By Paul Nixon – New Church Strategist for Northeastern Jurisdiction – On the Road in the Northeast USA for Path 1
Having just road tripped through Greater New Jersey, New York and New England Conferences, I see the following powerful learning for the larger United Methodist connection:
1. When new churches form from the legacy funds of old dying churches, it is critical that the old church officially close and that the planting team be given freedom to plant without the constant concern of placating the remnant members from the old church. This sucks energy from the project and raises the risk of project failure.
2. First generation immigrant populations continue to offer the most fertile evangelistic fields for United Methodist ministry in many areas. We have to stop looking at these as side projects. They are often the groups that produce the strongest new congregations.
3. Young adults in None-zone culture (where “None-of-the-above” is the most prevalent religious orientation) have radically different instincts about life and church – and they must be empowered to shape the churches that will reach their demographic. Side-note: these young adults will scare some of the more staid circles within the UMC.
4. Denominational affiliation with a large organization tends to be a real attraction for many ethnic groups and a real turn-off for anglo-majority groups.
5. We are living in a both/and era where worship-centered church plants continue to work very well in some contexts, while they do not work well at all in other contexts. Clearly, everything is not shifting to a Missional Church paradigm.
6. Buildings can be helpful, but they continue to preoccupy denominationally-based churches. Some new starts greatly reduce their potential when they choose to take on the maintenance and overhead of an old church building. Obviously, ministry has to happen somewhere – but rented and borrowed space is still the ideal for most new plants. Where buildings are involved, it is important that we are careful with costs, and often choose small, nimble spaces over larger, more expensive spaces.
7. Bi-vocational church leadership is the norm of the future, not the exception.
8. The first two years of many church plants may go very slowly, but are times of learning the territory and gathering the team of leaders that together will make tracks and bear significant fruit in years 3, 4, and 5. It is therefore important that we not spend down huge amounts of money in the first two years when we are still unclear whether a project will take root in a place.
9. Multi-cultural is here to stay. Churches where more than 20 percent of the crowd is other than the dominant ethnic/cultural group are becoming more common.
10. Listening to the culture and the community are essential – the issues and concerns of church people often feel irrelevant to the people we wish to reach. Don’t assume anything based on the latest chatter among church folks or people over age 50. In all situations – listen, pay attention to the community and what they are talking about, what they really care about.
What would you add to this list? What are some of the things you think The UMC could learn about new church planting?