In the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations are connected to each other and to the whole church by a common covenant that continues to allow for each expression of church life (congregational, regional, and general) to be self-governing and to make decisions that are only binding upon the body that has taken the decision. Each expression thus has its own rights and responsibilities – all set within a mutual covenantal accountability. For a fuller description of this covenantal relationship, please read the first section that relates to congregations (paragraphs 1-4 in The Design of the Christian Church).
Regions are the geographic expression of the church. There are currently 32 regions. Each is a self-governing ministry – a community of communities that is covenantly accountable to the general church through participation in the General Board and General Assembly. Each organizes itself and makes independent decisions about the region’s property, budgets, assemblies, and called leadership. The region nurtures, supports and engages congregations as unique entities that extend the ministry of Christ in mission, teaching, witness, and service. All regions provide leadership in matters such as standing and credentialing of ministers, relocation of pastors and congregational support, connecting congregations with general church resources. Regional ministers often serve as mentors to local pastors, congregations and clergy. They often offer training and other services to congregations as the regional governing organization sees need.
As early as the 1840s, leaders in the Stone-Campbell movement saw a need to organize on a broader scale. Some ministries, such as care for the disadvantaged and funding educational institutions, benefit from a wider base of support. After a number of different models of cooperation, in 1968 the general ministries came together as one Church, in the current covenantal relationships in The Design. The general expression of the church is dedicated to equipping congregations to be and share the Good News from their doorsteps to the ends of the earth. The self-governing ministries work together to support the local congregation and regions. Congregations provide critical financial support to these ministries through Disciples Mission Fund. General Ministries are covenantally accountable to the General Board and General Assembly, providing in-depth reports, participation and leadership to both bodies.
The General Assembly is a biennial event where lay, clergy, voting and nonvoting, young and old gather for worship and learning in addition to attending to the business of the Church.
The General Assembly voting body is made up of representatives from congregations and regions and serves as the body ministries report to in covenantal accountability. The General Assembly also operates as a forum for discussion and discernment. The assembly can debate matters of conscience, but cannot impose a position on a church. On matters of policy, the assembly can request congregations, regions and ministries to uphold policies, such as requirements for ministerial training.