Our Progress So Far…

by New Church Starts

by Rev. Gary Shockley, Executive Director of Path 1

As United Methodists we are succeeding in our national strategy to start more churches in the United States. Since January 2008 we have assessed and equipped more than 1,000 potential lay and clergy planters and have started more than 440 new churches. This is an increase of nearly 60% over last quadrennium. Of the new churches we’ve started, nearly 50% are racial-ethnic congregations. You can read more updates on our goals here. Our long-range vision is to start one new church every day in the United States. This goal stretches us and will require every annual conference, intentionally and consistently, to create new places for new people.

Path 1 defines new churches as having these characteristics:

  • Are theologically Wesleyan

  • Worship frequently and celebrate the sacraments

  • Have effective systems for developing disciples

  • Teach and practice biblical stewardship

  • Are missional and work toward community transformation

  • Receive new members

  • Will embed multiplying DNA in all ministries and will plant other new churches in 3-5 years

  • Will remain connected and accountable to The United Methodist Church 

Path1 is tracking more than a dozen viable strategies for planting new churches. For decades the prevailing strategy used to plant was commonly called the Parachute Drop in which a planter is appointed to a specific area to start a new church without an established team or prior relationships in the area. This remains a viable strategy in very limited situations but is by far the riskiest venture in most cases. 

Partner Church Projects, also commonly called Mother/Daughter, continue to be an effective planting strategy in many places in the U.S. This strategy relies heavily upon a healthy established church (and sometimes churches) to provide resources, staffing, and congregants to start a new church for a demographic outside its own reach. The key to this strategy is determining, on the front end, the readiness of the partner for this kind of work. To assist in this process, Path 1 helped to develop an assessment tool called Readiness 360 (www.readiness360.info) to let churches gauge their readiness to multiply. 

Another more common and cost-effective strategy being utilized is the Multi-site Strategy, in which a healthy existing church reaches out to make disciples in a new community, primarily at a site other than the original campus. This strategy includes the launch of a second campus, off-site worship in another facility, etc. 

Vital Merger church plants are gaining in popularity, especially among older denominations like ours that have multiple churches striving to serve the same geographical area. A vital merger happens when two or more established churches, after careful and prayerful conversation, decide to close each of their campuses, sell their assets, and pool together all their resources to start a new church to better reach their mission field. The key here is that mission and outreach drive the strategy, NOT dwindling finances or the need to consolidate in order to support the costs of having an Elder.

Church-Within-a-Church is a strategy in which an established church starts (or hosts) a new church in order to reach a different language group or generation. The stewardship of sharing facilities and other resources enables multiple ministries to better engage the community. A word of caution here: it is crucial for a congregation, such as an Anglo church, for example, that desires to host a differing language group (such as Hispanic/Latino), intentionally to develop cultural sensitivity and cultural competency prior to entering into this particular strategy.

Strategies by which established and declining congregations “pass the mantle” of resources and facilities to a new plant, sometimes called Elijah/Elisha Projects are becoming more popular and effective in our country. This strategy often involves closing a congregation and then starting a new church in its place to strengthen mission and ministry in a particular community. 

One very new, yet very old, strategy in United Methodism involves lay persons (licensed local pastors, Certified Lay Ministers and other laity) who are assessed, equipped and assigned to plant new churches. Path1’s Lay Missionary Planting Network (LMPN), is a ten-session training program, in English and Spanish, designed to equip lay persons to start new communities of faith. Nearly a dozen annual conferences across the United States have partnered with Path1 in this exciting “ancient-future” venture. 

For more information on these and other fruitful church planting strategies visit Path 1

While we celebrate the success we are having in our efforts to plant more churches we need to remember we have only just begun. What was identified as a priority for our denomination three years ago must continue to be lifted up prayerfully and boldly, and resourced in coming quadrennia, if we can truly change the culture of our church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Church planting remains our best strategy for reaching new people, younger people and more diverse people in the United States and around the world! Where do you think we should go from here?