United Methodist Governance
Bartlesville First Church is one of three local United Methodist Churches in Bartlesville. The local church is frequently referred to as a “Charge” because it is “charged” with ministry and mission in a particular area. The local church is the primary vehicle through which the United Methodist Church performs mission and ministry. A Church or Charge Conference composed of the members of the church meets at least annually to elect officers and committees and to make major decisions for the church.
Each “charge” has at least one pastor assigned by the presiding bishop of the annual conference to which the church belongs. Smaller churches may share a pastor while larger churches may have more than one assigned pastor.
There are three major decisions of Charge Conference each year: compensation of pastors, election of officers and committee members, and adoption of a preliminary budget. The local church elects one or more lay members to annual conference as its representatives at annual conference. Special church or charge conferences can be called as necessary. Property purchases and relocations are usually decided by a Church or Charge Conference.
Between Charge Conferences, Church Council governs and manages local church activities. Church Council is similar to the Management Committee of a Corporation.
In the United Methodist Church, ministries are primarily functions led and performed by laity. In larger churches, lay staff is hired to enable ministry. Most ministries are carried out by committees or councils that have representation on Church Council. While all of the committees of the church are important, three committees have special significance – Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC), Finance Committee and Trustees.
SPRC is essentially the personnel function of the church. SPRC works with the District Superintendent and the Bishop’s cabinet when pastoral appointments are made. During the year, SPRC works with the senior pastor to set salary and benefits policies for the church and oversee the performance, hiring, placement and termination of church employees.
The Finance Committee oversees preparation of the church’s annual budget and presents a recommendation to Church Council. Once Church Council has approved a preliminary budget, it is presented to Charge Conference. Most churches have a preliminary budget approved in the Fall, before results of a stewardship campaign are available and before financial performance of the church for the year is known. Charge Conference approves this budget. Church Council makes changes as appropriate after results of the stewardship campaign are known. Finance Committee then monitors performance against the budget during the year and reports to Church Council.
Finance Committee is responsible for raising funds for the church. It usually conducts an annual stewardship campaign. Any party that wishes to raise money in the church must present their proposal to Finance Committee for approval.
A local church’s property (land, buildings and equipment) are held in trust for the Annual Conference. Trustees are responsible for maintenance and operation of all of the church’s property and equipment. Trustees set policies for use of the property and approve any exceptions to the policies they set. Trustees arrange property and liability insurance for the church. Trustees manage the endowment funds of the church, overseeing investment of the funds and ensuring usage of the funds is in accordance with the wishes of the donors. Trustees are similar to the Board of Directors of a Corporation.
In most annual conferences, churches are organized into districts. Bartlesville First Church is in Green Country District, one of the eight districts of the Oklahoma Annual Conference. Each district is headed by a District Superintendent, who oversees the ministry of the district’s clergy and churches, provides spiritual and pastoral leadership, works with the bishop and others in the appointment of ordained ministers to serve the district’s churches, presides at meetings of charge conferences of churches in the district, and oversees programs within the district. In the Oklahoma Annual Conference, district superintendents are specifically charged with leading churches in his or her district in strategy development and administration.
In the United Methodist Church, the term “annual conference” can refer to one of three things. The term can refer to a regional body covering a particular territorial area. Each annual conference has a presiding bishop. The Oklahoma Annual Conference is the regional body that is the basic organization of the United Methodist Church for the state of Oklahoma.
An annual conference is also an organizational unit with administrative functions and which maintains an administrative office. The Oklahoma Annual Conference maintains a ministry center in Oklahoma City which houses its administrative offices and from which it coordinates ministries that stretch beyond local churches.
Annual conference also refers to the annual meeting each annual conference holds to conduct the business of the conference. An important item of business at annual conference is announcement of the bishop’s appointment of pastors to churches. District superintendents and other staff people in the conference office constitute the bishop’s cabinet. The cabinet advises the bishop as he or she makes pastoral appointments.
As with most annual conferences, Oklahoma Annual conference holds its annual meeting in late May/early June. Every four years, the Oklahoma Annual Conference elects delegates to Jurisdictional and General Conferences. At every level beyond the local church, half of the voting delegates are clergy and half are laity.
Each annual conference in the United States is a part of one of the five Jurisdictional Conferences. Outside of the United States, annual conferences are organized into Central Conferences which function much the same as jurisdictions. The Oklahoma Annual Conference is part of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. Jurisdictional conferences provide some program and leadership training to support annual conferences and their churches. Jurisdictional conferences meet in the same years as General Conference to elect new bishops and to select members of general boards and agencies of the United Methodist Church.
General Conference is an international body of the United Methodist Church that meets every four years to vote on changes to church law or organization, petitions, resolutions and other legislation proposed by individuals, agencies, annual conferences and other groups within our denomination. General Conference actions result in revision of the United Methodist Church’s book of law, The Book of Discipline and its policy statements on current social issues, The Book of Resolutions. General Conference is the only body of the United Methodist Church authorized to set official policy and speak for the denomination.