by Edwin C. DeLong
The biblical mandate is clear: Christians are, by definition, to disciple the next generation. The conferences of The United Methodist Church in recent years have rediscovered disciple making as their core mission and the essence of any faith community. For too long, the church has lived as if congregations are formed to serve the needs of their members only. The biblical mandate teaches that as important as serving members' needs might be, faith communities are to be focused on ministries that engage those who are not currently part of the faith community. Dr. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of The Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, perhaps best states the attitude that enables a congregation to live out its mandate. When he or members of the church meet a new person, they ask, "What must I do to help this person to see this church as his or her faith community?"
The exciting aspect of recapturing the core values of our Wesleyan heritage is that new faith communities are forming by intention rather than by chance. Further, apostolic leaders are being encouraged to use their gifts in the endeavor.
The case for forming new faith communities — whether the new faith communities are formed as part of an existing congregation's ministries or as new church plants — is made in the demographic research. The demographics indicate that the most effective way to engage new people in a faith community is through the development of a new ministry setting. Craig Miller makes this point in his book Next Church.Now.
As a conference develops a strategy for the implementation of its mission, the conference must have clarity about its purpose and a well-framed statement of core values. This clarity enables the many participants who will give form to the function of the mission a way to decide what ministries will best enable people who are unchurched to become part of an effective faith community. The rule of thumb is that a ministry/program must lead people to discipleship to even be considered as part of the faith community's program offerings.
There are several elements that must be present for the conference to encourage existing congregations to develop new faith communities. Many of these elements are the same as what is needed for "parachute-drop" new faith communities. The elements may be divided into two categories: (1) ongoing discernment and (2) infrastructure to support specific ministries once the pastor and site for development are in place.
Leadership is perhaps the most important element in developing new faith communities. Leaders who behave as apostles need to be recruited, trained, and encouraged to lead in the development of new faith communities. The Rev. Jim Griffith, founder of the Griffith Coaching Network,is a good resource. The assessment tools that he uses — and trains denominational leaders to use — enable people who feel that they have been called to develop new faith communities to look at their behavioral tendencies. In a non-threatening environment, people can discern their call and learn in what format they are best suited to develop new ministries.
The Baltimore-Washington Conference-sponsored "Academy for Initiative Leaders" is another useful tool in assisting those who demonstrate leadership behaviors to develop new ministries to test out their calls.
The Academy for Initiative Leaders is one of the most effective elements of the Baltimore-Washington Conference's strategy for developing new faith communities. Members of the Academy are chosen by the bishop and cabinet in consultation with the board of congregational life. A total of 36 clergy and lay members of the Academy meet eighteen times over a three-year period. Session leaders are chosen from among the many nationally known thinkers who intentionally study the behaviors of church leaders. The topics used to stimulate this peer-learning group in the recent past have included "Developing Leaders Who Develop Leaders," "Characteristics of Healthy Churches," "Naming the Many Forms of Multi-Site Ministry Strategies," "Transformation of Conflict Into Positive Energy," "Discipleship Systems That Work," "Ministry in a Multiethnic World," "Relational Evangelism Strategies," and "Understanding a Faith Community Life Cycle."
In addition to these conference-based leadership development opportunities, the General Board of Global Ministries and General Board of Discipleship offer an annual George Barna'sseminars and the Christian Communication Network.
The second element needed in developing new faith communities is an ongoing look at demographics. Change is inevitable. The demographic landscape of our conference indicates that many of our churches are located in areas where populations once lived, with a shortage of congregations in places where people now live. In addition, congregations often conduct ministries that speak to current church populations and fail to develop ministries that speak to those who are not part of any congregation. The changing landscape of our multiethnic, metropolitan world indicates that conferences need to be looking for population shifts and developing ministries that will engage those who are new to the neighborhood. Several resources are helpful in the development of this element: The General Board of Global Ministries' Research Office, Percept, and local planning and zoning commissions. Perhaps most effective are "walk-around-the-neighborhood conversations" with the locals.
The third ongoing element involves the persistent search for funding. The development of new ministries is expensive. The needed capital is available from a variety of sources. Conference agencies designated to have church development as a prime responsibility are developing partnerships among the in-house funding streams, as well as with private foundations and government agencies.
Once the cabinet and annual conference have designated a leader and a ministry site, an infrastructure needs to be designed to support the specific requirements of the ministries. The needed elements include a variety of personal and professional support systems for the pastor, pastor's family, and laity involved in the new faith community.
The pastor, in particular, needs an opportunity to write out a ministry action plan and to become familiar with the variety of resources that are available to help implement the plan. Conferences throughout the United States have developed their own version of a "boot camp" to help pastors develop an integrated ministry action plan. They have also sent their new faith community developers to The United Methodist Church's annual School of Congregational Development. Many conferences send teams of people to this annual school. Bishops, district superintendents, and conference program staff are all involved in the life of the new ministries. It is helpful for each person to review and thoroughly understand his or her specific role as it interplays with the development of a new ministry. The School of Congregational Development provides an opportunity for everyone to work from the same page.
As the plan is implemented, coaches are to be connected with the new faith community pastors and faith communities. The coaches' responsibility is to ask the "who," "what," "why," "where," and "when" questions related to the ministry action plan. If adjustments in the original plan are needed, the coach ensures that the modifications are intentional and well thought out. In the Baltimore-Washington Conference, coaches work with covenant groups of four pastors who are serving in similar ministry settings.
Understanding that the development of new ministries is very stressful, many conferences encourage the pastors appointed to those ministries to see pastoral counselors. The energy and passion involved in the development of a new ministry is so great that the pastor's life values inadvertently become too closely aligned with the ministry. The role of the conference is to provide the resources for pastors and their families to obtain (with anonymity) the services of a pastoral counselor on a regular basis.
The strategy also needs to include a statement that pastors need to have a social life and close friends. Like the pastoral counseling resource, the conference can only suggest and encourage the development of friendships.
Several bottom-line understandings need to undergird the strategy. First, the development of new faith communities is a God-led spiritual journey. The pastor, core team, and all conference-level leaders responsible for these new ministries need to practice the means of grace regularly. At these times, the practices of prayer, Bible study, and worship need to be done together. Second, the development of new faith communities is more like sailing a sailboat than it is riding on an ocean liner. Flexibility to make carefully considered adjustments and to develop resources that had not been anticipated is critical to the process. Third, understand that no two new faith communities will be the same. Finally, remember that it takes time to develop new trust relationships with people who have never perceived themselves as disciples. The development of new faith communities will take several years.