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Creating New Places for New People

Prepared by Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson

For The United Methodist Church, a Northwest Adventure in new church development provides a unique setting, which demands leading-edge strategies that challenge us to intersect culture and elevate the Gospel above the noise of society. The opportunity for new growth and life is greater than in any other geographical area of the United States.

60% of people who live in the Greater Northwest Area are “religiously unaffiliated” — 30% are “unchurched” and another 30% are “disconnected.”

60% of people who live in the Greater Northwest Area are “religiously unaffiliated” — 30% are “unchurched” and another 30% are “disconnected.”

In 2015, according to Professor James Wellman of the University of Washington, more than 60 percent (of what we know as the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area) are religiously unaffiliated. Another 11 percent are Catholic, 10 percent are some form of evangelical, while the rest are a conglomeration of mainliners, Jews, Mormons, and Muslims. That leaves 60 percent who are religiously unaffiliated — 30 percent are “Nones” (the spiritual but not religious crowd) and the other 30 percent (“Dones”) attest to being Catholic or Protestant, even though no church reports or claims them.

Along with the Northeast, the Northwest area of the United States presents the greatest opportunities for growth in the movement we know as Christianity. We tend to see such opportunities as impossible challenges, talking more about what we don’t have and what is impossible instead of what is possible. Professor Wellman argues that because of the opportunities that exist, we should change the name from the “None Zone” to the “Abundance Zone.”

Our ministry context presents all the elements of an awesome adventure, as together we work on creating new places for new people.

Christianity in the 21st century has been characterized a number of ways, depending to whom you listen. A more popular characterization is to describe Christianity as the Church’s pursuit of relevance and unity against the continued resistance of secularization. We are not sure how helpful this general description really is, considering ever-shifting contexts, but it does offer a glimpse of the challenges Christianity faces today, especially in United States, where the dominate lifestyle is American consumer culture.

“It is the Abundant Zone, made by and given for the glory of God …”

James Wellman

Even so, in the history of Christianity, no method for reaching unchurched and disconnected people and making new disciples of Jesus Christ has been more effective than starting new churches and launching other kinds of innovative ministries. It is true that new people are far more likely to engage new things, which is another way to acknowledge that culture is always emerging. Our Methodist movement in America was birthed through exponential multiplication, but then over the years, as our churches grew more stable, we lost this focus. Today, if we expect our faith to breathe into emerging generations, we must regain that focus on starting new churches that reach new people in new ways.

When we talk about organizing a new United Methodist church, we are talking about a specific kind of new project, which has the following characteristics, according to Path1 New Church Starts at Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

    1. They are theologically Wesleyan
    2. They worship frequently and celebrate the sacraments
    3. They have effective systems for developing disciples
    4. They teach and practice biblical stewardship
    5. They are missional and work toward community transformation
    6. They receive new members
    7. They will embed multiplying DNA in all ministries and will plant other new churches in 3 to 5 years
    8. They will remain connected and accountable to The United Methodist Church

These pages are intended to help you unpack what the above list looks like, in our unique context, as you discover the unfolding and evolving process of new church development in our Greater Area. They also serve as a guide to all the different resources, strategies, and people in the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area who are here to support you in this adventure of creating new places for new people.

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