New Church Starts (Path 1) Begins Work With Native American Communities

May 27, 2010

By Tim Ghianni

New Church Starts (Path 1), is fully engaged in a Lay Missionary Planting Network outreach into the nation’s Native American population. Path 1 is a division of the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), an agency of The United Methodist Church.
 
Bener Agtarap, a New Church Strategist for Path 1, says two recent events – one in Phoenix, Arizona, and another in Topeka, Kansas – demonstrate that this mission to initiate lay plants in the Native American community is well under way.
 
The Phoenix meeting brought together the Native American Comprehensive Plan Task Force and church officials – whose signatures put into effect the covenant with Path 1 for the increased outreach into what Agtarap refers to as "underserved" portions of that community.
 
Approximately 20 people, including Agtarap, the Rev. David Wilson, chair of the NACP Task Force, and the Rev. Anita Phillips, the national executive director for NACP, attended the Phoenix gathering.
 
Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. of the Oklahoma Conference represented the Council of Bishops, and added his signature.
 
Phillips expresses enthusiasm for the lay plants. "This particular form of ministry is so essential to Native American communities, tribes, nations, families, ministries all across the United States," she says.
 
"There is not enough clergy – and particularly not enough Native American clergy – to meet the needs that we find, even in our existing Native churches and ministries.
 
"And so when we were talking about planting, beginning new fellowships, going in new places, we certainly cannot meet that need if we require that these all be clergy – ordained persons: It is just not possible," Phillips says.
 
Agtarap followed up the action in Phoenix by going to Topeka to meet with representatives of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference as well as members of the Kansas East Annual Conference, to begin working toward enabling a new faith community for the Native American population in Kansas City and expanding the LMPN throughout Kansas and Oklahoma.
 
It was a successful trial outing for the Native American Comprehensive Plan's strategy to tap into lay leadership in that community, according to Agtarap.
 
In Topeka, Agtarap also met with the only Native American pastor in the Kansas City region.
 
"The pastor is serving three Native American congregations in that area," says Agtarap, noting that a big chunk of the agenda was devoted to figuring out how that pastor can work for New Church Starts in Kansas City "while at the same time still serving as pastor of those three fellowship places."
 
"The initial plan is to recruit and motivate some of the lay people from these three congregations to provide support of the new church project," he says.
 
The next step will be to formulate plans for Lay Missionary Planting Network training in that region.
 
An example of this strategy for New Church Starts is the LMPN training for the Latino community, underway at Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C.
 
Last autumn, that 10-session boot camp for Latino laity in the Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., area was initiated as a program to reach the nation's fastest-growing ethnic community.
 
The ultimate goal of the training is to dispatch qualified laity into the Latino community to start new churches.
 
Similar training of Hispanic laity is set to begin in September in the Rio Grande Annual Conference.
 
Just as the Latino community needs direction from within, so does the Native American population, according to Agtarap.
 
"The main reason is because of the fact Native American United Methodist Churches and The United Methodist Church in general don't have enough numbers of clergy leadership to provide what the people need," so instead of relying strictly on clergy, the population's lay leadership is being targeted. "The LMPN is a way to reach that population, to reach into their own people to find leadership."
 
The plans are to extend the type of LMPN programming in the Oklahoma/Kansas Native American population into the entire Native American population.
 
"We are moving forward with this covenant and a part of the immediate next step is to identify five strategic locations or areas across the country that have growing, vital Native American communities," says Agtarap.
 
The hope is to find one location in each United Methodist jurisdiction in which to begin this LMPN outreach. Those locations haven't been formalized, but preliminary indications are that the NACP lay training will be initiated in Phoenix, Minnesota, Seattle, New York State, and the Oklahoma/Kansas area, where the Native American population is booming.
 
"Those are places where the Native American population is identified as one of the fastest-growing populations, and in those areas, as far as we know, they are underserved by existing congregations," says Agtarap.
 
It's all part of Path 1, which has as its goal to eventually reach the plant rate of at least one church a day.
 
But it's going to take programs like successful LMPN training to reach an initial goal of 650 new plants by 2012.
 
NACP executive director Phillips says the idea of plants through the LMPN program is the "best fit for starting new Native American congregations and revitalizing existing, dying congregations."
 
She adds that while working toward formalizing the five LMPN training sites, "we will be working with Bener and with Path 1 and with the annual conferences that are present within all the jurisdictions."
 
She expresses confidence that this approach "will bear fruit when we sit in and meet with other partners and share in this journey of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
 
Tim Ghianni is a Nashville, Tennessee-based freelance writer for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.