By Jeff Brumley
General Assembly 2013 is expected to be one of the busier – and more historic – gatherings in CBF’s history, as participants welcome a new leader and vote to significantly streamline the organization to meet current and future challenges to institutional life.
Organizers are expecting up to 3,000 participants at the Sheraton Greensboro Hotel at Four Seasons and Joseph S. Koury Convention Center, which will house the business sessions, breakouts and vendors for the three-day event that begins Wednesday.
Introduction of new leadership, votes on sweeping changes to the CBF constitution and bylaws, plus changes to missions and new missional church programs, will make this General Assembly one of the most important in years, said Suzii Paynter, CBF’s new executive coordinator. Its theme is “With Great Boldness.”
“We will be highlighting the future, what we are going to look like,” she said.
‘More fleet of foot’
And what that’s going to look like, CBF Moderator Keith Herron said, is more streamlined and nimble.
CBF’s 2012 Task Force found CBF to be structurally overweight, and a resulting recommendation includes changing the constitution and bylaws to eliminate the coordinating and advisory councils in favor of four smaller groups with specialized tasks of governance, Herron said.
Membership of the new governing board and nominating committee will be voted on by assembly participants this week. They also will be able to elect some members of the missions and ministries councils. All four bodies are a result of the 2012 Task Force, Herron said.
CBF will be a different organization after General Assembly as the old structures pass into history, Herron said.
“The final Coordinating Council meeting will be held on Wednesday, and we do not expect to reconvene that group ever again,” he said.
The smaller, separate governing bodies will be able to meet on their own to deal with issues by expertise, while the governing board acts much like the board of a nonprofit agency.
“It will make us a little more fleet of foot,” Herron said.
Another development will be the elevation of chaplaincy’s status within the fellowship, Paynter said.
In a first for CBF, 40 chaplains – military, law enforcement, corrections, hospital and others – will be commissioned along with missionaries and church starters, she said.
“They are being sent just as field personnel are being sent and they are serving populations that are often not being served by the local church in prisons, in hospitals and military bases.”
The development marks a significant change for chaplains, who as recently as the 2011 General Assembly were demanding a more prominent role in denominational life.
“I feel it (chaplaincy) has been underserved,” Paynter said. “The time has come for us to develop this natural asset we have.”
CBF will unveil its new “Dawnings” initiative, a process designed to lead churches to discover their missional identities.
“We are thinking of it as a total church initiative,” said Bo Prosser, coordinator of missional congregations for CBF. “It’s not a program and it’s not just another visioning program.”
What it is, he said, is a process that involves visioning, formation and engagement to help congregations tease out and clarify their missions within their own communities, Prosser said.
Six CBF churches have tested the system, Prosser said, and each is developing its own conclusions. The idea is that each congregation will form a unique approach based on local needs.
“Dawnings” comes with congregational coaches and online support to shepherd churches through the process, Prosser added.
“The local church forms its own self around the needs of its community,” he said.
Strong turnout predicted
The Sheraton Greensboro Hotel at Four Seasons also be a bustling place, as assembly organizers are preparing for up to 3,000 to attend due to Paynter’s introduction, the weighty structural issues and the venue.
If so, that’s quite a jump from last year’s 1,895 in Fort Worth and 1,664 the previous year in Tampa. The 2010 gathering in Charlotte came closest to this year’s estimate with 2,400, according to statistics provided by CBF.
“I think that’s realistic,” Connie McNeill, CBF coordinator of administration, said of the estimated attendance. She cited the topics under consideration at General Assembly and the North Carolina setting.
“It’s just one of our strongest turnout states,” McNeill said.
Another predictor: CBF has met 100 percent of its room requirements, McNeill said. “We’ve not done that the last few years.”
The Fellowship also has had to turn away prospective vendors this year, limiting the number to 54, she said.
“We had to be a little choosier and focus more on what’s consistent with our theme,” she said.
McNeill added she’s not aware of any traffic or construction issues impacting assembly goers, but did urge them to park near entrances F and G at the hotel – those are nearest the registration and other areas new arrivals will be seeking.
‘There’s an app for that’
For the first time in its history, CBF is providing a free smartphone application to help assembly participants negotiate the maze of meeting rooms, vendors and other activities.
Made for Apple and Android, the app features the assembly schedule, a listing of general sessions, workshops and exhibitors. It also has a live stream link for those who cannot attend but want to follow assembly business.
CBF spokesman Jeff Huett said the app “is a cutting edge way of providing access to information for users on-the-go.” He added that it will continue to function after General Assembly for updated information about CBF.
‘Addressing the whole fellowship’
Paynter said she’s looking forward to the message she will give at Friday night’s assembly worship service. She sees the sermon, plus a reception welcoming her and husband, Roger Paynter, as a culmination of her first roughly 100 days as executive coordinator.
She began her new job March 1, but even before that was crisscrossing CBF life, visiting state assemblies and other events to promote her vision of a more missional, responsive fellowship.
“This is pretty much an opportunity to speak before the whole Fellowship,” Paynter said. “It’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to do that.”