The value of the district plan of organization in a conference depends in great measure upon the type of organization used, and upon how it is used. In general there are three kinds of district organization now in use in the North American conferences: (I) The kind in which for the major part of the year the district plan is not in operation at all. Workers are located without regard to district boundaries, and only at the time of special campaigns are they given territories with the responsibility for all the churches in a certain district. (2) The kind in which the conference is divided into large districts of eight to fifteen churches each. A district leader is located in each district with general supervision over all the churches within its boundaries, but there may be separate pastors in some of his churches. (3) The kind in which the conference is divided into small districts made up of from three to six churches, the district leader being pastor of each church in his district and living at a strategic point within his territory.
While local conditions play a large part in deciding which type of organization should be used in a conference, yet it is the third plan which lends itself to the greatest number of uses and which is of greatest value to the conferences wherein it is employed. It is particularly this plan in which districts are made up of a small number of churches that I have in mind in pointing out the value of the district plan. Very definite boundaries are marked out for each district. Often county or natural geographical lines are followed. When the lines have once been fixed, then every member within a district boundary is a member of that district whether he is a conference church member or a member of a local church in the territory.
It is of great benefit for the conference to compile all of its statements with the district organization in mind; that is, in tithe and mission statements and other reports, such as baptisms, letters, apostasies, deaths, etc., the churches in the same district should be listed together, and the report should show the standing of each church, the standing of the conference church members in the district, and then the total for the district as a whole. This also applies to the quarterly membership statement compiled from the clerks' reports.
The district leader should not only be fully responsible for the financial campaigns in his district, but he should also be fully responsible for the pastoral needs of his churches, and should take care of the evangelistic needs of his territory. Where the district is small, he should be given the responsibility of visiting each church in his district at least once each month on Sabbath. The church constituting his chief burden can be visited each Sabbath morning, and the other churches may be taken in turn Sabbath afternoons. He should make up a schedule of his monthly plan of church visitation. This list should be furnished to the loCal elders of the churches in his district and to the conference president. It should then be followed to the letter, so that the church members will always know when they can look forward to a sermon by the district leader. The only exception to this regular schedule should be when the minister is engaged in the critical portion of an evangelistic effort, or at camp meeting time.
Various Values Enumerated
The district plan is of distinct value to the conference president, to the churches, to the isolated members, and to the conference workers. It promotes evangelism over a wider field, and proves invaluable at the time of regular major campaigns or in promoting special local conference enterprises. Let us now briefly examine each of these advantages.
Value to Conference Presidents.—Under the district plan, every part of the conference is under the jurisdiction and personal supervision of some worker responsible to the president, and in that way the administration of the territory is simplified. It saves the president from being troubled with church problems which might be too difficult for a local elder to solve, but not of sufficient importance to take the president's time. Any conference plan can be put into speedy operation in every section of the conference at the same time under this system, for as soon as any general order is given, there is a man in every section of the field whose duty it is to see that the order is carried out.
Value to Churches.—Under the district plan, the churches' help from the conference is regular and systematic rather than spasmodic.
The church elders have a conference worker living within driving distance, to whom they can go with their problems without troubling the conference office. This system provides help for the small churches where talent is limited. These smaller churches are often neglected when there is no regular district organization, and they become discouraged when they are unable, for lack of leadership, to reach the goals the conference has set for them. District organization provides leadership in the various campaigns, and when the churches attain the standard set for them by the conference, they are greatly encouraged, and their morale is strengthened.
The churches within a district can occasionally get together at a central point in a district meeting, and enjoy many of the advantages of a camp meeting. Usually, in addition to the morning consecration service, special attention is given to one department of the work. The various departments should be rotated in this special consideration at district meetings, so that each one will have study during a period of a year or eighteen months. Many departmental secretaries are convinced that more can be accomplished for the local churches in district meetings than by any other means.
Value to Isolated Members.—The isolated members of a conference are as a rule the most neglected members under any possible plan. But with the district plan, the leader is usually given the definite responsibility of visiting these members within his territory at least once a year. This is a great improvement over the isolated members' going year after year without seeing a conference worker, as is so often the case. District leaders can frequently make extra visits with the isolated members as they survey the district territory when looking for effort locations, or when going from church to church. It is generally found that when a worker is held responsible for the financial goals of isolated members within his territory, he visits those members, fully recognizing that by establishing this personal contact he will secure their fuller cooperation. When district meetings are held, the isolated members are given a special invitation, and this often brings them to meetings which they would otherwise not attend.
Value to Workers.—The workers themselves favor the district plan because they appreciate having some definite responsibility in which they are supervised only in broad outline, and left free to work out details according to their own judgment. The conference president states what he and his committee wish accomplished, and the district leader is usually left to work it out in his own way, as long as it is a legitimate one. He thus becomes acquainted with all departments of the work, since he is responsible for the work of every department within his district. District work helps to develop within a laborer any executive ability he may possess, and thus becomes a training school for developing leaders for greater responsibilities.
Most city pastors greatly enjoy having two or three small churches out in the country added to their responsibility. It relieves the sameness of their work and broadens their experience to give them churches with entirely different problems, and with members living under different conditions. The district plan teaches a worker the value and necessity of working in harmony with the conference program. His district is compared with the other districts in the statements and reports prepared by the conference, and he sees whether his methods of labor are as good as those of the leaders of neighboring districts.
Value to Evangelism.—The average district leader is a fairly good evangelist. It is his duty to hold efforts in the various parts of his district each year. His reputation is not built upon the size of the city in which his effort is held, but upon the number of substantial members he may win, whether his effort be held at a country crossroads, or in the central city of his district. He is in a position to know the territory of his district and should make recommendations to the committee as to the places within his district where he feels efforts would prove effective. Nearly always the conference committee will confirm his judgment, and authorize him to conduct the meetings in accordance with his suggestions. He should have a progressive plan over a period of years for a series of efforts to cover the entire territory of his district.
Value to Campaigns.—The value of the district plan to the successful operation of financial campaigns is so well known that it is used in nearly every conference in the North American Division. For this reason its benefits need be mentioned but briefly. It is well for the conference president to have a meeting of all the district leaders just before the beginning of any campaign, to study over with them their plans for their individual districts. The plans may differ according to the talents and individuality of the various workers, but it is well to let each man fight in his own armor. Although each district leader has the entire responsibility for attaining success in the campaign in his own district, he is assured of and given all help possible from the conference president and the departmental secretaries.
The value of the district plan is just as great in the launching of new or unusual campaigns as in the promotion of those which come regularly. This was demonstrated by a recent experience in the Illinois Conference. The responsibility of raising a sum of money for Emmanuel Missionary College and Broadview Academy was placed upon this conference.
The district leaders were called in, and two days were spent right on the school grounds studying their financial needs. This showed the district men the actual need, and provided material for appeals- to their constituency. Methods of raising money were discussed, and it was agreed to devote six weeks to the campaign.
Each district leader took up the matter with his churches in his own way. At the end of each week, the district leaders reported to the conference, and a compilation of these reports was issued to them. Not a word was printed regarding the matter in the union paper, and no circular was sent to our churches or members. In the six-week period, with no ballyhoo, articles, or circulars, every church was visited, and $14,000 was raised.
In fact, the district plan works so well in reaching financial goals that this constitutes its chief drawback. Some conferences use it only for this purpose, and then we hear the familiar complaint, "The only time we see a minister is when he is after money." When there is foundation for this complaint, the situation is. lamentable indeed. But when the district plan is used just as vigorously in the interest of feeding the congregations by regular visitation between campaigns, in caring for the isolated, and in district evangelism, then a district is doing its most effective and valuable work. It is then that the conference president, the working force, the church members, and the isolated all agree on the great value of the district plan.