?

April 30th, 2012

The other day I commented on how much time and money United Methodists spend on General Conference every four years, and I wondered aloud why we aren’t trying to move toward a virtual GC.

We’re already streaming it live and the delegates are even communicating with each other on Twitter. Couldn’t we spend some of the millions of dollars we already spend on GC to customize a state of the art teleconferencing system and add voting functions?

But then it hit me why it wouldn’t fly, even if we could get the technology to work reliably for every delegate. (And truthfully, we’re twenty years away from that, especially in some areas of the world. I can’t even get a decent cell phone signal in parts of downtown Nashville.)

It wouldn’t work because a virtual General Conference would get rid of most of what people like about GC and keep the things they don’t like. I’ve never been a GC delegate, but I’ll tell you this much: hanging out with friends from around the connection and worshiping with a worldwide group of Methodists would definitely be more fun than all the long sessions, early mornings, late nights, and droning speeches.

Do you seriously believe that anyone would sit in front of their computer monitor and put up with two weeks of committees and parliamentary procedure? I’d do it in person but not over the internet. When delegates are at a conference, they’re a captive audience. When they’re in their living rooms on their laptops, not so much.

The idea of moving some of the legislative committee and subcommittee work to the internet and cutting back General Conference to a week, however, has some merit. The first week is sort of like a pre-game show anyway. Couldn’t all the committees hash out legislation on GoToMeeting? Or maybe we should do away with the committees altogether. Bishop Will Willimon wondered in an interview last week why a church that already has too many rules and laws wants to create more. Good question.

In the end, General Conference probably won’t change much. It’s an institution. It’s the United Methodist Oscars. Most of us complain about it, but there are many die-hard Methodists who enjoy it and look forward to it. As dysfunctional as it is, we’d miss it on some level if it didn’t happen. It’s the one time where representatives from the worldwide United Methodist Church get together in one place.

I’m just glad it only happens once every four years.


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