Dan Jackson: A new church is not always a new building

LAKELAND – Rev. Dan Jackson, the recently appointed director of New Church Development for the Florida Conference, speaks often about journeys – past, present and future -- but all aimed at drawing closer to Jesus Christ.

His most recent journey was as executive pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in the U.S.: New Covenant UMC in The Villages, located about 25 miles south of Ocala. He began there in 2006 and continued until this past summer, when Bishop Ken Carter selected him to join the newly formed Congregational Vitality team. 

Rev. Dan Jackson headshot
Rev. Dan Jackson

Asked how New Covenant grew to the vibrant worship center it is today, Jackson said, “One of the key elements was our hospitality and that we were welcoming folks into the journey with Jesus Christ.”

During his tenure, the average weekly attendance nearly doubled, from about 1,000 to 1,900. Jackson played a key role in transforming New Covenant to a multisite entity, including a $5.5 million main facility expansion and development of an extension campus at Lake Deaton.

Lou Emmert, chairperson of the church council and capital campaign, worked with Jackson for four years during the time he led the church toward record growth.

“Dan is very definitely a strategic planner,” she said. “He’s good at identifying issues and laying out a plan to address them. I give Dan a lot of credit for the fact that we’re in a strong financial position and that we were able to double the size of our facility.”

Though “new church development” may seem to focus on recruitment of new disciples, Jackson also has a knack for cultivating new developments in people who already have found their way to the church, Emmert said.

”He is about bringing new people to Christ but also about developing those that are there already, helping them grow as Christians,” she said.

As Jackson begins his new journey at the conference-wide level, he plans to consider what has happened in new church development over the last 10 years or so.

His goal is “to reach new people for Jesus Christ” by maintaining a faithfulness to the church’s Wesleyan roots.

“I don’t want us to stray from these doctrines and our particular belief in God’s grace …  that life is a journey, that our job is to try and grow closer to Jesus Christ,” he said.

Jackson said growth often has nothing to do with new bricks-and-mortar construction.

“The key hope to focus on is not to start new churches, but to reach new people. … To say we need new churches boxes us in.” 

Dan Jackson preaching at New Covenant 2007
Rev. Dan Jackson preaches a consoling message in the wake of severe storm damage in Central Florida in 2007.  File photo by J.A. Buchholz.

Jackson said he intends to be “out and about” all over the state.  “You can’t do this kind of work behind a desk,” he said.

Initiatives include:

• starting new churches with the hope that they will become chartered UMCs.

• helping existing churches expand their reach to a new demographic. Jackson cited University Carillon UMC, Oviedo, near the University of Central Florida, as a church that has looked at its surrounding demographics and is making specific outreach to young adults and families.

• finding a sustainable way to be in ministry with poor and underserved people and communities.

Jackson came to the Florida Conference from the West Ohio Conference, where he served as senior pastor of five churches after a successful business career. 

His education includes a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from Ohio Wesleyan University and a Master of Divinity degree from the Methodist Theological School, both in Delaware, Ohio, and coursework at the Billy Graham School of Evangelism.

As Jackson approaches his new job with faith and a sense of adventure, he will have at his side his wife of 23 years, Patti. Their blended family includes five children, ranging in age from 17 to 39, and five grandchildren.

-- Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

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