A joint project of three United Methodist general agencies in Nashville is saving time, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and giving more people access to important information for their churches and annual conferences.
WebEx, a Web conferencing tool used since August 2011 by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the General Board of Discipleship, and the General Council on Finance and Administration is replacing many costly on-site meetings.
While exact savings are difficult to calculate, the Board of Ordained Ministry orientation for annual conference BOM chairs, vice-chairs, registrars, and staff, is being replaced with a Webinar. That event cost about $125,000 in 2008. That event provides critical information for BOM officers to shepherd clergy candidates through the process to ordination.
“That’s a huge savings of money, as well as travel time for agency and annual conference staff,” said the Rev. Meg Lassiat, GBHEM’s director of Candidacy, Mentoring, and Conference Relations. She adds that more than 144 people registered for that Webinar, and of those, 30 said they were logged in for a group. Several people can watch the Webinar with the person who registered. More than 500 people registered for a September Webinar on legislative changes related to candidacy and clergy.
In addition to the savings, Lassiat said the use of WebEx allows more flexibility in planning a meeting time since people don’t have to travel, and the presentations can be taped to have as resources.
Smaller meetings do not generate as much financial savings, but even those can add up. For instance, Women of Color scholarship candidates were interviewed this year by a team of staff and mentors using WebEx, for a savings of $7,840, said Allyson Collinsworth, director of GBHEM’s Office of Loans and Scholarships.
The one-year contract signed by the three agencies cost $28,000 (GBOD paid 40 percent, GBHEM and GCFA 30 percent each), said Shelly Stem, GBHEM’s Internet and Technology team leader.
“A cross-agency team was created to look at the various vendors in the market and request pricing for the three agencies as a group,” Stem said. After selecting WebEx and trying it for a year, the three agencies just signed a new three year contract at a cost of $20,500.
Steve Horswill-Johnson, GBOD’s executive director of communications, said the financial savings has been significant, but said it is more important that the Webinars provide an additional way to stay connected with the United Methodists that GBOD serves.
“People truly want to be connected this way. It’s easier for them, it’s fast becoming the norm, and they also save their own time,” he said.
Lauren Arieux, marketing coordinator and technical writer for GCFA, said GCFA staff are thrilled with the service, which not only saves travel time for agency staff, but also for other participants who would have needed to travel to the meetings in the past.
She said Internet/Technology staff holds monthly meetings with annual conference and agency leaders across the country – meetings that would have been cost prohibitive in the past due to travel costs. GCFA’s Legal Department also frequently uses WebEx for meetings.
“I love that we can make our meetings and Webinars accessible to so many different groups of people and with such ease. I’ve been thrilled to see how many people have viewed the recordings after-the-fact, as well,” said Dana Niedziela, administrative assistant for GCFA’s Legal Department.
The Rev. Hirho Park, GBHEM’s director of Clergy Lifelong Learning, pioneered the use of Web conferencing and e-tools at GBHEM before the agency signed a WebEx contract. She used other programs such as Blackboard and Go-To- Meeting beginning in 2008. Park said the conferencing tools were used to train lead women pastors as coaches for other women, to plan jurisdictional clergywomen’s consultations, and to select scholarship recipients for the Georgia Harkness program.
“The conference with Methodist related schools which included 17 countries in Asia in February this year with the Yonsei University School of Theology in S eoul, Korea was planned only through web conferencing, which is a proof that global work can be done without spending too much money as a global church. Clergywomen’s consultations in some regions were planned without any costly face-to-face meetings,” Park said.
GBHEM’s United Methodist Endorsing Agency, faced with cuts in the continuing education budget, had 64 people attending its two “Claiming Our Organizational Value: Demonstrating Effectiveness and Relevance with Management” Webinars.
Gerlinda Roland, GBHEM’s program coordinator for Young Adult Ministry and Discernment, said use of the program increases the number of people reached. “We had four people who couldn’t come to the Exploration planning meeting, but they were able to attend part of the meeting through WebEx,” Roland said.
Melanie Overton, GBHEM’s assistant general secretary for Schools, Colleges, and Universities, said the time savings of eliminating travel can be really significant, too.
Overton needed to update the Board of Directors of the International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges, and Universities (IAMSCU) about the MISEN Student Exchange Program when they were meeting in Japan.
“This is an important project for IAMSCU, yet it was difficult to justify the expense of international travel for a one-hour presentation and discussion,” Overton said. So, instead of purchasing a $2,000- $3,000 plane ticket and spending two days travelling, she used WebEx to make the presentation.
However, she said several factors increased the effectiveness of the presentation. “First, I had met about half of the participants previously. Having some type of established relationship reduced the likelihood of miscommunication. More important, I had a few “confidants” in the room that were able to help me interpret the kinds of things technology obscures: body language, side comments, and questions; and they could troubleshoot any misunderstandings in real time.”
Lassiat agreed that loss of understanding can be a drawback. “You can’t see people’s faces as clearly or have a good grasp of body language some of the time. And, there can be a lag in speaking/ hearing/response time, so the conversation sometimes flows more slowly.”
Finally, she said people get tired more quickly than they would in a face-to-face meeting.
“So sometimes face-to-face is better even though it costs more,” Lassiat said.
The Missouri Conference also uses WebEx for meetings. Any team, board, committee or commission of the Missouri Conference can use the Missouri Conference WebEx account. To schedule a meeting e-mail Mike Harrison at mharrison@moumethodist. org.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.