Vital Congregations: A Two-winged Strategy

by New Church Starts

by Rev. Gary Shockley, Executive Director of Path 1

As I reflect on 2011 (and prepare for a very busy 2012), it seems to me that very few things have created the kind of far-reaching buzz the “Call to Action” seems to be generating throughout our church these days. I can hardly make it through the day without someone wanting my perspective on things. 

As one might expect, I am careful in my responses. What most inquiring minds want to know from me is this: “What’s more important, planting new churches or revitalizing existing ones?”

The question itself is somewhat akin to the young boy who, looking up in the sky as a plane streaks by, asks his mother, “What’s the most important wing on an airplane?” For us adults, the answer should be obvious. If it isn’t, please call me! 

If we’re going to do a better job of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world we need to start new churches AND revitalize existing churches.  Both wings are crucial for us to soar. 

Our 2008 session of General Conference established the Four Areas of Focus, one of which was New Places for New People and Renewing Existing Congregations (both wings). Path 1 already existed as a network of partners across the church and became an “official” national strategy to train and equip church planters to start new congregations. The goal of assessing and equipping 1000 new church planters to start 650 churches in the United States (targeting 50% of those churches to be racial/ethnic congregations) by the end of 2012 is well within our reach. That’s great news! The strategy that was blessed and funded by the general church is working. And we’re just getting lift! 

We at Path 1 know that planting new churches shouldn’t be the only focus of the general church. Ask any Path 1 staff person and they will tell you a two-pronged (make that two-winged) approach is absolutely essential if we’re going to make a substantive missional and evangelistic impact on our current culture. People much smarter than I am (like Adam Hamilton and Lovett Weems) have run the numbers. We cannot revitalize enough of our existing churches to stem our decline and we cannot plant new churches quickly enough to do it either. It really is a both/and proposition. 

Everything I am seeing and hearing these days, leading up to our 2012 General Conference, seems to point to a movement that seeks to create more vital United Methodist Churches. I can get behind something like that – as long as it has two-wings. 

A concern I have is that the proposed legislation or documents I’ve seen leading up to General Conference don’t mention “new church starts” specifically. I’ve not seen it on anyone’s organizational charts. When I’ve asked about this I’ve been told, “it’s implied.” Do we really want to relegate something this important to an implication?  I wouldn’t want to fly on a plane where one of the wings was “implied.” Would you? 

I’m fine with any changes coming out of General Conference that will make our church stronger. I think most of us are okay with that. I pray that our deliberations and decisions will strengthen and support a two-winged strategy. And I look forward to this great church God has entrusted to us taking flight in even more wondrous ways!

What do you think the church needs to do to lift vital congregations (both old and new) up in the air?

To learn more about the Call to Action and read its recommendations to General Conference click here.