The 2016 Book of Discipline [¶2548, ¶212] has established a formal requirement that addresses what has been a concern for the church for decades: urban transitional communities where the members of the church have moved away from the church facility as new groups of people have moved into the community around the church facility. As the community around the church has changed, the church struggles. The responses of the local urban church to these changes are quite varied. Some churches continue to reach their former constituents, even as they move out of the community around their facility and “commute” in to church. This kind of response can often sustain a church through the life-span of the original constituents of the church. But the church that is responding in this way will inevitably decline over time because of the disconnect between the church body and the community around the church facility. Some churches choose to open their facility to the changing urban community and as the former congregation participants slowly withdraw, a new congregational character emerges. Sometimes it becomes a niche church – reaching one slice, one segment of the community population. Sometimes it becomes a diverse church, reflecting diversity in the community. But whether the emerging congregation is a niche ministry or a diverse congregation, these congregations tend to be fragile and challenging both around leadership issues and around financial capacity to support the ongoing ministry of the church.
The Book of Discipline ¶2549.7 states that when a church in an urban area is discontinued and the property abandoned and sold, the funds derived from the sale of that property be set aside for use in support of vital urban ministry according to the urban ministry strategic plan of the Annual Conference.
An area is considered an urban area for the purposes of this plan if it is within the boundaries of counties with a population of at least 50,000. Administrative Services once each calendar year will produce a list of the counties with population of at least 50,000 and distribute that list to the Trustees of the Conference Trustees for approval. This list will be distributed to the Annual Conference Department of Congregational Excellence and the Cabinet. If any church property is sold within the boundaries of any of the listed urban county areas, proceeds shall be processed under this strategic plan for urban ministries.
The claims and restrictions upon proceeds of the sale of such properties include:
In American ministry culture, “urban” has become a code word for ministry with people of color, or people impacted by poverty, or hip hop culture, or resource-deprived inner city neighborhoods, or all of the above. While there are “urban” pockets within the Great Plains counties with more than 50,000 people, “urban” ministry as defined here draws from Jeremiah 29:7: “Seek the welfare of the city ... in its welfare you will find your welfare.” “Urban” ministry then is ministry with people within a county with a population density of at least 50,000 in population that may or may not fit the above mentioned descriptors.