United Methodists seek 250 to start new churches

By Jeanette Pinkston*
June 2, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The Rev. Karen Greenwalt

The United Methodist Church needs 250 planters with well-established roots in the Wesleyan tradition to start a new crop of faith communities.

Path 1/New Church Starts, a ministry of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, is launching the Lay Missionary Planting Network to start faith communities in five regional “growth corridors.”

“As The United Methodist Church moves to create new places for new people, we need thousands of lay people to say ‘yes’ to their baptism and to move into the long tradition of laity who are planters of new churches and faith communities,” said the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top executive for the board.

The network’s purpose is to find, equip and mobilize an initial 250 lay leaders to start new communities in the tradition of Methodism founder John Wesley.

“The Lay Missionary Planting Network opens the door of opportunity for lay people to hear and respond to God’s call to ministry,” said the Rev. Bener Agtarap, a new church strategist for Path 1. “It also raises awareness, throughout the connection, of the importance of lay leadership in planting churches, while enhancing clergy-laity partnerships in starting and multiplying congregations.”

The Rev. Bener Agtarap

While the network targets ethnic and underserved populations, the emphasis is on starting United Methodist churches in areas where the denomination has had limited presence, and in populations and contexts where traditional approaches have not been successful.

Five annual conferences, one from each U.S. jurisdiction, have been selected to pilot the model program. The first Lay Missionary Planting Networks are based in growth corridors, including Virginia (which will partner with Wesley Theological Seminary and the Baltimore-Washington Conference), Greater New Jersey, Desert Southwest, Central Texas and East Ohio.

The annual conferences were chosen because they have, among other things, the passion and commitment for new church development, according to Agtarap.

The conferences also have in place the infrastructure and plan for new church plants, as well as the staff to give support. The areas have a growing population of people currently underserved by The United Methodist Church, as well as a desire to find and equip lay people to reach diverse communities.

Reclaiming roots

“Churches with more memories than dreams are churches that are on a death spiral,” said Bishop Michael Lowry of the Central Texas Conference.

The Lay Missionary Planting Network seeks to reverse that spiral.

Bishop Michael Lowry

Lowry said challenges will exist, but churches need to get on board with a strategy that is outward focused to the mission field.

“For instance, among all of the leading ethnic groups, (there are) churches that are inward focused or outward focused,” Lowry said. “The future will live with churches that are outwardly focused.”

“Enormous opportunities for creating new places for new people all across the U.S. call us to engage every disciple of Jesus Christ to reach out to others,” said Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Desert Southwest Conference, which is also participating in the program.

The Desert Southwest Conference includes the two fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country, Maricopa and Clark counties, yet it is a young and relatively small conference with only 144 churches and fellowships.

“We want to faithfully respond to this opportunity, but we need the help of the connectional church to do so. The Lay Missionary Planting Network provides us with the kind of connectional support we need to help grow The United Methodist Church in our area,” Carcaño said.

Hands-on training

Agtarap hopes that as more lay people get involved in this church planting movement, the network will create excitement and healthy responses from more individuals and churches wanting to participate in renewing The United Methodist Church by starting new congregations.

Participants will receive practical, hands-on, mentor-supported training to lead new congregations.

The Rev. Thomas G.  Butcher

“We know that ongoing practical and theological training will be essential for the success of this ministry,” says the Rev. Thomas G. Butcher, executive director of New Church Starts at the Board of Discipleship.

Charged with recruiting 1,000 church planters to create 650 new congregations by 2012, Path 1 is also recruiting coaches and mentors for the lay people and their church plants.

The team of laity and mentors will be engage in training in retreat settings that offer open dialogue, growing theological competence and spiritual accountability in community.

Initially, the Lay Missionary Planting Network will train 50 lay people over a two-year period on what it means to be Wesleyan and United Methodist. District superintendents will forward nominations to a design team for final selection.

The Lay Missionary Planting Network was made possible by a grant from the Foundation for Evangelism and the United Methodist National Hispanic/Latino Plan.

The goal of starting new congregations and revitalizing existing ones is one of the denomination’s four areas of focus. The other focus areas address leadership development, global health and ministry with people in poverty.

*Pinkston is director of media relations for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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