Since 1995, when New Church Development (NCD) became a cabinet-level ministry office, the Florida Annual Conference has launched between 120 and 130 new church starts. According to Dr. Montfort C. Duncan, there is an overall survival rate of 76% of these new starts.
Duncan, executive director of NCD for the Florida Annual Conference since 2001, understandably is a passionate advocate for church starts. But the real story, he insists, is that of new people finding God in new places and the testimony of changed lives.
For example, in Tallahassee, Good Samaritan UMC just turned five and has an average Sunday morning attendance of 174. Pastor Betsy Ouellette is thrilled to be involved with something so new and vibrant.
“It’s exhilarating to become something from nothing under the guidance of the Spirit, and without the constraints of an existing culture,” she said. “We have the ability to reach new folk who are new to Christ. They are invited to create a new community and in doing so many meet Jesus personally and deeply for the first time.”
Ouellette said her most effective ministry is in the local neighborhood. “The gym, Rotary, book club, community events,” she said. “Just because you have an office does not mean you have to sit in it. So I don’t; I am back out doing the work of an evangelist.”
At Hillsborough County’s South Shore UMC, Pastor John Legg was appointed to organize its startup in 2005. Since it started meeting in 2006, it has grown to an average attendance of 400.
“I’m excited by the ability of an NCD to be nimble and respond to change quickly,” Legg said. “Sometimes established churches are slow to change and navigating the change process can be difficult. With a new church, change is a constant and welcome friend. You may start in one direction only to discover that it doesn’t work in your particular context. Out of survival and limited resources you have to change to something that works. And you never have to hear, ‘we’ve never done it this way before.’ You have never done it any way before!”
In Valrico, just a few miles east of Tampa, Rev. Kim Uchimura is in the initial stages of planting “The Well: A United Methodist House Church Community” from her “office” --- a table at the Starbucks on Hwy. 60. There, she studies sermon notes at her laptop or talks with someone she’s met through networking.
“I know there are people of faith out there who have dropped out of church or never felt comfortable going in,” she said, “That’s our target. For the person standing outside sometimes the church doors are too hard to go through.”
“I’m not cocooned in a church building,” she explained. “I’m working to be visible in the community. Uchimura devotes her time to networking and visibility in order to meet people exactly where they are.
In all these efforts at new church development, there is the Wesleyan foundation. The heart of John Wesley's initial movement was calling, equipping and sending regular people to spread Methodism through small groups and new congregations.
Today, according to the NCD office in Lakeland, planting new congregations is one of the most vital initiatives for United Methodism in the 21st Century.
“History shows that NCD is the best way to reach new people… the un-churched, the de-churched, the non-Christian and those turned off by the church,” Duncan said.
In 2008, the Council of Bishops recommended seven “Vision Pathways” for the future of the UMC and “Creating new Places for New People” was number one on the list.
Duncan was on the team that seized the moment and created “PATH 1.” Its goal was to plant at least one new church each day to reach new people with the good news of Jesus Christ.
|Rev. Mont Duncan|
Duncan offered an update, saying, “nationally the goal is 600 church starts in four years, and to asses equip and train 1,000 planters. So far there have been 497 with only 23 of 69 conferences reporting. Plus we’ve assessed, trained and equipped 1,300 church planters.”
With 32 starts this quadrennial, The Florida Annual Conference is ahead of other conferences. The next highest is Northern Illinois with 28. Currently, The Florida Conference supports between 30 and 40 NCD projects in process with a $1.1 million annual budget.
“Our strategic plan calls for nine per year,” Duncan said. “My staff determines strategic locations and hot spots, then the districts massage that information and come back with plans. We work really well together.”
“Any Christian movement has got to have ‘Reaching New People’ on the front burner,” Duncan said, adding, “(there must be) lives being changed and commitments to Christ. When we fail to reach out we have lost the heart of the Christian movement.”
For more information, contact the office of New Church Development at the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church 800-282-8011 ext.147