Home Equipping Leaders Path 1 / Church Planting You Don’t Have to Do This Alone

You Don’t Have to Do This Alone

By Paul Nixon

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Church planting has changed radically in this century, as costs skyrocketed and Americans became less engaged in organized religion. The old model of a full-time planter, a plot of land, and three years of financial support rarely produces self-sustaining congregations. As a result, too many cabinets are wary of church planting. Though it is vitally important to help long-established churches adapt and thrive, no denominations today are thriving without a steady planting movement that creates fresh and nimble congregations that innovate and renew their ministries.

In recent years, we shifted from what have been called “parachute-drop” plants (where a stranger to a community is appointed to go and network until a church emerges). This is a wise shift, given such projects' high failure rate. For about a decade, the focus shifted to big churches adopting struggling churches and “relaunching” a fresh worship service in the space. However, post-pandemic, so many churches that would have been candidates to adopt second sites are themselves struggling with serious declines in people and finances. In recent years, the major movement of new places for new people has fallen under the umbrella of the Fresh Expressions movement, where new, unconventional faith communities emerge, often led by laity, meeting in varied locations and less structured than traditional congregations. In part because Fresh Expressions are so inexpensive, there has been a good effort to develop these, with positive results, especially in the southeast United States. The possibilities for Fresh Expressions are enormous nationwide, and we look forward to seeing this movement take root in all regions of the nation in this decade. Finally, since 2022, there has been a grassroots movement of United Methodists forming new churches in places where most of the congregations disaffiliated from The United Methodist Church.

The possibilities for Fresh Expressions are enormous nationwide, and we look forward to seeing this movement take root in all regions of the nation in this decade.

The Path 1 team is equipped to resource any of the above strategies for making new spaces for new people. We work with planters all over the connection and see what is working. We can provide up-to-date training that is different from what would have been offered in 2019. We can partner with an annual conference or a jurisdiction to plan for a systemic effort to increase effective planting to any demographic.

As we look to the years immediately ahead, we see several significant trends that every conference and cabinet needs to know about:

  1. More leadership will be offered by laity than clergy, vastly lowering the cost and expanding the range of our cultural competency.
  2. New churches will seldom buy land and build new facilities. They will share space or occupy abandoned church space. They will take the proceeds from the sale of closed churches to purchase smaller, more practical spaces, often in the same neighborhoods. They may co-exist with a startup of a preschool, coffee house or co-working center - using the space on weekends and allowing it to pay for itself the rest of the week.
  3. We no longer ask most planters to delay public worship until they can launch with 150 people on opening day. To do so would mean delaying the launch indefinitely in most cases. There will be rare exceptions, but we will more often start weekly worship with thirty-five to forty people to keep it simple and grow it slowly, emphasizing mission and outreach.
  4. A common DNA for United Methodist plants will be an evangelical spirit and progressive social values.
  5. Increasing numbers of our plants will be multiethnic from the start.
  6. In most cases, high-profile missional engagement in the neighborhood will precede (or accompany) the worship launch. For many people, the point of entry will be a friend’s invitation to help serve neighbors in a tangible way.

If you, your church, or your cabinet would like to speak with a member of the Path 1 staff, we stand ready to engage. Please reach out to Paul Nixon at [email protected].

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