by Erik Hall planter of Barnegat Anew inBarnegat, New Jersey
I network with non-denominational church planters all the time, and they often betray a distrust for denominational systems. Some of them believe that the local church in a denominational system is unduly restricted by institutional rules and norms when it comes to local and contextual ministry and mission. Some others believe that the local church in a denominational system is not responsive enough to emerging needs, opportunities, and "out-of-the-box" solutions due to complex, bureaucratic, and slow-moving "chains of command". Still others criticize what they determine to be burdensome financial obligations denominational systems require of their local churches.
Of course, there is some truth to this, but the Barnegat Anew church-planting movement lived our first 3 years in great appreciation of the connectional nature of the United Methodist Church. First of all, before we were self-sufficient, we had been fully-funded both for pastoral compensation as well as training, worship, outreach, and program resources from Day One. Through the Office of Congregational Development and the Congregational Development Team of the Greater NJ Annual Conference, Barnegat Anew has wanted for nothing when it comes to resourcing for church-planting. Among our people there is a real sense of gratitude that by being part of a connectional church we had the best chance at becoming a good and healthy new church start.
Secondly, we have enjoyed relationships and opportunities springing directly from the connectional nature of the UMC. When we wanted to embark on our first regional mission trip we already had the connections and relationships we needed within the Red Bird Missionary Conference of Kentucky, and we already had the administrative, planning, and training resources available at United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM). When we wanted to expose our congregation to creative and impactful urban ministry in one of the poorest cities in the nation (Camden NJ) we already had the connections and relationships we needed with the Camden Neighborhood Center (a United Methodist organization) to serve (in the community kitchen, food bank, and children’s program) while also learning about the needs of the urban poor and the fundamentals of community gardening and blighted property reclamation.
Finally, our people really have a sense of pride with regards to our United Methodist roots and history. John Wesley and the Methodist movement are lifted up as both models and marvels of church-planting and evangelism genius in much church-planting literature of yesterday and today. We stand in a powerful tradition of reaching the lost with the Good News of the grace of Jesus Christ, empowering the laity to lead the mission and ministry of the church, and serving the world through works of mercy and justice in our communities.
When I reflect on the various pro’s and con’s on being connectional as opposed to independent or non-denominational, I can’t help but think, all in all, and as far as church-planting goes, we’ve got a pretty good deal here in the United Methodist Church.
We are many members, but one Body. How has being part of The United Methodist Church helped your ministry in taking its first steps and expanding its reach to new places and new people?