The report, The State of United Methodist Church Planting in the United States
, was produced by New Church Starts (Path 1), a Discipleship Ministries unit that supports church planters in local congregations, districts and annual conferences who are creating new places for new people.
“United Methodism was once the fastest-growing and most innovative Christian tradition in the United States,” the report says. “We want to reclaim the habit of planting a church a day in the United States and return to our legacy as innovators and pathfinders for Christ.
“The scope of our work ranges from working with new faith communities that may become chartered churches, multisite campuses, church within churches and new fresh expressions of faith. We are equipping both laity and clergy to start new faith communities. Path 1 will continue to convene conversations with various constituencies to encourage collaboration and shared learning,” the report says
In the current quadrennium, Path 1 expects to see more impact from millennials, multiethnic communities and bivocational leaders and will “resource the spectrum of strategies and models, paying special attention to fan the flames where the Holy Spirit is already at work,” the report says.
“This report challenges me to think about how to support new people, younger people and more diverse people who have been touched by the love of God and have decided to participate in the gospel work of our United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Dr. Bener Agtarap, Executive Director of New Church Starts (Path 1). “These new people will be agents of God’s mission while spreading ‘scriptural holiness’ as they serve as instruments of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
The Rev. Junius B. Dotson, General Secretary (CEO) of Discipleship Ministries, said evangelism is contagious, and new churches motivate existing churches to expand their outreach.
“In order to reach a new generation of people, we need spiritual start-ups designed to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ relevant for our unique time,” Dotson said. “New churches are effective in reaching new people in part because they are not afraid to try new things and take risks.”
Bishop Mike Lowry of the Central Texas Annual Conference said Path 1 plays a critical role in helping to gather learnings about new church starts so they can be shared with the wider church.
“One of the worst things we can do as a church is send people out untrained to start new churches,” said Lowry, who served as presiding bishop for the Path 1 Advisory Team from 2009-2016. “Path 1 through its research and wide reach across the denomination pulls together various resources and training in a way that prepares both laypersons and clergy to live out our mission to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
The report presents data from an ecumenical study conducted by LifeWay Research in 2015 that shows United Methodist new church starts outpacing new church starts by other protestant denominations in three of five key benchmarks – average worship attendance, new decisions for Christ and reaching previously unchurched people. The study of 17 U.S. evangelical denominations and church planting network organizations focused on 843 church plants for each of the first five years of ministry.
“The report addresses the issue that one size does not fit all in terms of a church plant,” said Doug Ruffle, Associate Executive Director of New Church Starts (Path 1). It identifies three categories of church planting:
- Spiritual Neighborhood, where often unchurched persons get together in small groups, spiritual gatherings and other forms of community. Profession of faith in Christ is not necessary to belong, but United Methodist followers of Christ convene the gatherings and bear witness to faith in Christ.
- Faith Communities, which could range from intentional discipleship groups to multifaceted bodies that worship God, serve neighbors, disciple members and enjoy Christian fellowship. These include both nontraditional ministries and campuses of pre-existing chartered churches.
- New Churches, which are officially organized as a United Methodist Church, with a new name, a General Council on Finance and Administration number and a covenant to join with thousands of other United Methodist churches to share resources in mission and to receive the pastors appointed by the area bishop.
The report looks at how church planting can be improved and includes insights and recommendations from regional strategists in the UMC’s five jurisdictions who equip annual conferences to better create new places for new people in particular contexts.
It also includes data about the UMC’s growth outside the United States. “New churches and faith communities are blossoming in both the Central Conferences and in new mission areas in Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eurasia,” the report says.
“The UMC is on track in creating new places for new people to reach more people, younger people and more diverse people for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ and for making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world,” Ruffle said. “We celebrate what has been done, and we've got more work to do. We're even more excited about the future and the new initiatives that are coming across to reach people with the message of Jesus Christ.”
DOWNLOAD the State of United Methodist Church Planting report