A Stronger Connection for New Church Starts
By Christie R. House
New church starts are a priority for United Methodist general agencies, particularly for the two boards charged with directly resourcing the church for the task. Staff members of the General Board of Global Ministries’ Mission Initiatives and National Plans and staff members from the General Board of Discipleship’s Path One initiative met in New York September 17-18, 2012, to focus on how they could better resource one another’s ministries for the global church.
The Rev. Dr. John E. Nuessle, an associate general secretary in Global Ministries’ Mission Evangelism unit who oversees the work of the Mission Initiatives team, opened the meeting by reflecting on the theological grounding for planting new church communities. “Disciples are not individually made,” he said. Matthew 28:19 says that we are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
Nuessle interpreted this passage to mean we should create an infrastructure to connect Christians—a worldwide net in holy conferencing. “Most food crops, like corn, can’t be fertilized one at a time,” he said. “They have to interact, one with the other.” Planting the church is not planting one congregation in isolation, but creating organizations that enable groups of people to plant churches. It takes all the churches together, nationally and internationally, to form the whole body of Christ.
While Path One’s mandate is to resource United Methodists in the US to start new churches, Global Ministries’ Mission Initiatives has, over the past couple of decades, started new national church structures in 17 countries where United Methodists had not been present before.
The Rev. Paul Nixon, a Path One New Church System Strategist for the eastern part of the US, said that the two general agencies should find collaborative ways to plant corn together.
Connections in Planting
Path One does not approach church planting with one prescribed strategy, but tracks many different methods to determine which might work best in a given context. Path One has developed a curriculum to help church and conference leaders approach a new church start. Separate training tracks have been developed for clergy and lay church planters. Phil Maynard, the Coaching Network Director for Path One, described how coaches have been trained to work with and walk alongside church planters. Currently, ten percent of new church starts across the US engage a trained coach, but Path One would like to see that percentage grow, as the coaching connection increases a new start-up’s chances of survival.
The Rev. Patrick Friday of Global Ministries' Advance office explained the 50-50 In Mission Together Partnership program that connects US congregations with new congregations developing in Mission Initiative countries. He introduced the idea of connecting new UM church starts in the US with new UM church starts in other countries.
Thomas Kemper, Global Ministries’ general secretary, continued this theme, suggesting that new churches in the US need to grow with mission embedded in their DNA from the start. By working through the In Mission Together program, new churches in the United States can begin to network with a new church in a distant land fairly quickly.
“Get them into the connection by actively involving them in mission beyond their walls,” Kemper said, “so they understand from the beginning what it means to be Methodist and part of the connectional church.”
Bob Crossman, a Path One New Church Strategist, said that he generally finds it difficult to get young churches to think beyond their own walls. Some have little patience or understanding for apportionments. But he could see how a relational connection to another young congregation in a different country could resonate with members in new church starts.
Kemper suggested that Path One and the national plans work more closely together as they shared much in common in planting churches among ethnic communities. The Rev. Candace Lewis, Path One’s new director, said she knew the two agencies had been working together in the area of Hispanic and Latino ministries. They hoped to begin to partner and share resources with Global Ministries’ other national plans, reaching more Native American, Asian, African, and Pacific Islander networks in the United States.
Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine.
Photo: Sept 17, 18, 2012, Path One meets with Mission Initiative Reps and National Plan directors of the UMC at Global Ministries offices in New York City. Participants: Front row: Dionisio Salazar (GBGM), Francisco Cana (National Plan Hispanic/Latino Ministries), Chebon Kernell (GBGM Native American office), Caroline Njuki (GBGM), Bob Crossman (Path One), Paul Kong (GBGM Asian Language and Korean Plans), Thomas Kemper (GBGM), Fred Allen (SBC 21 Plan), Nora Martinez (GBGM), Sam Rodriguez (Path One); Row two: Edgar Avitia (GBGM), Vladimir Shaporenko (GBGM), Scott Gilpin (GBOD), Paul Nixon (Path One), Phil Maynard (Path One), Jorge Lockwared (GBGM Global Praise), Candace Lewis (Path One), Emily Reese (Path One), and Gary Shockley (former director of Path One).
Credit: Christie House