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Florida Conference pastors join Path 1 initiative

Florida Conference pastors join Path 1 initiative

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida Conference pastors join Path 1 initiative

By John Michael De Marco | April 30, 2009 {1010}

NOTE: See related story, “Florida Conference expands support to new churches,” at:

Two Florida Conference pastors have joined a nationwide effort to equip 1,000 people to launch 650 new United Methodist congregations by the end of 2012.

The Rev. Gary Shockley, former senior pastor of a new church start called HopeSpring United Methodist Church in Winter Garden, Fla., joined the Nashville-based Path 1 initiative recently as a new church strategist. Shockley is still living in Orlando, but commutes to Nashville once a month.

Rev. Gary Shockley

Path 1 is a response to the new church development goal “New Places for New People” — one of the 2008 General Conference’s four key areas of focus for the next quadrennium. The other three areas are developing principled Christian leaders, engaging in ministry with the poor, and fighting diseases of poverty, such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

The name of the new church emphasis grew out of the first of The United Methodist Council of Bishop’s seven “Vision Pathways” for the future of the denomination and ties into the words of John the Baptist in the Gospels. Its goal is to support annual conferences in giving both clergy and laity the means to plant new congregations in strategically targeted regions of the country.

Shockley is one of four Path 1 strategists, each with different job descriptions and areas of emphasis.

The Rev. Dr. Mont Duncan, executive director of the Florida Conference New Church Development office, recently joined the Path 1 team as a representative of the Southeastern Jurisdiction. The Florida Conference has already been a trendsetter in the arena of new church starts, aiming for the past five years to begin at least 15 per year, with strong support from the Florida Conference bishop and cabinet. Often that numerical goal has been exceeded.

Rev. Dr. Mont Duncan

“One of the things that I’ve shared that we’re doing is using lay people to start churches,” Duncan said. “We’ve got lay people who are equipped and called to do this. They go through the same discernment process somebody on the elder track would go through.”

Shockley started HopeSpring United Methodist Church as a “daughter” congregation of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando. One of his first assignments with Path 1 is developing a coaching network across the United States that will support church planters and their new congregations.

“It’s really creating something that doesn’t exist,” Shockley said. “The goal is to have about 150 to 200 coaches that are trained and supervised and coordinated in Path 1. I’m pulling together a design team of people from across the connection right now, some who work in coaching fields in the secular world, like NASA.”

A key challenge for the design team, Shockley said, is thinking through the content of the coaching process. Questions to consider, he said, might relate to the expectations of coaches and the “core competencies we think will be most important.”

“We’re still at the foundational level,” Shockley said. “I’ve been doing a lot of reading, meeting with business coaches. We really see this as an opportunity to pull some of the best thinkers together. We’re not just looking for pastors who have church planting experience to be coaches.”

The coaching network is the largest of seven key projects Shockley will tackle and the most immediate. Overall, Shockley believes there is plenty of positive energy and “buzz” around Path 1’s ambitions.

“As I talk to folks, there is a general sense of excitement about this,” he said. “I haven’t met anyone who will argue that it isn’t the right thing for us to be doing as a denomination.”

Shockley says it’s “not about saving the institution or even propping it up, but how do we get back to evangelize what we’re now calling the ‘New United States,’ recognizing that since the heyday of when our denomination did this really well, things have really changed. It’s a new game, it’s a new time, and it’s a new place.”

“Most people recognize that the gap between the church and our culture is widening,” he added. “We’ve not kept pace; we’ve not found substantive ways to reconnect with the people in our culture.”

In assessing potential new church planters, Duncan said the Florida Conference and others are using instruments that include measuring the presence of key behavioral traits that have proven successful in starting new congregations. Potential planters also go through a “boot camp” about how to start a new church.

“It doesn’t matter how you’ve earned a living. You’ve got to have the same traits,” Duncan said. “We have also added a face-to-face assessment by persons within the conference who have been trained how to assess.”

Shockley is closely involved with the core competencies assessment process for potential church planters, particularly with the Florida and North Georgia conferences.

“When I look at the length and the breadth of the work we have to do, it really does start with finding the right people, making sure these are folks we can really support,” he said. “If we don’t find the right people, then the coaching’s going to be a mess.

Members of the Sanctified New Jerusalem Mission choir provide musical leadership during a worship service in early 2008 for its church cluster. The congregation, which serves the Haitian community in Pompano Beach, Fla., began in a storefront in 2005. Three years later it had grown to more than 300 worshippers. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. File photo #08-0748. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0797 | Feb. 13, 2008.

“It’s one thing to say you’re passionate about reaching unchurched or de-churched people. We’re looking with some very pointed questions for the behaviors that are already present that will lend themselves to effective church planting.”

Shockley said a good mix of both clergy and laity has been undergoing assessment as potential church planters, which he believes is a healthy sign.

“I’m thinking of a lawyer I assessed from Haiti who lives partly in the U.S. in the Tampa area and was working to reach other Haitians. He developed a ministry to 150 people,” Shockley said. “By far, the laity we’re seeing come from the ethnic, multi-racial kind of communities. The ethnic planters tend to be more bi-vocational. There’s a real passion and calling. Most of them tend to come from families that are very strong in church leadership. It’s more of the norm and important in the culture they come from to be planting churches.”

More information on Path 1 is available in the United Methodist News Service article “Path 1 focuses on ‘biggest mission field’: the U.S.” and on the Path 1 Web site at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*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 based in Nashville, Tenn.