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clients | case study

The United Methodist Church: Connecting Through a Call to Action

Apex’s work helping organizations sometimes feels like a calling, but it never does so much as when it heard from The United Methodist Church.

The Church contacted Mark Harrison of Apex at a time of self-examination. Its Council of Bishops and its Connectional Table had convened a “Call to Action Steering Team” of Church leaders tasked with recommending to do nothing less than “reorder the life of the Church for greater effectiveness and vitality.” To call the assignment an important one for the future of the 11-million member Church would be an understatement.

The Steering Team, accepting its mission with appropriate seriousness, knew that it would benefit from outside perspectives and analysis in preparing its recommendations. As one major thrust of its work, the Steering Team engaged Apex to conduct a broad operational assessment of the overall Church organization.

While Apex’s founder has advised many religion-sponsored organizations, Apex had no prior specialty in consulting directly for religious entities. However, Apex had the precise skills the Church was looking for: an ability to understand complex organizations and to sift through that complexity to identify opportunities for positive change.

Apex focused its analysis on the leadership and governance structures of the Church, though that was hardly a matter of simply reviewing an organizational chart. No such document exists for the Church, a dynamic, decentralized body layered with interconnecting parts. There are whole books dedicated to describing the Church’s structure.

Apex approached more than 900 Church leaders with a survey it designed to uncover areas of potential positive change—financially, structurally, and operationally. Apex also created an interview protocol and ultimately interviewed 60 Church leaders, including more than 30 bishops from around the globe (some interviewed with the help of translators) regarding Church life. Further, Apex conducted an independent analysis of the Church’s environment, governance and leadership structures, and broad “business model.” With all these results in hand, Apex had the foundation to prepare an evidence-based analysis.

Apex’s diagnosis of the Church illuminated areas of strength along with specific opportunities for improvement in operations, financial performance, and governance. The 99-page report Apex produced for the Steering Team also highlighted a finding that perhaps neither the Church, nor Apex, had fully anticipated: the vitalizing effect that a re-immersion and discernment of the Church’s core mission, values and culture could have on its leadership and members. The report findings emphasized that mission, values and culture are “both the ‘catalyst’ and the ‘glue’ that give rise to organizational vitality and functionality” in a decentralized organization.

The “Call to Action” work continues to have a catalyzing impact as the Church courageously engages in its own form of rediscovery. Eleven million faithful—and Apex—are eager to see the newly vital Church that results.