How Do We Develop and Start New Churches?
The work of starting new churches emerges from the strategic initiatives of the District Superintendent, who is designated as the “chief missional strategist,” and happens with the guidance and development work of the Director of Strategic Faith Community Development. New churches are launched based on ¶ 259 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (BOD), under which the Bishop in charge and the Cabinet, with due consideration of the conference entity assigned the responsibility for congregational development, and the District Superintendent of that district, determine the organization, deployment, and appointments related to new church development projects. The District Superintendent, or her/his designee(s), serves as the “agent in charge” of the project until such project is chartered as an official United Methodist Church.
Starting a new church is a significant endeavor that demands a strategic approach. In the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area, our planting process stresses two major aspects of starting a new church:
- Plans and strategies for development of a new church project
- Planters and leaders assessed for those plans
The development of plans and the raising up of planters sometimes occur together, as when an individual develops a call to launch a new church, but more often they originate independently and grow together. Our process looks at plans and planters separately until they are partnered together prior to the deploying phase. We will briefly look at the first four stages of development for a new church, and then we will look at the process of calling and assessing potential leaders for that new church. Finally, we will review the four steps that combine planter and plan into a growing and multiplying new church or community of faith.
DEVELOPING NEW CHURCH PLANS:
Plans: Stage 1. Visioning
God raises a vision for a new church in many different ways and among many different people. Regardless of how the initial vision comes from God, we want to explore and develop that vision. We know that God doesn’t always use “authorized” agents to deliver vision and mission to the church, so we intentionally value everyone’s ideas, hopes, and dreams when developing new churches. A conversation with the Director of Strategic Faith Community Development and with your District Superintendent is a good way to take the next step.
Plans: Stage 2. Discerning
In this stage, we explore and seek God’s guidance to confirm and further develop a vision for a new church. New church projects are to fit into the strategic initiatives of each district as a part of a larger vitality strategy. Based on the strategic plan, demographic research, and deep listening, a discernment process emerges.
Plans: Stage 3. Planning
In this stage, we work to refine the vision and begin the initial work of ministry plan development, based on a specific ministry context. This work formulates a possible launch team, key partners, and other sponsoring/supporting groups, and involves the work of the District Superintendent, the Director of Strategic Faith Community Development, the Board of Congregational Development (PNW), Congregational Development Team (Oregon-Idaho), or the New Church and Faith Community Development Committee (Alaska), and other individuals and boards/committees as appropriate (collectively, the “stakeholders”).
Plans: Stage 4. Partnering
At this stage, we intersect with the planters development process, which is described next. The planter is named, based on assessment, gifts, and contextual affinities. This involves also convening the stakeholders of the project.
DEVELOPING NEW CHURCH PLANTERS/LEADERS:
Planters: Stage 1. Calling
Before we can continue describing the planting process of a new church, we need to back up and consider how we identify and develop leaders for new churches and faith communities. Planting churches is a unique and difficult form of leadership for lay and clergy, and helping leaders understand their gifts and calling to planting ministries is critical to the success of starting any new church. This process begins with a leader experiencing a call from God to help launch a new church. This calling can come to lay or clergy leaders, to young or old, to men or women, to people of any culture in any community of any economic status. The strength of the Methodist church planting tradition has always been its willingness to recognize God’s giftedness and calling to all people, not just to seminary-trained clergy of the dominant culture time.
Planters: Stage 2. Recruiting
Next, a potential planter will explore new church development through indirect and direct recruiting. This will allow the potential planter to learn as much as possible about this form of ministry. Not everyone who feels an initial call will decide to take leadership in a new church project. Sometimes, we will discover that God has a slightly different idea than what we initially perceived. The recruiting stage is designed to best equip and expose potential leaders with the information required to best interpret God’s call for themselves.
Planters: Stage 3. Assessment
In the assessment stage, we continue to work together to best assess and evaluate a potential planter’s fitness and affinity for helping launch a new church or new ministry. In the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area we have an assigned assessment team, which interviews potential planters, following initial screenings and an assessment tool. The assessment team provides recommendations to the Cabinet and appropriate boards/committees. People wishing to be assessed should contact their District Superintendent or the Director of Strategic Faith Community Development in order to enter the assessment process, which consists of eight phases (see the Planter Assessment Process in the Appendix).
Planters: Stage 4. Partnering
In this step we partner an approved/assessed planting leader with a new church development project plan. Sometimes leads will have a part of developing this plan from the very beginning, especially when an existing church is sponsoring a new church project. Even in this case, the leaders will need to be appropriately assessed and recommended before assignment or appointment, which happens in the deployment stage.
Planters: Stage 5. Deploying
After partnering the assigned or appointed planter/leader with a new church project, we begin adapting and executing the strategic launch plan. This is described as the deploying stage of birthing a new church. Actions in this stage have a profound impact on the long-term health of the developing church.
Planters: Stage 6. Launching
Although often thought of as the “beginning” of a new church, the public launch comes after a great deal of development work that has involved a number of individuals and boards/committees. Public launch often takes the form of the beginning weekly gatherings or worship services, but some launch plans in house church, organic church, or cell church models may not include larger group public worship and consequently look different.
Planters: Stage 7. Growing
New churches don’t stay new forever. They are supposed to grow spiritually and numerically. In this stage a new church project grows with support and accountability. This growth is reflected in self-sustainability, making disciples, and expanded engagement in the mission field.
Planters: Stage 8. Multiplying
Healthy organisms don’t keep growing larger indefinitely. Healthy organisms reproduce in order to adapt and evolve in rapidly changing environments. Our new churches are expected to follow this cycle of reproduction and multiplication, raising up new leaders/planters and new plans for expansion sites or other new church projects.