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Evangelical Covenant Church Announces New Strategic Alignment Team—Updated with FAQs

CHICAGO (August 28, 2020)—As the Evangelical Covenant Church continues to focus on how to best carry out its mission, it has formed a strategic alignment team. This team is charged with helping to better align the methods of the Covenant with its mission.

The mission of the Covenant is to join God to see more disciples, among more populations, in a more caring and just world. The church remains committed to this mission, but we recognize that our methods need to adapt and change. This is an opportunity to pivot and renew our commitment to the priorities of our mission: start and strengthen churches, develop leaders, love mercy and do justice, make and deepen disciples, and serve globally.

The overall task of the strategic alignment team is to listen to the wider Covenant to assess needs and opportunities in the present reality in order to determine how the denominational team can better serve the needs of the entire Covenant church body. The overall goal is to assess and realign methods to better serve the local church and conferences in order to further the Covenant mission.

This process will include reviewing what the Covenant is currently doing—through resources, initiatives, curricula, etc.—and how those efforts can be more streamlined and collaborative in key areas in order to be as effective as possible for decades to come.

In order to move the mission forward, we must address the increasing needs of pastors, churches, and conferences. COVID-19 has disrupted the world and accelerated every concern. The denominational team at Covenant Offices will be evaluating how to increase efficiencies and continue to seek ways to increase income while decreasing expenses.

The Evangelical Covenant Church must proactively adapt so it is not forced to make changes in an emergency. Rather, we seek to be forward thinking and plan ahead. Now is the time to identify how we can bring all areas of the Covenant into greater alignment so we are well-resourced to continue with the mission of impacting the world with the gospel.

The members of the strategic alignment team are: Dierdra Clark, John Fanous, Greg Jao, Glenn Peterson, Doug Stevens, Gustavo Torres, Diane Leavitt, Claire McClun, Angela Yee, and John Wenrich.

Questions can be directed to SAT@covchurch.org.

 

What is the purpose of the Strategic Alignment Team (SAT)?

The Strategic Alignment Team was formed to discern how to better align our mission as the Evangelical Covenant Church with our methods. While our mission does not change, we seek to ensure that we carry out that mission in the most effective way to serve our pastors, churches, and conferences.

Why was this decision made now?

We seek to bring greater mission effectiveness and sustainability for the Evangelical Covenant Church into the future.

To achieve mission effectiveness, we aim to be in better alignment to serve the growing and changing needs of Covenant conferences and churches. Since our current organizational structure was created in 2011, the landscape has changed significantly. The twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism have impacted the mission of the church and created greater stresses. This realignment seeks to better support the opportunities and needs of the denomination by addressing missional, structural, situational, and financial challenges and opportunities before us.

The Covenant Offices Leadership Team together with other key leaders began strategizing in April regarding the best way to provide financial viability and solvency during the current COVID-19 climate and beyond. We believe reviewing, assessing, and responding to the realities in these four areas (missional, structural, situational, and financial) will enable the Covenant to be more strategic and focused on the global, missional work ahead.

To build sustainability for the future, we hope actions such as freeing up finances tied up in real estate will provide greater flexibility and funding and allow us to be responsive to our ever-changing environment and needs in order to carry our mission well into the future.

The ECC had developed an ever-deepening reliance on reserves (savings) in order to balance the budget. The budget was built for growth, but church giving has been declining for years, which reflects a national trend across denominations. Covenant leadership has been actively working to address this issue. A systemic realignment will both allow the denominational team to be more effective as well as reduce expenses to a sustainable level. Whereas these conversations and realities were happening before COVID-19 hit, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the need to launch this process. To be clear, Covenant finances are not in a freefall. We are seeking to be proactive while we have opportunity instead of waiting until later when options may become more limited.

What work has been done on the two goals of mission effectiveness and sustainability already?

Covenant leadership has been actively engaged in improving culture, processes, and systems as well as cost-cutting and modifying policies to address the growing deficit budget gap, even before COVID-19 hit. Once COVID-19 began influencing finances, the office went through a staff adjustment process in May-June. We grieve the necessity of these decisions, which were heart-wrenching and difficult. These adjustments provided a temporary respite to our budget, but much work remains to be done to ensure the mission is sustainable, especially in the uncertainty of our current world.

Covenant Offices, now being called the denominational team, is working to become more flexible and to decentralize in order to be more closely connected with the rest of the denomination. Moving to a distributed model allows us to meet in churches, camps, and other affiliate facilities to be present and strengthen Covenant cohesion. In addition, we seek the opportunity to further understand the unique and current needs of conferences and churches and to stand alongside them, to listen and collaborate.

Once we are able to resume travel and meeting in-person, we look forward to the day when we can meet face-to-face. We miss being present with each other and value those relationships, which is the core of who we are as Covenanters.

Is the creation of the SAT in response to the coronavirus pandemic?

COVID-19 has disrupted our world. Church giving has gone down. Conferences have been impacted as well, reducing or modifying staff size. The world is going virtual as we all work from home, and the building on 8303 West Higgins has been mostly empty for several months. We recognize the Covenant must proactively adapt as we make plans for the future. Now is the opportunity to align with what we are doing and identify the best methods to do so.  Although the creation of the SAT was triggered by a sequence of events from the coronavirus pandemic, its purpose is to propose a structure that will outlast the pandemic.

Why do we need to re-evaluate our strategy?

Covenant Offices implemented its current strategic plan almost ten years ago under “Organizing for Mission” and the “Mission Priority Alignment Team.” Best practices for most organizations indicate revisiting a strategic plan every three to five years. This system was built for a stable environment, yet the present, uncertain context requires us to be more nimble and to more quickly adapt to address changing needs. We seek to cultivate effectiveness for the mission long-term to build sustainability.

Is the SAT connected to the sale of the Covenant Offices building?

Even before COVID-19, we recognized that as a denomination we were relying more and more on cash reserves, an unsustainable practice in the long run. We began looking at ways to increase income and decrease expenses. The Executive Board approved the decision to sell the building on 8303 W. Higgins and established the Strategic Alignment Team in order to begin of process of moving into greater mission effectiveness and sustainability.

What process will the Strategic Alignment Team follow?

The SAT’s task is to listen to the wider Covenant to assess needs and opportunities in the present reality in order to discern how the denominational team can better serve the needs of our Covenant church body.

Through August and September, the SAT is engaged in listening efforts across the denomination, implementing feedback mechanisms, and conducting sustainability assessments. They will discuss the opportunities and needs of churches within the overall landscape of society and cultural trends and discern structural modifications in order to better align methods to effectively carry out the Covenant’s mission. In response, they will create and present proposals to the Executive Board at its October meeting. The Executive Board will consider those proposals and additional corresponding elements through its March meeting. Corresponding recommendations will be advanced to the Annual Meeting in accordance with ECC constitution and bylaw requirements in June 2021.

How long will this process take?

The classic approach to developing a strategic plan usually involves a six- to twelve-month process, from inception to fruition. That approach works well when a high degree of certainty or predictability exists. Yet the current season calls for us to be proactive, adaptive, agile, and nimble. Our process will be closer to a six-month process, with some governance components extending through June 2021. We have a direction and charge of alignment, effectiveness, and sustainability, and continue to adjust processes and methods in order to be responsive to the changing environment.

How was the Strategic Alignment Team selected? 

The people selected for the SAT were identified specifically for their strategic ministry experience with a desire to balance the team with people from different roles and representation of the Covenant. The Covenant Executive Board approved the members of the team with equal clergy and lay, male and female, and ethnic representation from the Covenant. All participants have extensive years of experience in strategic leadership in a range of ministry and business contexts, as well as a deep commitment to the Covenant.

Are denominational staff available? Who do we contact for assistance or to get our questions answered?

All ECC personnel, global personnel, and denominational team personnel continue to engage in their daily work responsibilities. As an employer in the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago, we are following local and national prevention guidelines for COVID-19. At this point, the majority of the staff, with the exception of a few essential workers, are working remotely after commencing shelter-in-place in March. Staff are responding to phone, email, and video inquiries. You may contact them using the information on the Staff Directory, or you may contact our main information line at 773.784.3000 and the reception staff will direct your call or question to the corresponding mission area or person.