The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) took action Oct. 8 to affirm the concept for a new design of the ELCA churchwide organization in 2011, said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, in an Oct. 11 announcement to churchwide staff. 

The council authorized the officers of the churchwide organization to take the necessary personnel actions and to implement the new design beginning Feb. 1, 2011, the start of the next fiscal year.

The council deleted continuing resolutions in the ELCA Constitution related to churchwide units and adopted new continuing resolutions to implement the design and establish lines of responsibility, Hanson reported.

The council also expressed appreciation to the staff of the churchwide organization, saying they would “hold in prayer” employees personally affected by a reduction in staff prompted by the new design. 

“This new design positions the churchwide organization to make a vital and vibrant contribution to the ministries of this church and the work of partners throughout the world,” Hanson told the ELCA News Service.  “The new design also assumes that financial support will continue for these vital ministries — and enable us to engage in these ministries in a more flexible and forward way.”

Council members took the action during a special meeting held by conference call, most of which was in executive session because of personnel implications. 

Currently there are 16 unincorporated units and sections, and three offices in the churchwide organization.  Under the council-approved design, there will be three churchwide units and three offices, according to Hanson's written proposal to the council. Separately incorporated ministries continue.

Implementation of the new design will mean the 358-member churchwide staff — including 270 here at the churchwide office — will decrease by approximately 65 employees or 60 full-time equivalents, Hanson said. 

In addition because nearly half of ELCA Global Mission’s mission support budget covers costs for mission personnel, unit reductions will affect up to five mission personnel currently in service, said the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director.

Staff directly affected by the new design are being notified Oct. 11 about their positions. 

“The churchwide staff most directly affected by these decisions have served this church with distinction.  Even as we pray for new opportunities for their service, we will build on the good work they have done,” Hanson said.

Hanson appointed a seven-member design team of churchwide staff in June to evaluate and propose changes in the churchwide organization “in light of the changing mission and ministry needs of this church and the resources available to the churchwide organization,” he wrote. 

In particular Hanson said the action was precipitated by a significant drop in mission support income — funds from ELCA congregations to the churchwide organization and shared by the church’s 65 synods.

“In 2008 after adjusting for inflation, the value of mission support income had declined by half since the founding of this church in 1988,” Hanson wrote to the council. “From 2008 to 2011, estimated churchwide mission support dropped from $65.3 million to $48 million.” 

The work of the design team is based on an estimated range of $45 million to $48 million in annual mission support income for the next three years, Hanson said.

The design team consulted with the ELCA Conference of Bishops and its executive committee; committees of the Church Council; churchwide leaders and staff; the Living into the Future Together (LIFT) Task Force, appointed to study the ELCA and make recommendations for its future; and outside consultants.

Additional action regarding the new design will be considered by the Church Council at its Nov. 12-14 meeting and by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August 2011.

Hanson said the design team focused on two churchwide organization priorities: accompanying congregations as growing center of evangelical mission; and building the ELCA’s capacity for evangelical witness and service in the world to alleviate poverty, and to work for justice and peace.

He wrote that goals of the design team were to design an organization that “effectively and efficiently” works with ministry partners, maximizes resources through efficient operational infrastructure, better communicates and interprets effectiveness and efficiency of the church’s response to the world, increases collaboration and accountability, and reflects the church’s core values.

Interdependent relationships key to churchwide organization design

“Achieving the priorities of this church is dependent upon strong interdependent relationships between congregations, synods, the churchwide organization and the agencies and institutions of this church,” Hanson wrote in his proposal summary. “These interdependent relationships will extend the mission capacity of this church, promote accountability and provide for the best stewardship of the resources of this church.” 

He added that it will be a churchwide organization priority to help build such relationships with and among mission partners.

Three units created by the new churchwide design are Congregational and Synodical Mission; Global Mission; and Mission Advancement.  The continuing resolutions adopted by the council describe the functions of each unit:

  • Congregational and Synodical Mission Unit: The Congregational and Synodical Mission unit shall foster and facilitate the work of synods, congregations, and partners in making congregations vital centers for mission and in creating coalitions and networks to promote justice and peace. Its work includes creating and revitalizing congregations; leadership development; providing worship and liturgical resources; enhancing discipleship; supporting multicultural ministries and the commitment of this church to inclusivity; fostering relationships with educational partners; facilitating the engagement of this church in advocacy; and related activities that serve the evangelical mission of synods and congregations.
  • Global Mission Unit: The Global Mission unit shall provide integrated support of this church’s work in other countries and be the means through which churches in other countries engage in mission to this church and society. The Global Mission unit shall build capacity and provide support for mission in the following areas:

a. Global Community: maintaining church-to-church relationships and mutual endeavors for evangelical witness, leadership development, sharing of mission personnel and collaborative work.

b. Mission Formation and Relationships: mutual learning and growth with companion churches, and ELCA synods and congregations in the accompaniment model for mission, companion synod relationships, young adults in global mission, relationships with independent Lutheran organizations related to global mission, and mission efforts for full communion partners.

c.  Diakonia: meeting human need and working collaboratively with partners toward the  flourishing of human community through engagement in international development and disaster response.

  • Mission Advancement Unit: The service unit of the churchwide organization is the Mission Advancement unit, which shall be responsible for coordinating this church’s communication, marketing, public relations, mission funding, major gifts, planned gifts and constituent data management. It also shall oversee the work of the The Lutheran magazine and the ELCA Foundation.

Hanson announced that the Congregational and Synodical Mission Unit will be headed by the Rev. Stephen P. Bouman, currently executive director, ELCA Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission. He also said Malpica Padilla, currently executive director, ELCA Global Mission, will lead the Global Mission Unit, and the Rev. Howard E. Wennes, who has served as acting president of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks and is a former bishop of the ELCA Grand Canyon Synod, will be interim executive director of the Mission Advancement Unit.

The Office of the Presiding Bishop will assume responsibility for theological discernment, including justice for women and studies. Most of its other functions are unchanged, as are most functions of the Office of the Secretary and the Office of the Treasurer.