I have been going to Annual Conference for six years and nearly every year I have the same conversation with people, asking, "What does anything we do here have to do with Kingdom building or the survival of the United Methodist Church?"
Before this year, the only answer I ever came up with is that it doesn't. Nothing we do at Annual Conference furthers the cause of institutional survival. Of course without a budget we wouldn't have the capacity to fund the ministries for another year, etc., but this year I have realized that survival isn't the goal. It is Kingdom Building.
Rev. John Farley, our new District Superintendent for the South District was telling a story last night about when he was questioning his call to ministry and asked his father, "Will the Church even be here in thirty years?" His father replied, "The Church is God's and will remain for eternity. But if you mean the United Methodist Church, who knows?" The ministry at Annual Conference looks much different than nearly any place else in the Church, except Summer Camp. With Summer Camp, it is very hard to explain how it works. But we know that on day one students feel one way about their faith and that through the interactions of a week with their peers talking about God and faith they feel stronger, fortified in their faith in Christ, and ready to face the world again. This same thing happens at Annual Conference and is equally difficult to explain. But in some ways, Annual Conference functions like a summer camp for adults who also have to make decisions and do a bit of work.
One key way I have found that Kingdom building happens is this: Most churches are demographically homogenous. There are churches that are mostly rich, or mostly poor, or mostly white, or mostly black, or mostly something demographic. At Annual Conference, we are a diverse faith, believing many things differently, many different political perspectives, coming with different baggage, etc. When we come together, we support one another and hear each other's positions with love and kindness and at the end of it all we got a bit of work done, we feel very different, fortified in our faith in Christ, and ready to face the world.