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Ethnic churches top list of new church starts; leadership development tops list of needs

Ethnic churches top list of new church starts; leadership development tops list of needs

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Ethnic churches top list of new church starts; leadership development tops list of needs

April 14, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0471}

NOTE: See related article “New churches experience signs of progress, growth,” e-Review FUMNS #0472.

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**

As the Florida Conference continues to outpace the rest of the United States in the number of new United Methodist faith communities being started, particularly ethnic congregations, the need for in-depth leadership development is becoming more crucial.

LAKELAND — During the "One Body One Spirit" 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event the Rev. Mont Duncan shared strides made in new church development in the conference. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #06-336.

The conference’s Office of New Church Development, led by the Rev. Mont Duncan, reported last year that it planned to launch 18 new churches or missions in 2005 and 15 new plants this year. That exceeds a goal in the ministry’s 2004 strategic plan to start 15 new churches and missions each year for the next five years, beginning in 2005.

Since 1995 the conference has started 44 ethnic faith communities, spearheaded by a combination of full- and part-time pastoral leadership. These congregations have included people of Filipino, Vietnamese and Brazilian descent, in addition to Hispanic, Korean, Haitian and African-American churches. They span from the areas surrounding Tallahassee all the way to the Miami region and are led by elders, probationary elders, local pastors and supply pastors.

Although several have “gone by the wayside,” Duncan said most are still active in service.

Duncan projected at the 2005 annual conference event that 10 of the next 18 churches plants would be racial or ethnic in nature, including eight Hispanic and two Haitian congregations; although, he says that plan changes “about every other day.”

The challenge is securing appropriate leadership. “We don’t have a whole lot of Hispanic clergy going through the discernment process to see if they are gifted or oriented toward new church development,” Duncan said. “I’ve asked my church development colleagues around the connection if they have folks that want to come to Florida. I’ve asked superintendents around the U.S. the same question. I’ve asked some of the pastors if they know folks who want to come to Florida.”

Duncan says several factors are behind the growth in ethnic churches. By the year 2050 Florida is projected to have a population that is 50 percent Hispanic. “I’m encouraging the conference and the districts not to wait until 2049 to start getting ready,” he said. “We’re trying to be sensitive to the needs for new church development, whatever the racial or ethnic population. We’re trying to meet the projected needs of the next five years. Our benchmark for numbers is the 2010 calendar year.”

Duncan confirms that since 1995 the conference has led the United States and United Methodism when it comes to church planting.

“It was that way just before or just after I got here (in his current position),” he said. “That’s not our goal, but if that happens, we rejoice. One of the things, perhaps ... is that we’re much more willing to start missions than some other conferences are. The Book of Discipline says any new church, full- or part-time, is a mission, but our operative principle in Florida is that missions are part time because of the demographics.”

For Anglo pastors and congregations Duncan said it’s becoming easier to start new churches “in the sense that more Anglo pastors, both male and female, are being called and led by the Sprit to go through our discernment process.”

The process typically involves candidates for a church plant being nominated by a superintendent or nominating themselves with the approval of their superintendent. Candidates complete an application with lay and clergy references, take a spiritual gifts inventory and sit through several one-on-one interviews with Duncan. Duncan also applies the DISC (Personal Discernment Inventory) profile to help candidates understand their leadership style and how they relate to people with differing styles. Lutheran Counseling Services in Winter Park also administers evaluation tools that look for the top traits most new church start pastors possess.

The Percept I Lead and Percept I Change online surveys are also conducted to help Duncan’s office identify one of four different leadership styles candidates might possess and the style of leadership they would use to bring about change in a church. Candidates also take three classes through the conference’s Healthy Church Academy, which meets in various locations across the state each year.

Duncan said the most exciting aspect of being immersed in new church development is seeing new people make a commitment to Christ.

“In the churches I get to meet the people and hear the stories, hear the pastors talk about them. I put some of their stories in e-mails to their prayer teams,” he said. “To me, that’s what new church development is all about. We’re not just changing folks from one church to another. The majority of folks are coming to new churches on professions or affirmations of faith.”

The attendance-to-membership ratio at new church starts in 2004 was 95.2 percent; meaning 95.2 percent of the membership was in church on Sundays. The average for existing churches is roughly a third of that percentage. Last year, new plants also demonstrated a cumulative net gain in membership of 588 members, or a 6.5 percent increase.

In terms of his office’s synergy with the efforts of Congregational Transformation, soon to be led by the Rev. Jeff Stiggins upon the retirement of the Rev. Kendall Taylor this June, Duncan said he and Taylor are “trying to create a seamless thread that ties together new church development and existing churches.”

“One of our courses in Healthy Church Academy is titled Natural Plant Development, which takes the eight traits of a healthy church and teaches pastors how to build them into the life of a congregation, sequentially in pairs of two,” Duncan said. “The first two are passionate spirituality and loving relationships. There’s no need to have new churches of one set of criteria and existing churches of another.”

“A new church plant can be one of the most exciting aspects of ministry,” Duncan added, “and one of the most difficult.”


This article relates to New Church Development.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.