More Than 600 New Churches Planted this Quadrennium

May 10, 2012

... and Counting!

April 17, 2012 | NASHVILLE, TN (GBOD)
The United Methodist Church has planted more than 600 new churches so far during the current quadrennium, and is on pace to surpass the goal of 650 new church starts set during the 2008 General Conference.
Coordinated efforts by the Church's Annual Conferences and the General Board of Discipleship's Path 1 New Church Starts Division have resulted in an average of 11.8 new churches being established each month during the time period, said Gary A. Shockley, Path 1's executive officer.
"Our work is collaborative partnership, primarily with Annual Conferences, helping them to develop more effective systems for new church start work," Shockley said. "I think the biggest thing that we have done is we've shifted the culture and the cultural conversation in United Methodism around the importance of new church development – that it is the most significant way we're going to reach new people, younger people, and more diverse people in the United States."
In addition to the 650 new church starts goal, the 2008 General Conference also set a goal for the quadrennium of 1,000 potential planters assessed and equipped to support the Church's focus area to create new places for new people.
That target, too, has been surpassed. So far, 3,000 prospective planters have been assessed through Path 1's online assessment tools in English and Spanish and assessment processes in jurisdictions and Annual Conferences. Nine hundred potential planters have been equipped through local, national, and regional training events, including the New Church Leadership Institute, School of Congregational Development, and Lay Missionary Planting Network.
To accurately determine the number of new church starts, Path 1 reviewed information from several sources, including the General Council on Finance and Administration, congregational developers' surveys from 2007-2009, information about new churches previously submitted for Path 1's new church map, and a query of Annual Conferences.
As of April 17, responses from 98 percent of Annual Conferences to Path 1's 2012 inquiry indicate 605 new church starts since January 2008, Shockley said.
Based on the most current GCFA and developer-confirmed data available, the close rate for new churches since 2008 has been 8 percent, or 48 of 605 churches. For the years 2004-2007, that rate was 26 percent, or 72 of 278 churches. The current rate of 11.8 new churches per month is almost three times the monthly rate of 4.23 new church starts from 2004-2007, he said.
Path 1 considers the following criteria when identifying new church starts: Must be theologically Wesleyan, worship frequently and be sacramental, have an effective system for developing disciples, and teach and practice biblical stewardship. In addition, they must be missional and work toward community transformation, receive new members, intend to plant other new churches in their first decade, and remain connected and accountable to The United Methodist Church.
"Path 1 is bigger than just our national staff," Shockley said. "Path 1 is a movement that encompasses congregational developers, district superintendents, bishops, and national plans. What our staff does is resource, support, coach, and consult with all of those various entities."
Before joining Path 1 in February of 2009, Shockley, an ordained elder, planted two churches himself – in Pennsylvania in 1999 and Florida in 2005. Like others who were establishing new United Methodist congregations at the time, he had few resources and little support.
"There was no Path 1 or anything like it," Shockley said. "I had to find resources through my own initiative and piece together my own training. I didn't have a coach. I didn't even know where to look for a coach. I didn't know of any seminars, boot camps, or training events to attend."
As a new church planter, Shockley said he had no one to talk to. "I was very much alone. That was probably the most painful thing in that whole journey," he said.
"I don't think it's by accident that sitting in this role (as Path 1 executive officer) I've been focusing on things that I missed in my first church plant," he said.
Path 1 now trains Annual Conference leaders to interview potential planters and assess their behavioral competencies and characteristics for planting fruitful churches. Together, Path 1 staff and Conference leaders have developed Readiness 360*, an online assessment tool to determine the readiness of congregations desiring to plant a new church.
New church planters can benefit from numerous local, national, and regional training events. Path 1 started a process for training and recommending people to be coaches for church planters, and now every new church planter has the opportunity to be coached for help and support.
"I've been able to help us build what I think I really could have used, personally, in my own church planting experience," Shockley said, adding that Path 1 is continually working to provide church planters what they need and to help Annual Conferences support them.
An increasing number of new church plants are being led by lay members.
A lay planter training model, developed by Rev. Martin Lee of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, was adapted by Path 1 to pilot with the Lay Missionary Planting Network, which helps Annual Conferences across the country organize networks of lay people who are responding to the call to be church planters.
"We've created a 10-session training course in English and Spanish," Shockley said. "It's a crash course in Methodism, theology, and church planting basics. We support the networks and do some of the training, but people at the grassroots level do most of the training and direct the programs.
Some individuals who complete the training are being assigned to church planting ministries, while others find their calling as part of church planting teams and still others are helping to equip additional laity for planting.
"We're not going to have enough elders to do this work," Shockley said. "And it's very 'Methodist' of us, anyway, to turn to lay folks to say, 'You've been called to this. How can we as elders equip you and mentor you and supervise you and support you in this work?' "
*A Readiness 360 edition of Catch Fire in 50 Days, a resource written by California-Nevada Annual Conference leaders as a preparation for the 2011 Annual Conference Session, has been published and is being utilized by Path 1.