Document date:  6.09.2006
For action

Document n° GEN 04

Organizational Structure for the Work of the World Council of Churches



  1. Mandate

The 9th assembly of the WCC (Porto Alegre, Brazil, February 2006) instructed the general secretary, "in consultation with the central committee, to implement clear and consistent changes to the working style, organizational structure and staffing of the WCC necessary to meet the current and future challenges to the ecumenical movement" (cf. Report of the policy reference committee, para. 12). The present proposal is submitted to the central committee for action. 

The assembly adopted the report of the finance committee which, among others, recommended that the "WCC review its staff rules and regulations and personnel policies (…) including reaffirmation of the concept that programme executive staff contracts are not normally renewed more than once" (at present, four years plus three years). An appendix to the present proposal requests a decision in principle of the direction to be taken, acknowledging that further work is needed in this area. 

Both the proposal and the appendix take into consideration assembly decisions underlining that the challenges facing the ecumenical movement demand a new way of looking at the WCC priorities and new ways of relating, working and organizing key relationships. These decisions had also highlighted the need for new leadership and management: focused, results oriented, documenting learning through practice and experience.  

  1. Objectives

The proposed organizational structure intends to fulfil the objectives of assembly policy decisions, in terms of programme priorities, methodological guidelines, and managerial devices. 

The basic principles guiding the process of setting programme priorities are the following:

  • to keep its focus upon the WCC as a global fellowship of churches, providing leadership to the ecumenical movement;
  • to lift up its central task of the churches calling one another to visible unity;
  • to keep in tension the work of dialogue and advocacy, of building relationships and promoting social witness among churches and with different sectors in society;
  • to foster greater ownership and participation, building as much as possible on initiatives of the churches and partner organizations;
  • to bring a prophetic voice and witness to the world in addressing the urgent and turbulent issues of our times in a focused way.

The methodological elements include:

  • articulating a clear theological basis for all the work in the WCC;
  • facilitating the coordinating role of the WCC in seeking partnerships in networking and advocacy with other organizations - with the hope that many of these programmes can be implemented in collaborative ways;
  • encouraging capacity-building of member churches and ecumenical partners;
  • accompanying churches and peoples in difficult situations and facilitating their action.

The following devices complete the strategic planning and implementation:

  • a programme planning, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting process led by the staff leadership group, permeating the working culture and including the assignment of a professional coordinator, the development of database programme management tools and general staff training;
  • clear, well-functioning planning, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms for each programme;
  • to do less, to do it well, in an integrated, collaborative and interactive approach;
  • a clear distinction between long-term, time-bound, or specific urgent issues;
  • a two-way communication strategy for each programme, carried out with various constituencies;
  • clear exit strategies in phasing out, reconfiguring, or reshaping.

On the basis of the directions emerging from the 9th assembly, the organizational structure proposed here does not envisage any major changes in the functions and purposes of the WCC. The goal of the WCC, as expressed in the Basis, remains unchanged. 

Drawing on the experiences since the last assembly, this proposal seeks to build on positive examples of working in an integrated and interactive fashion on activities mandated by the governing bodies and to encourage this style of work by removing structural obstacles to it which became evident in the functioning of previous structures (e.g. the four-unit or the four-cluster structures).  

The proposal does not call for radical changes in the structure of the WCC secretariat. It rather seeks to adapt the present structure in light of the assembly mandate. One fundamental learning from the past is that any structure is as good as those who implement it. Therefore, implicit to the proposal are plans for all staff to receive training and reorientation into new ways of working and relating to churches and ecumenical partners, to realize the Council's priorities. 

The proposal draws inspiration from the documents approved by the central committee in 1997 (cf. Doc. No 6.4 as amended by the central committee and its recommendations). Thus, it captures and maintains the dynamism and the basic principles that had emerged from the CUV process.  

  1. Characteristics of the model 

The fundamental novelty in this proposal is the fact that it was crafted only after the programmatic work of the Council had been articulated. This enables the structure to serve the implementation of largely elaborated programme priorities, rather than trying to fit programmes into an existing rigid structure.  

The model proposed here is intended to improve the quality of the work undertaken by the WCC as a fellowship of its member churches around the world and an instrument and servant of the global ecumenical movement. It is a model, which emphasizes integration and interaction, flexibility and responsiveness, and a cooperative style of work and partnership with others in the ecumenical movement. As such, it seeks to promote a kind of work in which:

Greater emphasis is placed on specifically defined projects having a clear focus, goals and criteria of achievement in accordance with priorities of the Council as a whole, rather than on the identity of the particular staff groups responsible for the activity (which may in fact be undertaken by ad hoc groups or temporary staff coalitions).

  1. All activities of the WCC are undertaken in awareness of - and whenever possible in collaboration with - those involved in related activities elsewhere, both within the Council's staff and the broader ecumenical movement. Special efforts will be made by the WCC to explore different mechanisms of partnership and cooperation with REOs, NCCs and other ecumenical partners to avoid duplication and enhance cohesion in the ecumenical movement.

  2. All activities of the WCC are undertaken in a manner which (i) highlights the uniqueness of the WCC's engagement in these activities as a global fellowship of Christian churches and (ii) makes the most effective possible use of human, financial and other resources available.

  3. All activities of the WCC are undertaken on the mandate of and according to priorities determined by the governing bodies after consideration by the Programme Committee, thus (i) ensuring that the work of the WCC is responsive to the needs of both the churches and the ecumenical movement, and (ii) enabling a flexible response to new situations. 

  1. An integrated and interactive approach

This builds on the finding of the pre-assembly evaluation that much of WCC's past programmatic work has been fragmented. In the past, some activities have been planned by WCC desks or teams with little coordination with each other or with ecumenical partners. In an integrated and interactive approach, staff from different teams will work together to maximize the use of resources and to ensure coherence in WCC programmes. Thus, instead of three teams each planning consultations on different issues in a particular country, the three teams will work together to develop common plans which respond to the needs expressed by the churches in that country. Moreover, WCC staff will be expected to consult with their colleagues in other ecumenical organizations, such as regional and national ecumenical organizations to ensure that the work is complementary. Every programme and every staff member will be expected to contribute to nurturing and deepening relationships with the constituency. Thus, a staff member participating in a meeting in a particular country will be expected to visit churches and ecumenical organizations in that country. Ad hoc staff groups will be developed to work on issues, which cut across programmes to ensure coherence. 

  1. A well coordinated administrative whole

In order to promote the kind of work which meets these criteria, the WCC staff will be structured as a single administrative whole, under the overall leadership of the general secretary. The general secretary has overall responsibility for ensuring that the governing bodies determine all activities of the Council. In this the general secretary will be assisted on a day-to-day basis by a general secretariat team and on a continuing basis by a Staff Leadership Group. 

  1. To facilitate and enhance work involving persons with similar types of specialized assignments, the staff of this single administrative whole will be divided into a number of programme areas and a number of management teams.

  2. Each programme area will have a director, responsible for coordination and supervision of the work of the staff members in their programme areas and ensuring cooperation with other programme areas. Directors for programme areas will serve as appropriate as "agenda members" of the Staff Leadership Group. Each director will have an associate/deputy.

  3. Each management team will have a manager, responsible for coordination and supervision of the work of the staff members in their teams and for ensuring that the needs of the Council in this area are covered. Managers will serve as appropriate as "agenda members" of the Staff Leadership Group (SLG).

  4. There will be an associate general secretary for programmes. Directors for programme areas will be responsible to the associate general secretary for programmes for their programmatic work. There will also be an associate general secretary for finance, services and administration. Managers in the sector will be responsible to the associate general secretary for FSA. These two associate general secretaries will serve as members of the staff leadership group.

  5. The area of communications and public relations will be on equal footing with programme areas and a director of communications will coordinate the work. The director of communications will serve as a member of the staff leadership group.

  6. There will be an office for programme planning, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting (PMER). In the initial 12-18 months this office will be part of the general secretariat until the PMER process is institutionalized. PMER will then be a coordination function in the management sector. The office will have a director. The director for PMER will serve as a member of the staff leadership group.

  7. There will be possibilities for deploying administrative and specialized staff in new ways, with new role descriptions, tasks and titles (e.g. programme assistants, project accountants etc.).


The proposed structure will consist of two inter-related sectors: (1) programme, including both the strategic functions and concrete activities in terms of relationships and communications, and (2) finance, services, and administration (FSA). 

  1. General Secretariat 

The general secretariat will consist of the general secretary, the deputy general secretary or deputy general secretaries, and other staff needed to provide necessary assistance to the general secretary in: (a) directing the activities of the Council according to the mandates and policies of the governing bodies, (b) representing and communicating the Council to its member churches, ecumenical and other partners and the public at large, and (c) strategic leadership and coordination of activities of WCC.  

The deputy general secretary will take primary responsibility for day-to-day oversight of interaction and integration in the work of the staff. The general secretariat should provide a supportive atmosphere to nurture and enhance the work of the staff. 

The positions of the general secretary, deputy general secretary or deputy general secretaries, and associate general secretaries will be brought to the central committee. The general secretary will take decisions about other staff positions once the Council's programme plans are approved. 

  1. Programme sector: overall profile 

Each programme area in this sector:

  1. will be made up of persons with skills, experience and training in one of the major issues identified by the Constitution as components of the underlying purpose of enabling churches to work together for unity in faith and life, witness and service;

  2. in consultation and coordination with one another, would have responsibility within the WCC for stimulating ecumenical activity - exchange and dialogue, monitoring, analysis and study, common witness and action by member churches, ecumenical partners and the wider Christian fellowship.

  3. would have within the WCC responsibility to maintain lines of communication, deepen relationships and extend areas of collaborative action and witness between the WCC, its churches and partners and to link these relationships with the life and work of the member churches.

  4. will collaborate closely with the appropriate counterparts in the sector on finances, services and administration and all relevant stages, in acquiring, using and sharing its partner's resources of any kind, especially material resources.

  1. Programme areas 

The main impulses that will sustain the activities of the WCC up to the next assembly have been converted into six programmes, which are spelled out in detail in the document WCC Programme Plans 2007-2013. Responding to assembly policy decisions, each programme area includes a concrete effort of integrating some of the Council's major activities, and each programme area includes a new project or a renewed emphasis on previous activities. Youth issues and concerns cut across all programme areas with a new focus. A "Youth Body", established at the governing body level, will monitor all the work and advise on how best to integrate youth into all the programmatic activities of the Council. The six programmes are the following:

  1. P1-WCC and the Ecumenical Movement in the 21st Century, a programme area sharpening the WCC's leading role in coordinating joint efforts to unfold the challenges of ecumenism in the 21st century and their consequences for the vision, activities and structures of ecumenical organizations and partners. One of the major novelties in the area will be the WCC's contribution to developing a theological platform for common reflections on issues on the ecumenical agenda. The programme places the relationships at the heart of the Council's activities.

  2. P2-Unity, Mission and Spirituality, addressing issues which are central to the identity, life and witness of the church. Churches calling one another to visible unity and churches working together for a more faithful witness in the world shall constitute the two pillars of the programme area. While unity and mission are presented in creative tension, a renewed emphasis is placed on spirituality, with churches deepening together the spiritual and worship dimensions of their lives.

  3. P3-Public Witness: Addressing the Power, Affirming Peace, will address urgent concerns for the churches in relationship to peace, security, poverty and justice in the world, and will develop and coordinate an ecumenical approach to international issues through policy development, advocacy, solidarity, campaigns and awareness raising efforts. While peace in the Middle East shall constitute a priority, as an urgent and specific case with global implications, the Decade to Overcome Violence will come to an end in 2010-11 with an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation where a "Declaration on Just Peace", which will be discussed and worked on by the churches, will be adopted.

  4. P4-Justice and Diakonia will strengthen the Council's ability to have an impact on churches' engagement in both meeting immediate human needs and in addressing the structural roots of justice. The programme will facilitate expressions of ecumenical solidarity, reflect on issues of accountability, and support churches' healing ministries. While the issue of HIV and AIDS will be more closely integrated with justice and diakonia, the programme will open new avenues for dealing with matters of faith, science and technology, for example, bio-ethical issues as church dividing issues. Bringing together work on justice and diakonia will allow to deepen the conceptual and theological understanding of the interconnections between transformational justice and prophetic diakonia.

  5. P5-Ecumenical and Faith Formation, will encourage forms of Christian nurture that are ecumenical in purpose, and will emphasise ecumenical formation based in the formation of Christian values, attitudes and ways of relating to the other. Opportunities of ecumenical formation offered at Bossey will constitute the core of the activities, which will also include work on development of capacity, curricula and methodologies for contextualised ecumenical and faith formation.

  6. P6-Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation, will look at inter-religious relations and dialogue both from the perspective of the mission of the church and its theological self-understanding within the pluralistic society, from the perspective of education and ecumenical formation, as well as the Council's work on public witness in addressing the role of religion in public life and the life of the churches in minority situations. 

  1. Communications and Public Relations 

In response to the pre-assembly evaluation and communication-related recommendations from the Assembly, a new communications strategy is under development. The strategy seeks to be responsive to the programme directions under consideration, to ensure the maximum public profile for the Council's work and voice, and to enable two-way communication with member churches and partners. The strategy will be presented for review to the executive committee meeting in February 2007. 

This area of work will be headed by the director of communications and public relations, and supported by a team of professionals. An interactive working style that is content-centred will strengthen the coherence of what is communicated through the varied channels of distribution. 

Throughout its communication, the WCC will foster the ownership, accountability and involvement of its constituency, and promote integration of communication and programmatic work. Project-level communication plans will be developed by communication and programme staff together as an integrated component of planning and implementation, taking into consideration for each project the intended audiences, communication goals, messages, channels of communication, type of activities, persons involved and means of evaluation. Particular attention will be given to strengthening the proactive and audible public voice of the WCC through greater integration of advocacy, international affairs and communication actions.  

In implementing its communication strategy, the WCC will:

  1. Incorporate integrated and resourced communication plans into each programme areas.

  2. Nurture the quality, coordination, consistency and coherence of the written and visual content in all WCC communication outputs.

  3. Enable and support the public voice of the WCC general secretary and the WCC leadership.

  4. Develop internal communication objectives and procedures in support of a culture of communication.

  5. Provide advice and facilitate training for staff to communicate competently.

  6. Establish mechanisms to ensure close consultation between communication staff and staff leadership, governing bodies and member churches.

  7. Promote the use of interactive communication methodologies and open networks in WCC programmatic work.

  8. Develop and use appropriate new methodologies and technologies to communicate the WCC.

  9. Ensure close partnerships with other ecumenical organizations in the area of communication, including the pursuit of potential synergies to maximize the use of resources and improve quality.

  10. Draw on expert advice within and outside the organization on complex communication issues.

  11. Develop mechanisms to monitor and review performance and progress. 

Implementing a communications strategy will require the considered adaptation and development of the various functions and skills needed to produce content, products and monitor results. It would be preliminary in the overall visioning process to map the adaptations needed. This will be considered in the next round of work, particularly with a view toward filling a number of current vacancies. 

The current functions that support communications are: Publications, Public Information, Media Relations, Web Office, Visual Arts, and Language Service. 

  1. Finance, services, and administration (FSA): overall profile 

The staff in this sector would be made up of persons with professional skills and experience in the management of a particular professional or technical field whose administration is essential for the activities of the WCC. Staff in each of these areas of expertise would have primary responsibility within the WCC for the provision and administration of its particular area of infra-structural support. 

Since this sector comprises key functional areas that serve the entire staff by providing effective and efficient support, it would work cooperatively on a continuing basis with the general secretariat and the programme sector, and the latter would collaborate with these teams in the areas specified on an ongoing basis. It will be necessary for initiatives in all areas to be addressed jointly at inception to ensure all affected staff input is obtained at the most optimal time.

  1. Finance, service and administration teams 

The specialised units in this area cover: Accounting and treasury, controllership, fund development (formally income monitoring and development), house services/central administration, human resources, computer information services, and soon, coordination of planning, monitoring, evaluation and reporting. 

Though these units are shown as separate, they are interlocked at the detailed work level such that very close coordination at particular moments is needed. Income accounting cost control, budgeting, year-end reporting are but a few examples of detailed activities that must be done collaboratively in this sector so effective support can be given to the programme areas, communication and general secretariat. 

The practice to date has been that the executive director entrusted with this key area has been the sole coordination point and the experience has not been satisfactory - the breadth of coordination is too wide for one person to coordinate effectively. A deputy or associate director would be needed to share in the overall coordination of tasks and to ensure continuity of service provision in the absence of the Staff Leadership Group member responsible for SLG. 

It may thus be necessary to reshape the teams in this sector more important will be setting out clearly the coordination points and determine how these inter-link with the programme and communication sectors and general secretariat.  


12. The work of each programme area and management team will consist of carrying out specific projects, normally undertaken for a definite period of time, with definite goals and objectives, fulfilling ongoing tasks, especially those linked to monitoring developments in its area of concern and to regularly scheduled events, and contributing to preparations for Council-wide events, including world conferences, assemblies and meetings of governing bodies. In addition, staff members of each programme area or management team will be assigned to ad hoc task forces and working groups and will be expected to be available to contribute as needed to the work of other teams when their special competence is required.  

13. An approach to decision-making, in which consultation, participation, openness and transparency are valued, will be maintained throughout the Council. While the governing bodies set the overall directions and priorities of the work of the entire staff, to who the general secretary is directly accountable, the many day-to-day decisions, which arise within the staff in carrying out these mandates, shall be made in a consultative manner. Each programme director and each manager is responsible for keeping the associate general secretary fully informed of questions and problems arising in coordinating the work of his or her area; and associate general secretaries are expected to raise concerns arising within their sector in the Staff Leadership Group.  

14. The Staff Leadership Group (SLG) is the chief internal management team. Its overall responsibility is to advise the general secretary in his or her role as chief executive officer of the Council. The general secretary will chair it. Its members will include the deputy general secretary or deputy general secretaries, the associate general secretaries, the director for communications, the director for PMER, and as "agenda members" the directors for programme areas and the managers. Other staff may be co-opted or invited for special expertise, balance or familiarity with a specific item on its agenda. The SLG will normally meet once a week. Directors for programme areas will be responsible to keep staff in their areas regularly informed of key discussions and decisions made by the group. The associate general secretary for finance, services, and administration will be responsible to keep staff in this sector regularly informed. As necessary the SLG may appoint ad hoc or permanent functional groups to advise it in specific areas of management. 

15. Role descriptions for all staff members will both specify the expectations within the particular area or team to which the staff member is assigned and indicate the overall requirement to undertake collaborative work along the lines set out above. Consequently, regular performance evaluations will be undertaken in a manner that assesses both these dimensions of the staff member's work. 

16. In order to put into effect the changes proposed here to the internal structure and management of the WCC, amendments will be required to the Rules of the World Council of Churches, as well as to bylaws and other documents adopted by the central committee for the functioning of the WCC and the conduct of its business. The central committee may instruct the general secretary to further elaborate these rules, and authorise the executive committee to adopt them pending a final decision by the central committee.

Towards a practice of limiting years of service


The 9th assembly recommended that the "WCC review its staff rules and regulations and personnel policies (…) including reaffirmation of the concept that programme executive staff contracts are not normally renewed more than once" (at present, four years plus three years). 

Since the early 1970s the executive and central committees have periodically discussed, implemented and reversed decisions on practices of limiting the number of years that staff responsible for programme and relationships can serve in the WCC. The current staff rules and regulations of the Council allow for limiting years of service but do not explicitly demand it. Thus it is up to the governing bodies and management of the WCC to decide how best to follow the recommendation from the 9th assembly which refers to Reg. II 1.13 and 1.14 where members of the staff appointed by the central or executive committees shall receive a fixed term contract of up to four years' duration on first appointment with the possibility for renewal for a further three-year period -- hence the nickname of "7 year rule". 

WCC's current staff rules and regulations state that limiting the number of years of service is only in relation to those staff members appointed by the central or executive committee. This includes both programme executive staff and leadership staff excluding the general secretary and the deputy general secretary(ies) who are normally appointed for 5 year terms (Rule IX.6). Limiting years of service is also not applicable to those staff members serving outside Geneva, nor those in the administrative (A), house (H), specialized (S) category of staff or to consultants (C). 

From the regulations it is clear that the first term is normally 4 years. In fact these regulations do not dictate a maximum years of service "rule" at all. They simply make a provision for limiting years of service and how renewals are to be carried out. It should also be noted that according to the Swiss Code of Obligations, a second renewal of a time-defined employment contract can render the contract indefinite. This means that those staff members who are renewed more than once would then be governed by the regulations for indefinite contracts (Reg. II 6.03 and 6.04). 

A proposal: building relationships with the member churches 

Implementing a policy of limiting years of service is not just an administrative matter but can be intentionally used for the purpose of building relationships with the member churches. Strengthening relationships was mentioned in the minutes of past executive (Geneva, May 2006) and central committee (Geneva, September 2005) meetings. Building, re-building and nurturing relationships was often highlighted at the most recent WCC Assembly. 

Member churches and the WCC will be best equipped to promote human relationships in the world if they would learn how to share all the gifts of grace received from God. To a very large extent churches' disunity is due to the inability to practice this genuine sharing of gifts.  

It was long recognized that all of WCC's programmatic work is grounded in relationships and yet the reality is that different staff or teams are responsible for programme and for relationships. In our work after this assembly, we hope for a more integrated and interactive approach to programme and relationships where our programmes strengthen the quality of our relationships and where our constituency feels more ownership of the programmes. The significance of this deep inter-relatedness was emphasized by the main findings of the pre-assembly evaluation report. 

One of the best ways of facilitating these relationships is through staff from the member churches working at the WCC. This relationship building must be intentional on the part of all parties involved, however. Although staff members are endorsed by their churches, those churches do not always "send" those staff members to the WCC. Different member churches have different interpretations of representation on WCC staff. Various staff members have widely differing ideas of what it means to be responsible to and report to the home church. Although uniformity of interpretation is neither possible nor particularly desirable in this case, there is some argument for encouraging some basic practices which will promote WCC/member church relationships through WCC staffing. The fruits of this intentional relationship building practice could be pivotal in the improvements of WCC/member church relations. 

A gradual implementation of such a practice could be a very positive move for all concerned. Providing that the necessary staff time is allocated and a good process is put into place, the WCC could imagine working on bringing into practice limiting years of service between now and the next assembly. 


For any such practice some provision for exceptions should be envisaged. The WCC needs to ensure continuity of leadership in its programmes and whether a staff member is actually in a leadership role (L) or not, when several senior staff members leave at once, there can be a leadership crisis in the way the Council functions.  

Other cases might arrive where the culmination of a process (e.g. WCC Assembly) comes a short time after the person responsible has to leave after 7 years. It would be unhelpful to the programme and the related partners for the person responsible to hand over the work right before it ended, especially as many of WCC processes culminate in specific events.  

It would be important, however, to ensure that the exceptions do not out number the cases where limiting years of service is implemented. Not implementing this kind of system consistently also has a detrimental effect on staff morale as those whom it touches do not see the reasons behind implementation in some cases but not others.

Staff from non-member churches

There are a few cases where the WCC has hired programme staff from non-member churches. Any implementation of the practice of limiting years of service should also make a provision for staff from non-member churches. Negotiations with the home church would be at least as critical as those who are members of the WCC. Special attention and criteria should be developed for such cases.  


Between now (2007) and the 10th assembly (2013), establish a relationships-based practice of limiting years of service for staff appointed by the executive and the central committees. This practice would not only involve WCC internal management but would essentially be a three-way partnership between the WCC, the individual staff member and the member church from which the person comes. Each partner would have certain responsibilities in relation to the other two with an emphasis put on mutual support through correspondence, practical action as appropriate and prayer.