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Path 1 - Definition of Terms

By Bener Agtarap

Stock bible study with coffee

There is no single strategy when it comes to planting new churches or faith communities. We know this to be the case with our United Methodist Church denominational efforts of creating new places for new people, both in the United States and globally, in a fast-changing mission field. Our United Methodist church planting movement supports the use of a variety of strategies to seize the opportunity for making more, new, younger, and more diverse disciples of Jesus Christ through starting new churches or faith communities.

Here is a glossary of UMC church planting strategies one can use as a reference to learn more about the different ways of making disciples through starting new churches or faith communities. If there is a strategy you would like to learn more about, please contact Bener Agtarap at [email protected].

Appendix: Strategies for Planting New Churches and Faith Communities in the United States

Definitions of Terms

New Church: Still meets the characteristics of a new church start established a while back; has the potential to charter or otherwise live in the traditional connectional system; has potential for self-sustainability in growth and finances. Multisite campuses should still fall within this category, even though they may never charter if they fit the definition of a self-sustaining church. This category accounts for most of the new places we have planted over the last eight years.

New faith community: Refers to smaller, less traditional communities that are engaged in worship and discipleship practices that may or may not have multiple smaller groups within them. These usually average around fifty to one hundred people, at most. These communities are unlikely to charter or continue to grow beyond a certain point. The majority of our nontraditional churches, which include coffeehouses, house churches, intentional communities, and so on, may fall within this category.

Strategies for New Places for New People, 2016-2020

New Churches

  • Parachute Drop
  • Partnered Start/Mother-Daughter
  • Multisite
  • Restart
  • Vital Merger
  • Elijah/Elisha
  • Fresh Expressions
  • Lay Led
  • Part-Time Planter
  • Surprise Birth

New Faith Communities

  • Church-within-a-Church
  • Spiritual Enterprise (coffeehouse, diner church, etc.)
  • House Church Network
  • Intentional and Neo-Monastic Community
  • Online Community
  • Fresh Expressions
  • Lay Led
  • Part-Time Planter
  • Missional Churches
  • Lean Start Up

Planting Strategy Definitions

Partnered Start/Mother-Daughter: An existing congregation (or perhaps several churches) serves as an anchoring, sponsoring, or parenting force in launching a new church. Unlike a multisite, the daughter church is intended to develop into a full-fledged chartered church of its own, independent of the mother congregation.

Parachute Drop/Classical Missionary: The parachute drop of classical missionary strategy is when a planter is sent into a territory to start a new faith community in which the planter is not from that territory and there are no active partnerships with other churches or Christian institutions in the area. This is church planting from scratch.

Multisite: This is among the most popular planting strategies today, and it has a high rate of success if the mother campus is healthy enough to pursue it. An existing church starts a new faith community offsite, which acts as a campus ministry of the original church. Unlike the mother-daughter model, the new community remains under a common umbrella with the original church that may be maintained through various means of oversight or shared accountability. The church (on multiple sites) will function as one church. It is critical that BOTH senior pastor and planting pastor be trained and ready for this. Many UMC multisites work poorly due to a lack of attentiveness to best practices. (See Path 1’s Churches Planting Churches program.)

Restart: Either a pre-existing church or an attempted plant failed, but the conference or partners still believe a new faith community can flourish in the area, so they decide to try again— usually with new leadership. Existing property or assets from the old community are used by the restart, but old buildings may be liquidated.

Vital Merger: Unlike other types of mergers where one church folds into another existing congregation, vital mergers occur when two or more existing churches agree to form a completely new faith community. The idea is to start fresh with both congregations selling their property and pooling money and resources together to form a completely new community, with a new name under the leadership of a trained planter, rather than under the leadership of one of the churches’ former pastors. This is not a merger for survival, but a merger for the sake of reaching new people, which is different from a normal merger. More than one location may be retained in the merger.

Elijah-Elisha: This strategy requires a proactive discernment process with the district superintendent or conference staff. Congregations may either discover a new vision and recommit to fruit-bearing ministry or respond to God’s call to become an “Elijah” new church start. (2 Kings 2:1-14 tells how Elijah passed on the legacy of his ministry to Elisha.) Elijah churches intentionally choose either to (a) join another church and give their physical assets to the conference to reach a new group of people or (b) open their doors to a planter and launch team that takes over complete management of the facility to start a new congregation. Sometimes, the facilities are liquidated with funds reinvested in new space and ministry startup costs.

Fresh Expressions: Designed by planters in Britain specifically to reach the unchurched, a fresh expression is a catch-all for contemporary communities of varying size and shape that focus on fellowship, mission, and/or group discipleship as their first priority. These “fresh expressions” experiment with what a church can look like in the twenty-first century. Often, there are no worship services or sacraments. Sometimes, a fresh expression project may develop into a church start. A fresh expression may overlap with other forms of nontraditional church planting.

Lay Led: The name says it all. Lay led plants are any faith communities of any size where a layperson is assigned as the planter and primary shepherd to the community. Some lay planters may be people in the process toward ordination, while others may be certified lay ministers with no intention of becoming elders.

Part-Time: Sometimes a conference may opt to appoint a planter to serve a new ministry on a part-time basis while holding another appointment or job outside of ministry. This can be good strategy if funding to support a new plant is tight or if there is a shortage of available full-time pastors in the area. However, make sure the time commitments for the part-time planter match your conference’s expectations.

Surprise Birth: A church is started with no initiative from the conference or existing church partners. The people may or may not have United Methodist Church history. It is important that such churches that wish to be part of The United Methodist Church commit themselves to the same theology, polity, and measures of accountability.

Church-within-a-Church: Sometimes a new church or faith community may start meeting in a property belonging to an existing church, but still function as a separate community with its own members, ministries, and leadership. In other cases, the new faith community functions with members in the existing church, but simply forms around a new worship community designed for a distinctive population. These arrangements might be temporary or permanent. Existing congregations choosing to share property may find that new churches may better serve their immediate neighbors.

Spiritual Enterprise: Maybe you’ve seen faith communities that operate out of a coffee shop or a diner or other business outlets. These aren’t simply churches meeting in places of business, but rather churches running the business. This can be a great model for reaching the unchurched and millennials. And because sales help offset the costs of ministry, many spiritual enterprises can reach sustainability and devote more time and resources to outreach. The business model needs to be carefully developed and vetted.

House Churches: Christianity began with Jesus and his disciples meeting in people’s homes, and this practice continued for some time before the first separate church buildings appeared. Many early Methodist groups under Wesley also met in private homes weekly. Many new churches may begin meeting in homes and coffee shops as a part of a First 12 group or planting team. These are perfect venues for small-group discipleship. Sometimes a house church community may decide not to extend into a traditional congregation or may instead opt to form a house church network with other groups in the area that may meet together at a large venue only infrequently. In other cases, the house churches form a network and function together as a campus of sorts with relationship to and oversight from the elder who is pastor of an anchor church.

Intentional/Neo-monastic Community: A group of people may choose to form their living situation around Christian fellowship by creating an intentional community. Sometimes members might share a residence or simply commit to living near one another and engaging in daily rituals of fellowship and piety together. The community is bound by a shared covenant that requires regular acts of piety, worship, mercy, and justice. Naturally, these groups will remain small, but the deep level of commitment from the members to outreach and social justice can have a great impact on the surrounding area.

Online Community: In the digital age, we are now able to connect and build relationships with people all over the world without having to meet in person. Churches too are finding ways to reach people with common interests and ideals who are miles apart. Not only are churches streaming their weekly services to reach a larger audience, but some are also building interactive faith communities whose entire parish exists online. This works best with people who are comfortable in online engagement. It is also a way to offer church to people who are living remotely (in a non-Christian country, for example, or in rural Nevada).

Missional Church: Missional churches see themselves primarily as servant disciples engaged in outward evangelism and service to a community. Instead of focusing primarily on internal programs, missional churches are always looking outward to the community they serve and will seek to be the hands and feet of Christ to that community. Because of their focus on mission as well as their presence in less affluent communities, missional churches may not develop into traditional large-member congregations and may continue to rely on financial support from their conference or planting partners to continue their services.

Lean Start Up: A Lean Start-Up Plant might use almost any planting strategy, but with the understanding that conference funding will be minimal (micro-grant) or nonexistent. A Lean Start-Up may use volunteer leaders in lieu of paid staff. It may be led by laity rather than clergy, at least until it grows to a certain point. It may borrow meeting space rather than pay for it. It may remain small by design; then multiply. Or it may grow into a large and complex congregation. What distinguishes this start up is that early funding will be limited.

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