Review: Wednesday Webinar, Church planting presents challenges and opportunities

December 03, 2020

Church plant: “the work of starting new things in a local church [that] requires creativity and vision for ministry at a whole new level” (from the Committee on New and Vital Congregations webpage).

Church plant + pandemic: “Why?” asked Rev. Craig Brown, Executive Director of Congregational Development. “Why church planting?”

“I know how wonderful being part of a church is. I know how transformative it is for my life,” stated Rev. Chelsea Constant who has two appointments serving as Associate Pastor at Asbury UMC in Livermore, CA and planting a church in nearby Dublin, CA. “and I want anyone who could use that to be welcomed into that with open arms.

Constant was one of four guest panelists at the Wednesday Webinar on December 2, 2020 entitled, “Planting Churches in a Pandemic.” Each guest is currently planting a new church within the California-Nevada UMC conference.

“It was a calling that surprised me,” stated Pastor Vicky Flores who was appointed this July to  plant a Hispanic-Latino church in Fresno, California sharing facilities with Grace UMC. Flores recalls her basic motivation to share God’s love but initially struggled against the calling. “I just couldn’t say ‘no.’ ”

“There are so many people who are never gonna find themselves wandering into a church.” stated Rev. Sam Blewis, planting a new ministry called “Front Porch” at the Mountain View Campus of Los Altos UMC. “And so, we have to create spaces for prevenient grace—spaces where they can realize for the first time that God is for them and that this community is here to be with them…that’s why church planting is for me because there are people who literally have never heard the Good News.”

Each panelist has taken different approaches to their ministry. Brown referred to a book the group had read as part of their recent training entitled, “Church Planting in Post Christian Soil: Theology and Practice” by Christopher James which listed four church models.
Rev. Constant uses the “Church as Neighborhood Incarnation” model to meet the growing need for connection in Dublin, a growing community of young families. According to Constant, the model focuses on the church “being a presence of God’s love with the community that transforms and blesses the community in tangible ways.” For example, Constant, a new mom herself, has created an online support group for new mothers.

“Dublin is missing that incarnational presence that creates community that is welcoming and affirming of all people,” stated Constant emphasizing the importance of reaching out to families by “… being the presence of Christ with them, encouraging them to notice the presence of Christ in their lives—not just on Sunday mornings but … in a wholistic way to be felt in their lives throughout the week in their routines with their families or selves.”

In planting the church in Fresno, Flores follows two models: “Church as Household of the Spirit” and “Church as New Community.”
“I am thinking of a place where people can belong--where they can feel their church is an extension of their family,” stated Flores. She values people learning about one another to build community by sharing their culture through food, music and art. “I am trying to build this place where people can feel like themselves—welcomed and loved, and where everyone can have their own walk with God at their own pace without having to fit into a mold.”

Rev. Charles Tran is senior pastor of Peace UMC, a multi-site church including a Vietnamese congregation at Alum Rock in San Jose and a new Pan Asian church plant in Milpitas at the formerly closed Sunny Hills UMC. To create vision for the new church, Tran studied demographics on the internet. However, when he walked around the neighborhoods, he found needs that he was not aware of.
“I was surprised,” said Tran. “…one thing I learned-- don’t just believe surveys, even if 100%, you have to ‘step into the water’ and you find out something we didn’t know. So that’s why I recommend all church planters have to ‘feel the reality’ of their area.”

After going door-to-door and sending out fliers, Tran better understood the needs of his community. In response, he established the Peace Community Center at the church building to host a food distribution site and an after-school program for neighborhood children. He is building connections with families in practical ways of sharing God’s love.

“What we care about is creating sustained connections,” stated Blewis. “We care about helping people stretch toward a wider compassion for their community and helping people have courage to take meaningful risks—and we think when people do these things it creates communities where all people flourish … we are the Neighborhood Incarnation model.”

“We are paying attention to where God is moving so we can join along,” said Blewis explaining how the values of her ministry, such as volunteering at a local middle school, revolve around the “sacred act of neighboring.”

“I knew intellectually before the pandemic--but it has really come home for me that my ‘front door’ is not signage or anything like that,” stated Blewis whose ministry started out as a dinner church and has largely morphed into a virtual connection group. “My ‘front door’ is my website, my Facebook page, and the ways I interact online.”

“I have to make an online experience appealing enough so that somebody thinks, ‘oh, this is going to better that sitting at home watching Netflix,’ ” stated Blewis. “…that takes putting time and energy into that online presence. I don’t hold an event without posting it on “Meet Up,” “Next Door” or boosting it on “Facebook.” ”

For more details on this webinar, visit cnumc.org.

The Conference Committee on New and Vital Congregations (CNVC) completed a strategic planning process in 2018 and established measurable goals for 2024 in three focus areas: Preparing People, Cultivating Places, and Aligning Resources. As part of that goal, our annual conference is currently launching five new churches in three different districts. The CNVC plans to train 75 pastors and 250 lay persons by 2024 to engage in this effort planting and starting new ministries across the conference.

Should you have questions, please contact Rev. Craig S. Brown, Executive Director of Congregational Development at craigb@calnevumc.org or at 510-969-0688. You can also visit their website at http://www.cnumc.org/cd.