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New life through new churches — part II (June 29, 2004)

New life through new churches — part II (June 29, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

New life through new churches part II

June 29, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0099}

NOTE:  A headshot of Duncan is available at            

An e-Review Commentary
By Dr. Montfort C. Duncan Jr.**

The United Methodist Church is taking seriously the establishment of new congregations across the connection. The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in this outreach of our church. The United Methodist Network of Church Developers is hoping this effort will turn into a movement to make new church development a priority in the life of our conferences and across the United Methodist Church.
At the 1995 session of the Florida Annual Conference the conference voted to make new church development a high priority in its missional outreach. It established, for the first time, a line item apportionment for the pastoral support of new church start pastors. Districts assumed the responsibility for program and staff development. During his time in Florida, Bishop Whitaker has both stated publicly and written that new church development is one leg of a three-legged stool for the conference. The other two legs are congregational transformation and global mission.
For this vision to become a reality in the United Methodist Church and remain so in Florida, the following 10 steps should be taken to help mainstream new church development into the core and fabric of our mission ("Rekindling the Mainline: New Life Through New Churches," Steve Compton): 

n Make new churches the priority—"Declare from the denominational center that new-church development is its priority task." This has happened at the conference level in Florida.

n Normative behavior—"Make new-church development normative, not a temporary programmatic fix." This has happened at the conference level in Florida.

n    Keep denomination young—"Begin new churches at rates that ensure that within 30 years, at least 30 percent of a denomination's churches will be under 30 years old." At our current rate of starting new churches and missions we will hit this goal in Florida.

n    Pick leaders who are on board—"Select executive leaders who are committed to the priority of new-church development." Across the United Methodist Church bishops and annual conferences are making this a priority and are indicating this to the conference by establishing this position and filling it with persons who have a strong buy-in, commitment and passion for new church development.

n Structure follows purpose—"Structure judicatory agencies to match the needs of advancing new-church development." There are many good and worthy causes today in denominations and annual conferences, but with declining resources, agencies and conferences are having to prioritize their structure to align with the purpose and mission of the church. Many conferences, including Florida, have already done so.

n Name staff with new-church background—"Fill judicatory staff positions with people who are committed to new-church development and who have experience in new-church development." This requires persons with more than a passing nod for new-church development or who see their ministry as turf-protection. This is Kingdom work and Kingdom-building. Across the church and in annual conferences this crucial priority must be led by gifted and committed persons who are committed to this as a top priority of the church.

n Put money where the priority is—"Change the focus of spending, budgets, loans, and the like to promote new-church development." Denominations need to take a look at the big picture of disciple-making and see where the funds are being spent. Are they really being used to under-gird the priority of the church? Florida is doing this-dating back to the mid 1980s when the conference raised $8.5 million for loans to new churches. A small part of the interest from these loans is used to fund the administrative expenses of the Office of New Church Development in order that the new church start apportionment can go almost entirely to compensation and training for new church pastors.

n Seminary training for church planting—"Require that denominational seminaries provide at least one year of intensive congregational leadership studies in their curricula."  Because of the lack of this training in our seminaries, the General Boards of Discipleship and Global Ministries, with the Congregational Developers Network, have provided the United Methodist School for Congregational Development. The Florida Conference is incorporating its training into the Healthy Church Academy, set to begin January 2005, for laity and clergy. (The brochure for the Academy will be on the conference web site in the next several weeks at

n Reward the bold—"Reward regional judicatories whose leaders, strategies, and goals reveal courage, boldness, and innovation to lead the church through change." This cannot be business as usual. To reach the nearly two thirds of our population who have made no commitment to any faith community, we must be bold enough to try new and untested ways to reach lost and hurting persons. Annual conferences should be leading the way for the denomination in starting new communities of faith.

n Graceful exits, creative closings—When churches have lost their zeal and commitment to the Great Commission to make disciples and have grown inward in order to keep current members happy, they have become rigid and closed to reaching hurting and lost people for Jesus Christ. If a church sees no need to transform into a disciple-making congregation and to have vital ministry, it needs to close and free pastoral and financial resources to establish new congregations. The Easter story is the model—through death to life.
Wherever the United Methodist Church has been growing it has been making disciples and starting new congregations. When we take our eyes off this center point we begin to move to secondary issues. This takes our eyes off the task of the Great Commission. To once again become a growing, vital denomination we need to begin a movement of starting new communities of faith.

(Visit for New life through new churches — part I)


This commentary relates to New Church Development.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Duncan is executive director of the Florida Conference's New Church Development office.