NASHVILLE, Tenn. Feb. 21, 2013 /GBOD/ – Church planters established 684 new United Methodist Churches in the United States during 2008-2012, surpassing the denomination’s new church development goal for the quadrennium by 34.
“We want to celebrate the work that our planters, developers, superintendents and bishops have done to plant these 684 new churches,” said the Rev. Candace M. Lewis, Executive Director of New Church Starts (Path1), a division of The General Board of Discipleship (GBOD).
Path 1 supported the starting of new congregations in 61 of the 63 annual conferences by conducting assessments of potential planters, coaching new church starts and providing other resources for congregational developers, district superintendents and bishops in their strategic church planting work, Lewis said.
All five jurisdictions recorded healthy growth: 232 new churches in the Southeastern, 146 in the South Central, 148 in the North Central, 92 in the Northeastern and 66 in the Western.
“This data is exciting for us to share so annual conferences can see how they are a part of a larger denominational church planting movement.” Lewis said. “That's one of the reasons we celebrate our numerical progress as it reflects all of us working together to create new places for new people and to reach more young people and diverse people.”
By comparison, the denomination planted 278 churches during the previous quadrennium ending in 2007. Based on the most current data from developers and the General Council on Finance and Administration, the closure rate for new churches since 2008 has been 8 percent, or 59 of 684 churches, a vast improvement over the close rate of 26 percent during the 2004-2007 period.
“I think our denomination is starting to see the opportunity to reach new people as the U.S. population grows and shifts. A new church is one ’doorway’ whereby someone can join a new community and grow in faith. New churches tend to be very friendly, open and relevant to the context and community in which it is started,” Lewis said. “These 684 new churches represent places where collectively thousands of new people gather to worship and serve in ministry and missions throughout the United States.”
The new congregations encompass many worship styles and represent a wide variety of planting strategies, including multisite projects, where an existing church disciples a new community, and nontraditional starts, such as new intentional communities, campus ministries becoming congregations and house/cell churches that seek to replicate the apostolic pattern of first-century churches.
“Attending a new church or mission project sponsored by a new church oftentimes is very nonthreatening first step for a person who has never been to church to get connected and start exploring the Christian faith,” Lewis said.
Annual conferences are being intentional about reaching new people to make disciples of Christ. “In being intentional, they are really looking at creative, relevant and nontraditional ways to reach new people,” she said. “When we look at our collective approach to starting new churches, multisite, a second campus and partnered church starts are our current leading church planting strategies at this time.
At the current planting rate of 11.4 new churches per month, Path 1 believes the denomination can reach a new goal of 1,000 new church plants by the end of the current quadrennium and will move toward the goal of planting a new church a day by 2020.
“I think we have momentum now in reaching new people and creating new places, so we're going to continue to build upon that momentum,” Lewis said. “We will start creating new Wesleyan church planting resources this year to help make sure those 684 churches become self sufficient, sustainable, vital congregations.”
The hope is that the new plants begin to multiply and create other new churches, as well, she said.
“This quadrennial period we are planning to be very intentional about starting multiethnic, multicultural new churches. We also want to reach growing populations and racial/ethnic groups that we aren't currently reaching,” Lewis said. “I think there's a great opportunity to reach new Hispanic and Latino persons. That's the current largest minority group in the United States, and we're being very intentional about resourcing our Hispanic/Latino church planting effort,” she said.