by Paul Nixon, Path 1 New Church Strategist
The first time I ever attended a conference meeting in the United Methodist Church, I was appalled. It was the most tedious and boring human gathering that I had ever witnessed. When you were 24 and attending one of your first conferences you might have had a similar reaction.
Over the years, conference becomes an “acquired taste, sort of like church. A lot of folks look at our local churches, and at the age of 24 they are just as frustrated with our local gatherings as you and I once were concerned about this kind of gathering. To them, church feels boring, obscure, and tedious. And they don't stay around long enough to acquire the taste.
The churches that are having fun in the 21st century are learning to excel in another kind of conferencing. They are learning how to conference with their neighbors, with people younger than themselves, with people of diverse cultures, and with people who come with various stories. They are listening to their neighbors, sharing with them, and rethinking ways to do the Gospel in community so that we can work with many of the tastes our neighbors have already acquired. All of us should be making the effort to learn about our neighbors while we innovate our message to them. New churches have no choice in this matter, because unless they connect with the community they will never even make it to the starting line. So our new churches are the research and development division of American Christianity. Groups and denominations that plant lots of new churches grow while those that don't slowly fade away.
I travelled to the Philippines this spring to learn from local United Methodists about their amazing turn-around in the last quarter century. Bishop Emerito Nacpil taught me that the fundamental shift came when the churches reclaimed their missional identity, both in terms of their origin and in terms of their destiny. They were born out of mission and born for mission. So every church was expected to plant something and to work a mission site somewhere. They began to plant churches and to grow again as a movement.
Their shift occurred in the 1980s, and if their UM cousins in America had made the same shift at that time we would be looking at about 20 million United Methodists today instead of 7.5 million. In the Manila Cavite Annual Conference, all the pastors tithe to a conference fund for new church development, insisting their laity to step up to the plate to carry financial support of the existing congregations while raising a lot of cash to fund new church start leaders. The new churches continue to innovate and to teach the rest of the churches what works. So they grow and grow and grow.
In Chicago now, the Northern Illinois Conference is leading the beginnings of such a shift on the American Methodist front. Where just a few years ago, they rarely started a new church, they now are starting them all over the place along with some of the most creative projects I've seen anywhere! Diverse, inclusive, passionately evangelical, Jesus-centered, regenerative, and mission-centered, this community of new churches is one of the best ministry R/D labs on the planet. It is a game-changer! The whole church is watching...
Thank you, Northern Illinois Conference for your leadership. You are helping to invent 21st century American Methodism. How are the new churches and dedicated planters in your conference reshaping the face of the church?
Adopted from an article by Paul Nixon originally featured in the July 2011 edition of the Epicenter Conversation entitled "CHURCH AS AN ACQUIRED TASTE."