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Churches transplant their DNA to make new disciples

Churches transplant their DNA to make new disciples

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Churches transplant their DNA to make new disciples

May 24, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0675}

NOTE: Headshots of the Revs. Gary Shockley and Lyndol Loyd are available at

An e-Review Feature
By John Michael De Marco**

As the Florida Conference continues to set the tone nationwide for starting United Methodist churches, the conference’s East Central District is a catalyst and mother-daughter launches are the means.
At least 10 new churches or missions have launched in two years or are about to emerge within the district.

There’s Christ to the Nations in Orlando; On Eagles Wings in Poinciana; two planned satellites of Orlando’s Peace United Methodist Church, one Anglo and another Hispanic; LifeSong Church, University Carillon United Methodist Church’s new daughter church near Avalon Park; HopeSpring Church, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church’s new daughter church in west Orlando; the long-awaited satellite campus of First United Methodist Church in Ormond Beach to be located west of I-95 in Daytona Beach; a daughter church in Venetian Bay, a large development west of I-95, to be launched by a cluster spearheaded by Covenant United Methodist Church in Port Orange; the conference’s first Chinese church in Orlando; and a Haitian congregation in Orlando.

“My hat is off to my predecessor, Jeff Stiggins (now director of the conference’s Congregational Transformation office), for doing such a great job of birthing new churches in our district,” said The Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt, superintendent of the district.
The Rev. Dr. Mont Duncan, executive director of the conference’s New Church Development office, agrees the district is having great success in the church-planting arena.

“They’ve really kind of taken the lead,” he said. “The population growth has played a part. We’ve got pastors in these areas that are kingdom-minded, mission-centered. They are trying to help the church reach beyond itself.”
Church ‘meanders’ its way to maturity

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church made the birth of HopeSpring Church in the fledgling Horizons West development of Orlando possible. St. Luke’s members decided to tithe their capital fund pledges, resulting in $2.5 million dedicated to the new congregation, which is being led by the Rev. Gary Shockley.

Rev. Gary Shockley
Shockley was a church planter in the Western Pennsylvania Conference, developing a church from the traditional “parachute drop” model, in which a new congregation is virtually built from scratch in terms of people, ministries and dollars. While serving at that launch, he and his wife met a family from St. Luke’s United Methodist Church and two-and-a-half-years ago were invited to be part of the Orlando church’s goal to plant a new congregation.
“We had vacationed at Disney and joked, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a church down here?’ ” Shockley recalled. “A month later we got a phone call.”
HopeSpring launched in June 2006, a year and a half after the Shockleys arrived in Central Florida. Shockley served his time before the launch as a staff pastor at St. Luke’s, overseeing the contemporary services and recruiting church members to help birth HopeSpring. “I spent that year and a half cultivating relationships, getting to know people,” he said.
Shockley also formed a “strategy team” of 12 people who met each week for Bible study, communion, prayer and discernment, searching for God’s perfect timing for the church launch. One of the biggest challenges was finding a meeting space, since very little development had occurred in the Horizons West area and all of the schools already had churches meeting on the weekends. Shockley’s group called the principle of Thorne Brook Elementary, a newer school “a little off the beaten path,” and the principal replied: “This is the only school in Orange County that doesn’t have at least one church meeting in it. We’ve been waiting for you; what took you so long?”
Mostly orange groves now and located about 10 miles west of St. Luke’s, Horizons West is projected to one day sport 60,000 to 100,000 new residents when built out. Shockley said it will be a “great mission field” for churches, a similar reason St. Luke’s — one of the largest and most thriving churches in the Florida Conference — was planted in the Winter Garden area 26 years ago.

“This was an opportunity to establish a United Methodist presence, to capitalize on those moving into the area,” Shockley said.
HopeSpring meets for monthly worship in what is called the “preview stage,” which involves gathering people from St. Luke’s who agree to serve as missionaries to the new church.

Shockley said his primary goal is to develop small groups, a community of faith beyond the worship venue. By the end of February six such groups were meeting and functioning together.

“It helps us really be engaged in the community more, getting out and getting to know our neighbors,” Shockley said. “Worship really is a secondary thing, and we want to keep it that way, even when we’re doing a weekly worship service.”
Shockley anticipates a move to weekly worship in September, likely with multiple services — 229 people attended the January worship service in a school cafeteria that holds fewer than 200.
The church planter, meanwhile, is also finishing a book he has written about his experiences called “The Meandering Way: Leading by Following the Spirit.” Scheduled for publication by The Alban Institute this month, the book started as Shockley’s reaction “to the ‘driven’ models that are out there and the driven-ness ‘that can lead to some very unhealthy things.’ ”

“The whole formulaic approach to ministry, developing the right process, the right five-year plan … this can lead us into missing the unique things that God wants to do in a current setting,” he said. “We try to copy what God is doing someplace else, instead of the more important work of discernment.”
Shockley says the “whole baseball diamond approach” has been effective, but his experience in spiritual formation tells him “life doesn’t work that way.”

“The whole meandering model is one of the wilderness journeys; it’s up and down, and it’s back and forth,” he said. “I see a lot of Christendom still wanting to follow the linear, formulaic A-to-B process. I think what’s happening is the emerging church movement is reclaiming some of the ancient traditions of the church and being more fluid, more spirit–driven — not in a charismatic sense, but in a little sense unstructured, more permission-given.”
Shockley said even at HopeSpring he senses the struggle of some people wanting to see the church delineate a rigid five-year plan and “map it all out: step one, step two, step three. People want to know that the whole thing has been charted.”

HopeSpring members work with children at a crafts table during the church's Easter Eggstravaganza in Winter Garden April 7. Photo courtesy of HopeSpring Church. Photo #07-0577. Web photo only.

“Part of the faith journey is doing our homework and studying our culture and really being open to where God is with us in the moment,” he says. “We have people who say, ‘When you guys have a choir … ,’ or ‘When you do this program that St. Luke’s is doing … .’ Their understanding of church is a very set thing for them.

“It’s a tough thing for some people to get their heads around. It becomes uncomfortable. But we have to become more comfortable with ambiguity.”
Based on his experience and observations Shockley said the parachute model approach has a high mortality rate. While 20 percent tend to survive on a national average — in Florida it’s 75 percent, according to Duncan — less than half that number thrive. He recalled “maxing out our credit cards” on the last parachute plant his family led in Pennsylvania.
“We’re getting a minimum of $250,000 support from St. Luke’s each year. We’re getting some district and conference support, as well. I already have a budget that’s probably twice as large as the budget I had six years into my last church. And that’s starting before we really are anything,” he said. “Not every problem is solved by money, but this ensures a lot of things going right from the get-go.”
Shockley believes churches have lifecycles and plot their own demise unless they give birth to new congregations. He said part of the HopeSpring vision is not to be a mega church, but a planting church, reaching a healthy enough size in order to replicate itself.
“I think this is what is going to pull our denomination into a more relevant and viable presence in the world,” he said.

New church says ‘come and see,’ ‘worship plus two’

LifeSong Church began in September 2006, with the Rev. Lyndol Loyd transferring from Arkansas to lead the daughter congregation of University Carillon United Methodist Church, which itself is a relatively new congregation in the community surrounding the University of Central Florida.

Rev. Lyndol Loyd

Loyd planted a church in Hot Springs Village, Ark., eight years ago and had a connection to University Carillon through Asbury Theological Seminary Professor Burrell Dinkins, a Carillon member and mentor of Loyd’s when he was a seminary student.
“He (Dinkins) kind of caught us off guard when he said, ‘My church wants to plant a new church. Why don’t you come do that?’ ” Loyd said. “This wouldn’t have even been on our radar screen. We were excited to plant again because we thought it would be a good opportunity to redeem a lot of the lessons we learned from the first one.”
Similar to Shockley’s journey, the Loyds moved to Orlando in June 2005, and Loyd served on Carillon’s staff for a year before launching LifeSong.

“We spent lots of time with families from Carillon that live in our target area (about 10 miles south of Carillon along Alafaya Trail),” Loyd said. “We tried to intentionally build relationships with them. We developed about 150 adults and children who came out with us to be the launch team for the church.”
LifeSong also spent its pre-launch time building small groups, as well as embracing numerous servant evangelism projects that included sending youth to nearly every business in the church’s zip code. Youth volunteered to clean their toilets, gave away bottled water and light bulbs, and cleaned windshields. A community Easter Egg hunt last spring was intended for 200 people, and about 600 showed up.

“We were just kind of blown away by the response to that,” Loyd said.
Numerous families from LifeSong’s launch team have held “Come and See” parties, inviting eight to 10 friends for dessert, while Loyd gives his spiel about the church.
LifeSong launched with two weekly services — 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday. A total of 452 people attended during the launch weekend. Of that number only 150 were Carillon members. Average attendance has remained in the 350- to 360-range.

Loyd is encouraged by studies demonstrating a strong correlation between launch size and the attendance at a church five and 10 years down the road.

Children enjoy a 'day at the beach' during LifeSong Church's children's ministry activities. Photo by Christy Hull. Photo #07-0578.

“It’s very normal for church plants to have half as many people the second week, so it’s been very exciting. On Christmas Eve we had 472,” Loyd said.
The church has been helped by its strategic location in a shopping center called Alafaya Village, which also includes a pottery store, Chinese and Italian restaurants, and a pet-grooming store.

“The other businesses love us,” he said. “They feel that we bring a big traffic flow to them. We’re providing most of the customers on Saturday night and Sunday at noon.”

Those who want to become LifeSong members are asked to embrace the “worship plus two” model — participating in church services, a small group and an area of service. Membership classes are already in place.
Resonating with Shockley, Loyd said: “This is a much better model. I wouldn’t have signed on to do another parachute drop. That was a very isolating kind of experience to do it that way. (With daughter plants) you have some mature Christians who are with you in the beginning, who can do things like teach children’s church and lead small groups. In my parachute drop we were able to reach unchurched people, but they couldn’t lead things right away because they didn’t
have the spiritual maturity.”
Congregations embrace call to missions

Duncan said the conference’s church planting has received some national publicity in recent months, including mentions in Circuit Rider, Interpreter and New World magazines.

“All of a sudden, this whole thing is going all over everywhere,” he said. “It makes it feel like you’re doing something right.”
Duncan said the Venetian Bay plant, to be launched through a cluster, is a strong example of healthy congregations assuming their missional responsibility to reach new people for Christ. A cluster is a group of four to seven churches or ministries within a district that come together for the purpose of deepening relationships and ministry fruitfulness. Cluster teams are composed of clergy and lay representatives from each church, with a clergyperson serving as the
team leader. The cluster groups began taking shape as part of the conference restructuring from 14 districts to nine in 2004.
“They (churches in the cluster) all financially support it, prayerfully support it,” said Duncan, adding, “The strongest church is the one that’s going to plant its DNA. You can only transfer one set of DNA.”
Regarding Shockley’s and Loyd’s recent transfers from other conferences to start the daughter churches, Duncan said such clergy still must go through Florida’s discernment process “to see if they have what it takes.”

“They had already started churches elsewhere and did well,” he said.
Some 30-plus pastors are currently in the process to discern if they are gifted to plant churches in the Florida Conference. These include non-United Methodist Church pastors who start congregations and then approach the conference about affiliation.
“I’m just trying to guide them in the process so they have a healthy start and kind of do it the Methodist way,” Duncan said. “There’s really no one way. We have some guidelines, with leeway to move within the boundaries.”

The ministry’s 2004 strategic plan called for 15 new churches and missions to be launched each year for the next five years, beginning in 2005. Nine new churches were started in 2006. The goal for 2007 is 21, with six carrying over from 2006. So far this year 10 have launched.

Duncan added: “I think more churches understand the effectiveness and the power of using new church starts in reaching unchurched folks. They’re stepping out more on faith, realizing that this is something God is calling our church to be all about.”

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.