How the West Gets Won

by New Church Starts

by Rev. Gary Shockley, Executive Director of Path 1

I was in Sacramento, California for the Cal-Nevada Annual Conference. This was the fourth annual conference I had been in last month.  I had criss-crossed the United States twice, touched eight states, been on eight flights, and traveled more than 10,000 miles. I had seen some amazing sights and met many incredible people. I'd spoken seven times and had more one-on-one conversations than I could count.

Here's two things I take away from all that month's activity: 

1. Everywhere I went I found myself with family. The United Methodist community is truly remarkable in this regard. We belong together. Our vision, values and distinctive theology make us one. Yes, we disagree on some very important issues. Yes, we get upset with each other when we don't see eye to eye. That's family! But the overwhelming sense I get from my faith family is that we are in it together. Only with open dialogue and a great deal of listening and prayerful discernment will we continue to grow to become the kind of faith-family God envisions for us. 

2. The Western Jurisdiction is very actively committed to creating new places for new people. As the Executive Director of Path 1 I know the amount of time and energy our staff is investing in helping the West to win more people, younger people, and more diverse people as disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In fact, the Path 1 staff is more engaged with this jurisdiction than any other. When I shared this with a conference leader at breakfast this morning she replied, "Well, we need the most help!" 

Last week I spent much time with the leadership of the Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain Annual Conferences. They are doing some innovative and creative work toward planting new churches in the west. On the afternoon of June 16th I stood on the platform with Bishop Warner Brown to sign a Covenant Partnership with the Cal-Nevada conference to "find even better ways to reach all people with the gospel of Jesus Christ by planting new congregations or starting new faith communities."

They know this is not an easy task. They know it will take sacrifice, passion and focus. They know it will take time. But there's a great deal at stake here, not just for the renewal of the United Methodist Church in the west, but for the millions of men, women, youth and children who are not part of a faith-family that we believe would be well-served being a part of ours. It is for them that we take this step together this afternoon.

Sure, there's a great deal we are not "getting right" in this denominational faith-family of ours. But God is at work! I see it every day and am encouraged. I wish I could pack some folks in my suitcase as I travel around the country to show them the Spirit at work among us. We can develop a kind of tunnel vision staring at the narrow interests of the work right in front of us. And we can easily lose sight of the bigger picture, God's bigger picture to be exact.

Opening our eyes to the Spirit of God at work in and through our larger faith-family can encourage us and spur us on to even greater things. It's the beginning of our renewal. It's the spiritual fuel we need to plant new places for new people. Ultimately, it's how the West gets won!

What are some of the positive stories of church growth in your annual or jurisdictional conference? Share them here.