Monday, August 16, 2010

Planting new congregations is key to U.S. evangelization

On a recent Sunday morning, my wife and I attended worship at one of the newly planted churches in the North Georgia Conference. The church met at a school in the suburbs of Atlanta.

I was overdressed in my coat and tie. When we entered the school cafeteria, converted temporarily into worship space, a young couple enthusiastically greeted us and asked if we wanted earplugs. They said the music was high energy and high volume. We declined (which we later regretted), and soon the service began.

There were more than 200 worshippers in a congregation not yet one year old. I was deeply encouraged that morning:

  • Most of the people in worship were under 40—Children and teenagers were everywhere. Young adults were leading and serving.
  • Many of the people did not look like me. The crowd was culturally and racially diverse and mingled naturally with one another.
  • The preaching was engaging, biblical, thoughtful and Wesleyan. The sermon touched my heart and my head. My heart was warmed and my mind was stretched.
  • The mission outreach of the church was highlighted. Without a building of its own, the church had already organized itself to affect and transform its community.
  • The church was a hospitable place where people could be accepted the way they were, yet challenged to change and grow spiritually.
This experience is being repeated over and over again in new United Methodist churches across America. It is exactly what the Council of Bishops intended when we began to focus on new church development.

“Creating new places for new people” became one of the Four Areas of Focus affirmed by the 2008 General Conference. Reaching out to the more than 195 million unchurched people in the U.S. must be a priority again for us. Many of us believe it is the No. 1 priority.

Path 1 is a collaboration of church planters, directors of congregational development, bishops and general agency staff that seeks to provide leadership and to develop creative partnerships across the church to develop a national plan for training and supporting new church planters.

Its goal: to recruit, train and provide resources for 1,000 new church planters to start 650 churches in partnership with U.S. annual conferences, targeting 50 percent of those churches to be racially and ethnically diverse congregations.

To achieve these goals, we must establish a culture of starting new churches to replace our current culture of maintenance and decline.

We must also invest in leadership. The most important factor in successful church planting is a leader who can mobilize people into a vital, new faith community; a person with a deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ and a passion for evangelism and able to develop a plan for the future of the new congregation.

If we depend on ordained elders alone, we will not be able to plant the number of new churches envisioned. Lay pastors and other lay leaders can also grow new churches.

To reclaim our Methodist heritage and re-evangelize the U.S., we must make a system wide commitment to planting new churches. This is our journey and God’s vision for our future.

If we follow God’s vision and adopt a new missionary spirit, the resources we need will follow.

Bishop Davis leads the Louisville Area and chairs the Path 1 Vision Pathway Team of the Council of Bishops.

--excerpt from article in UMReporter

God is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Producer
United Methodist Communications

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