PATH 1: Find, Equip, Plant, and Multiply
by Christie R. House
What if we could rethink church in a far less capital-intensive way? What if we could create planting zones in the United States where a local and indigenous team could dream freely and collaborate? What if the bishop gave that team space to connect extraordinary people who are already in that place of mission? Extraordinary, apostolic people are in every community in the United States. We just have to connect them and connect with them.
The Rev. Paul Nixon a New Church Strategist, Path 1
New church starts are a priority for The United Methodist Church. Two general agencies are charged with resourcing the church for the task. So, in September 2012, staff members of the General Board of Global Ministries’ mission initiatives and national plans met in New York with staff members from the General Board of Discipleship’s Path 1 to focus on ways they might better resource one another’s ministries for the global church.
Both agencies have the task of coordinating ministries to assist United Methodists as they spread the gospel and plant new churches and faith communities. Global Ministries’ staff members work to create a church infrastructure in global contexts so that congregations can connect with one another and with the wider denomination for support and encouragement. This staff works with missionaries, laity, and indigenous pastors who accomplish the on-the-ground work of establishing new congregations.
Likewise, Path 1 strategists, who are charged with facilitating new church development in the United States, do not plant individual churches themselves, although “most of us have either been church planters or worked on a team of church planters,” said the Rev. Candace Lewis, Executive Director for Path 1. “We understand our main task is to equip and resource annual conferences to do the work of planting churches.” Right out of seminary, Lewis was appointed by her bishop to plant a new church in Florida as a “parachute drop.” As she recalls it, “I knew only two people in the whole community, and in the end, neither of them joined the church!” But she worked at her task for 12 years and shepherded a viable and vibrant African-American church in Jacksonville, Florida.
Path 1 gets its name from the Seven Vision Pathways devised by the United Methodist Council of Bishops in 2007. Starting new churches was listed as the first pathway—and, later in 2007, Path 1 was born. Its task was to train 1,000 leaders to plant 650 new churches in the 2009 to 2012 quadrennium. As of September 2012—with all the annual conferences in the United States reporting—the number of new church plants was 621. Path 1 is a unique collaboration of church planters, directors of congregational development, racial-ethnic plan staff, bishops, and general agency staff members.
Laity and Clergy Together
Although Path 1 has developed a national (US) strategy for church planting, there is no one-size-fits-all recipe that successfully results in new church starts. Local congregations—in coordination with their district superintendents and conference congregational developers—are best equipped to decide on a model that matches their context. The national strategy invests in building relationships, developing leadership, following best practices, and thereby creating healthy churches. Healthy existing churches provide an anchor for new church starts.
Path 1 has identified and worked with about a dozen different models of church planting and is aware of many more. It helps congregations and annual conferences in the processes of discernment, visioning, and making disciples. Path 1 also holds training events, maintains a coaching network, produces resources, and provides accompaniment for congregations that are venturing out to plant new faith communities.
Sam Rodriguez, Director of Hispanic/Latino and Multiethnic New Church Starts for Path 1, describes the Lay Missionary Planting Network (LMPN) as a process that trains laypeople to start faith communities. “Path 1 presents a10-session training program for key players or stakeholders of an annual conference,” he says. Conference and district staff members not only support the LMPN training but also attend some of the sessions so that they can identify those who stand out as potential church planters.
By the end of 2012, Path 1 had developed 11 Lay Missionary Planting Networks, representing 312 total students, 214 graduates, and 41 people assigned as lay church planters. “We recognize in Path 1 that not everyone is a planter,” Rodriguez points out.
“Particular skills are needed to plant a church, and not everyone has that calling. So, if we can find two to four planters out of 20 candidates, then we’ve done our job.”
Trained laypeople join teams that help direct the different ministries of a new church, such as worship, children’s ministry, or youth ministry.
Help Available in Coaching
Phil Maynard, the director of Path 1’s Coaching Network, says that Path 1 connects trained and qualified coaches with potential church planters who are looking for a coaching relationship. However, some churches may not acknowledge that they need that help. “Only about 10 percent of new church planters over the past four years have connected with a coach,” Maynard noted. “We’d like to see that statistic move closer to 100 percent. We are convinced that church planters are more successful when they partner with someone who can help them look at all the intricacies of developing a new congregation.” Path 1 provides foundational coach training, which is a two-day course of basic coaching skill sets and models, practical applications, and facilitation skills.
“We also teach basic consultation skills—or resourcing skills—to help churches look at the things that work and don’t work,” Maynard continues. “Coaches can step back and look at red flags and suggest additional ways to support the local church planting effort.”
Path 1 will place a coach on a recommended list only if he or she has met the standards in training and has worked with a mentor in an actual coaching situation. A recommended candidate must also pass written and case-study exams. “People who are hiring our coaches are getting the best ones available,” Maynard guarantees.
Changing a Whole Culture
In some ways, a cultural transformation is required to get some US United Methodists involved in church planting at all levels of the Methodist infrastructure. Since the 1960s, a culture of “maintaining what we have” has taken precedence over “becoming what God envisions,” says Paul Nixon, a Path 1 New Church Strategist. Path 1 works with conference cabinets and leadership teams to help them create or complete a new church planting system.
“Everything needs to work together,” says Nixon, “finding prospective church planters, networking, and having resources in place.” Unfortunately, church planting may not even be a part of an annual conference’s culture or one of the conference’s interests. “At the point of survival,” Nixon continues, “they realize: It is grow or die.”
But with conference leaders who are willing to work in a new culture, Nixon notes, amazing progress can be made. He uses the Baltimore-Washington Conference as an example. There, Path 1 has begun working with the Rev. William Chaney, the Baltimore Metro District Superintendent (DS), to assess the district’s 80 churches, including the skills of their clergy, laity, and potential community partners. “This is the most intense thing I’ve ever seen a DS do,” said Nixon, “and he started this after just two months on the job.” Path 1 will bring in three experienced church planters in January to help design the Baltimore Planting Zone.
“The district’s assessment will help to sort out which churches need to answer some hard questions and which need to focus on revitalization,” Nixon observes. “We hope the assessment will also identify 10 to 15 healthy churches that can help to plant another 10 to 12 new churches and campus ministries in the next three years.”
While this model is not a traditional way of thinking about church planting, Path 1 is eager to follow it to discover what results. “Baltimore is one of many cities where we can rethink and jump-start United Methodism,” Nixon adds. “Once we go through this process with the team, we want to document the results and understand how to use this model in significant ways in other places.” Nixon sees church planting zones working in many different contexts—not just in a diverse city but also in large territories where, either because of geography or demographics, it has been almost impossible to plant a new church based on the old model of what a church should be.
Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine.
Path 1 staff members meet with Mission Initiative representatives and staff members of the Global Ministries’ national plans in New York City. Photo: Christie R. House
In September 2012, Candace Lewis, the new executive director of General Board of Discipleship’s Path 1, shows a powerpoint presentation to Global Ministries’ staff on church planting trends in the UMC. Photo: Christie R. House
New Church Leadership Institutes
by Bob Crossman
About 15 years ago, when most United Methodist annual conferences in the United States started thinking about planting a new church, their first thought was location. Time and energy were spent on finding the “right” location. A conference would pick a village, a town, or part of a city and buy property there. Many of our conferences even went so far as to purchase properties costing up to a million dollars for new church sites.
Literally, almost as an afterthought, the annual conference would appoint a pastor—assuming that anyone could start a church in that perfect location. The new church pastor was appointed in the same way as every other pastor in the conference. That unworkable appointment process is no longer employed today. One thing we have discovered is that the critical factor for a new church start is the leadership, not the location.
So, eight years ago, we developed the New Church Leadership Institute. Bishops send pastors there who they think have the potential for starting new churches. In 2013 and 2014, Path 1 will host New Church Leadership Institutes to provide information on how to start new churches. These institutes will introduce several models of church planting and will also indicate the personal costs—in terms of work time and family time—to be a new church pastor. The institutes will provide both informational and discernment events.
We will bring in experienced church planters to tell their stories. Every inexperienced pastor who attends may come in with the goal of planting a new church. But at the end of the four days, after discovering what is really involved, about half of these pastors will change their minds.
This New Church Leadership Institute has been a new idea for our bishops. The old idea was to appoint the pastors first and then send them to training. Now, when people not suited to a new church start realize what is required, they can opt out before being appointed. That way, the conference saves time and money and the pastors may save their actual calling. For if the cabinet appoints pastors to ministries that they are simply not cut out for, those pastors are unlikely to stay in the ministry. They would have been set up to fail.
For those who do feel called to accept a new church appointment, being forewarned and trained before being appointed allows them to hit the ground running. They can set things up in a workable sequence while avoiding major mistakes in the first few weeks.
Path 1 has other events planned for people who are already appointed. One model is called Launchpad and the other, Basic Training. These events are for pastors who are in the field and on the ground. They are the “nuts and bolts” for new church planters. Launchpad is a year-long process of walking with a church planter as a mentor, whereas Basic Training is a three-day event for new church pastors to attend before they hit the ground.
The Rev. Bob Crossman is a New Church Strategist with Path 1. He has more than 35 years of experience as a pastor and serves as the director of the New Church Leadership Institute for the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church and as a Ministry Strategist with Horizons Stewardship.
Story time for neighborhood kids put on by Brooklyn Mosaic UMC in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Photo: Courtesy Path 1