Wind in our Sails

by New Church Starts

by Jim Ozier, Director of New Church Development and Congregational Transformation for the North Texas Conference (and Path 1 Associate)

“When I was a young man I learned to sail. Two lessons have guided my life since then,” shared Dr. Frank Alegria, DS in the North Texas Conference.

“First of all, if your sails aren’t set right they flutter in the wind and if they are loose they fail to harness the momentum of the wind. You have to adjust them just a little and you can feel the difference. You learn to do this through experience." said Dr. Alegria.

“Second, you constantly have to ‘tack’ to the left and right to move forward. It is not a straight line, but zigs and zags, not randomly, but always focusing on moving forward, even when at any given moment it might not seem like you are.”

His metaphor really hit home last week when we had to close a new church project in Frank’s district. It was planted by an energetic and respected pastor in 2009 in what seemed like a good mission field just outside Dallas, as the daughter of strong mother church, but it just never took off. In three years, the project had three different coaches, all experienced with good track records, but it just never took off.

Six months ago I notified the planter that the low numbers and slow progress required us to engage in a serious “process of discernment” to make decisions about the future of the church. I met with the planter and subsequently with a series of stakeholder group meetings, including with the leadership of the mother church.

Last week, in consultation with the planter, at my recommendation, and with the concurrence of the DS, the Cabinet voted to suspend weekly worship and set in motion the steps to close the project. Sunday, December 4, the planter announced this action to the congregation.

Sunday, December 11 will be the last Sunday of worship and the DS will join the planter in thanking the pioneers who gave it their best shot. He will thank and praise the people who tried valiantly to plant the flag of Christ in this mission field and he will personally assure each of them that as the DS he will do his best to make sure their pastoral needs are met and to assist them in finding a suitable new church home. He will also make sure that the pastor they love will be taken care of and treated with the same dignity and respect as all other pastors when it comes to a new appointment.

In due time, we’ll conduct an autopsy to explore the multiple factors that caused us to close the project. While we are grieving, we can’t let this closing take the wind out of our sails! We’ve fluttered here, but we will learn from this experience and re-set our sails to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit as we continue to move forward in starting new churches, even if it isn’t a straight line to progress and success.

That’s what I’ve learned this past year. Closing a plant can be a very difficult and painful process for all those involved whether planters, congregants, or stakeholders, but the fellowships formed along the way will live on, and the work done is never in vain as we readjust our sails for the new wind God sends our way.

If you know of or were involved in a plant that didn’t make it or had to close, we invite you to share your story with us here and we encourage you to pray for all those who’ve had to see a church close recently in hopes that God will sow the seed of new vision for them.