A recent article from the United Methodist news service, United Methodist plan emphasizes new church starts, got my attention as I am interested in new church starts and the possibility of being a pastor at a new congregation. I find hope in the denomination putting what seems to be a concerted and continued effort in the area of new church starts in the United States.
The article mentions a strategy team that is working in the area of new congregational development. They have targeted the following areas:
- Create a national assessment tool for use with church planters;
- Support new church pastors through regional training, internships, mentoring and Web material;
- Build a system for orienting and training bishops and district superintendents to support new congregational starts;
- Create a database and decision-making calculators that allow conference leaders to make effective decisions for church plantings and closures; and
- Develop modular curriculum for starting congregations that is biblically based and helps congregations prepare for their role in new church starts.
I think that these are good places to start the conversation about new congregational development on a denominational level. I think that the first two points are excellent and greatly needed within the United Methodist Church. Point three is good, but I wonder how this will be implemented and what the receptivity will be – probably depends on the particular person involved.
I understand the necessity and practicality of new congregations being self-sustaining and I think that objective tools will help both the conference and the pastor of a new congregation recognize if a new congregation does not become and will not become viable. However, I think that an important part of this tool will be the recognition that it is not a “failure” that perhaps not all new congregations will become financially self supporting and that is okay. Also, I believe that there may be a need to have communities of faith that may never become financially self supporting and to be okay with that as well. This allows for greater experimentation in types of new congregations and broadens the body of Christ.
On the final point, I recognize the need for teaching about new congregations, but I am becoming less convinced that curriculum produced at the denominational level provides a great deal of meaning when it comes to local congregations. There is good content that is produced, but I believe that it may not be as relevant to any given congregation.