Baptists agree major structural reforms
The Baptist Union of Great Britain has announced major structural reforms aimed at addressing strains on the denomination's finances and halting decline.
The changes are also aimed at increasing the inter-dependence between churches, associations and members of specialist teams.
At the heart of the reforms, the BUGB said, was a new way of working together between the national office in Didcot and regional associations and Baptist colleges.
The reforms have been inspired in part by a desire to increase support for local churches.
They were unveiled at a meeting of the Baptist Union Council, the governing body of the BUGB, earlier this month.
The reforms were announced at the end of a year-long review undertaken to address financial concerns.
The review took on a much broader remit to establish structures "more fitting" for mission in the 21st century.
The reforms include the downsizing of the national office in Didcot, with some work taken on by associations whilst removing duplication of activity carried out both in Didcot and the associations.
The number of staff at Baptist House in Didcot will be reduced from 46 to 32, with the five existing departments being turned into three new specialist teams.
The Finance and Administration department, including the Baptist Union Corporation, which covers legal and property matters, will become the Support Services Team.
The Ministry Department, responsible for the training and accreditation of ministers, will become the Ministries Team.
Faith and Unity, Mission and Communications Departments will be merged into a new team called Faith and Society.
The role of General Secretary, currently held by the Reverend Jonathan Edwards, will have a new job description incorporating many of the tasks done by the current General Manager Richard Nicholls.
A nominating group has been established to look for a new General Secretary.
Mr Nicholls will serve as Transitional Manager in the interim period.
The Council expressed their love and prayers for the two leaders "at this very difficult time".
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A new leadership, the Baptist Steering Group, will bring together the new General Secretary, team leaders at Baptist House, the representatives of regional associations, Baptist colleges, BU Trustees and the BU Council.
The Steering Group will replace the Senior Management Team at Baptist House and will be charged with implementing the strategy of the Union agreed by the Council.
An accompanying group will meet with the Steering Group three times a year to provide different viewpoints from across the Union. This group, whose membership will be refreshed regularly, will include the President of the BUGB and at least two people from a black or ethnic minority background, two people under 40 and two women.
The reforms also affect the way that funds will be distributed for mission. Until now, the funds raised through the annual Home Mission appeal were given in the form of grants decided centrally at Baptist House.
Now the funds will be administered through six association partnerships containing two or three associations who will decide where to award the grants in their region.
The structural overhaul was initiated in response to a deficit in the Union's finances and to the 400th anniversary of the Baptist denomination in the UK, which gave Baptists the opportunity to think about how they wanted the Church to develop in the future.
They are some of the biggest changes to affect the denomination for a generation.
The BUGB said it hopes the reforms will create a "more flexible movement that can adapt to new mission challenges and opportunities in today's society, where support is given and decisions made as close to the local church as possible".
Speaking at the Council meeting, Head of the Mission Department Ian Bunce said: "Are we prepared to lose what we've got in order to gain what God wants us to have?
"As God sent Jesus into our neighbourhoods, so he sends us. The challenge for us is about releasing people into our communities.
"We need to find a new ecclesiology and practice, beyond the church and Sunday gathering, towards a shared life and community that empowers whole life discipleship, where together we engage in the mission of God in his world.
"Church in the future will look far more messy. We don't need uniformity, we desire a culture where diversity is celebrated."
Jonathan Edwards commented, "This is a very painful time but it is clearly right for the Baptist Union to make serious financial cuts. My colleagues and I at Baptist House have all done our work out of a profound sense of Gods call, and we appreciate the sensitivity and support of the denomination as we seek to discover his will for our future.
"My visits around the country constantly remind me of the energy, initiative and deep commitment of churches, colleges and associations to share in the mission of Christ.
"Amidst the challenges there is a great deal to encourage us and I look forward to seeing the way in which God leads the Baptist family in the coming years."