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Florida pastor takes helm of national new church development

Florida pastor takes helm of national new church development

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida pastor takes helm of national new church development

By John Michael De Marco | June 8, 2010 {1180}

NOTE: A headshot of the Rev. Gary Shockley is available at    

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Florida Conference’s Rev. Gary Shockley has been named executive officer for New Congregational Development at the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), where he will lead the Path 1 Team. 

Rev. Gary Shockley
Shockley is currently a new church systems strategist for Path 1 and will succeed the Rev. Tom Butcher, effective July 1. Butcher, who has served in the top leadership role at Path 1 since 2007, is taking an appointment in the Desert Southwest Conference.

“It’s been a little over a year since I joined the Path 1 team” said Shockley, who had been commuting between Florida and Nashville until taking up full-time residence in Nashville in May “I had no inkling or thoughts about moving out of that role for a long time. I’ve enjoyed being the strategist, enjoyed the creativity and multiple projects involved in resourcing annual conferences. It’s been a good fit for me.”

Shockley will lead the 11-person Path 1 staff, based at GBOD headquarters in Nashville, and continue working with the Path 1 steering committee and United Methodist Council of Bishops toward the goal of building and implementing the denomination’s collaborative effort to train 1,000 new church planters to launch 650 new churches by 2013.

An elder in the Florida Conference, Shockley has served as a pastor in the United Methodist system since he was 18 and has 12 years of new church start experience. Shockley has also been a leader in the denomination’s annual School of Congregational Development.

“Gary brings specialized knowledge to the executive officer position with his extensive training and expertise in church consulting focusing on new church development, extensive fund development experience, visioning and strategic planning, new church design experience, team building with supervision experience and conflict resolution,” said the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, general secretary for GBOD.

As part of his work as a strategist, Shockley has been developing a nationwide coaching network, assessment resources, funding strategy workshops, consulting tailored to annual conferences and numerous other resources. His efforts have included implementing a coaching and training system for deploying 100 trained and endorsed Path 1 coaches to work with church planters.

Shockley also worked to organize the inaugural three-day Path 1 Coaching Forum held in January in Nashville. Approximately 80 men and women from across the United States attended the forum, which was conducted by 18 mentor-coaches — a diverse leadership group linked by their dedication to planting new United Methodist churches throughout the United States.

“We are doing a parallel thing at the School of Congregational Development each summer where we will focus on the other two key components of our coaching model: consultation and facilitation,” Shockley said. “We probably have 30 or 40 people coming out of that (January) forum that we’re tracking who are moving on our checklist toward endorsement (as a planter). This involves ongoing training, reading quizzes, online learning and some practical experience in coaching. Once we’re able to assess readiness, we’ll be ready to market and deploy those folks in the connection.”

The next step

Now, Shockley and Butcher are doing transition work and project management to prepare for the executive hand-off at the end of June. Shockley says the opportunity to work alongside Butcher for the last several months before the change takes place has been ideal.

“One of the things that became attractive to the interviewing group was that being already on staff makes the transition potentially smoother, in terms of the transfer of information, history, and understanding is easier this way,” Shockley said.

“Gary has shown strong leadership in working toward this goal with Tom and the others on the Path 1 team,” Greenwaldt said. “While we will miss Tom greatly as he moves to a new role in the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, we know that Gary will build on the success already demonstrated by the Path 1 team.”

Shockley says Butcher has done a great job assembling the staff. “One of my goals is to keep the staff and maximize each of us in our specific areas of giftedness, expertise and focus,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to align our staff and resources around our multiple audiences, better understanding who our primary clients are.”

Path 1, like nearly every part of United Methodism and its agencies, has had to cut its budget in recent years in response to the nation’s financial downturn. “It’s going to take even more focus to align our resources more fully,” Shockley said. “There may be some things we’re doing right now that we have to let go of.”

While 650 new launches is the goal for this quadrennium, Shockley said Path 1’s ultimate goal is to see the denomination get back to averaging one new church start per day — a statistic that was prevalent during the height of the Methodist movement. He admits achieving that goal will probably take a couple of quadrennia and that starting 650 churches by 2013 is itself proving arduous. While behind track, Shockley says the denomination is ahead of where we it would otherwise be if Path 1 didn’t exist.

“We do, as a denomination, plant a fair number of churches each year,” he said. “We’re somewhere between 150 to 200 new church starts in this quadrennium.”

Shockely says Path 1 can’t take the credit for that accomplishment, since the team doesn’t physically plant churches, but that’s not Path 1’s role. “We are influencers of culture,” Shockley said. “Our greatest desire is to infect the annual conferences with the church planting bug and then come alongside them and help them do their work.”

The economy, Shockley says, has had a big impact on the ability of annual conferences to start news churches. “We’ve had churches that were ready to take the step of a second campus or a multi-site or conferences that were ready to do a parachute drop, that because of the economy have had to stop that,” he said. “They are poised to get on with that work. As conferences reallocate resources, they are getting more focused on their resources, as well.”

New ways of doing business

One of the positive things coming from the economic shakedown is that “you can’t do business as usual anymore,” Shockley says. The days of conferences funding new church starts with massive amounts of cash are over.

We need to engage this younger culture in a way that is not going to be so expensive. The focus with these folks is going to be less on the church as a building and more on the church as a movement.

Rev. Gary Shockley

“What it’s forced us to do is think of new models for church planting that are less expensive,” he said. “That will require some very creative thinking on the part of annual conferences. Some conferences are looking at the sale of existing property of churches that have closed, reclaiming those assets and moving them directly into supporting new church development.”

Another dynamic of church planting that will become even more important is the planters themselves raising a certain percentage of their financial needs. Conferences will not only be assessing the behavioral characteristics and competencies that make planting a good fit for someone, but will not move forward until the planter has raised $30,000 or $40,000, for example.

“We need to consider those kinds of approaches that will work within our system,” Shockley said. “I think we’ll see more multi-sites, where the parent or partner church has the kind of resources to make that happen, without having to spend what it takes to parachute drop.”

Shockley speculates that some of the best stewardship models and strategies have yet to be developed. “There’s a lot of experimentation right now in church planting to reach that Gen X and Gen Y group,” he said. “I think we’re going to see more churches planted without land and dedicated facilities.”

Shockley says that trend is already happening, pointing to an article in Leadership magazine about a church that started in a coffee shop in Texas. He himself launched one in a warehouse in Pennsylvania and another in a refurbished grocery store in Central Florida.

“We need to engage this younger culture in a way that is not going to be so expensive,” he said. “The focus with these folks is going to be less on the church as a building and more on the church as a movement.”

More existing churches will house new churches within their walls, Shockley predicts, noting that numerous churches already allow racial or ethnic plants to use their facilities during off-Sunday morning hours. 

The new generation of church planters, Shockley says, sees themselves as missionaries, looking for support through their various social networks. Shockley said churches that are partnering with other types of ministries — whether a day care or a business that subleases the space and pays rent — are asking such questions as, “What other kinds of things can we house or rent space to that’s not in conflict with our mission, where we can do some supportive kind of work together?”

Planters are also finding major donors with whom they already have a relationship. “There are great entrepreneurs out there looking for worthwhile ministries to support,” Shockley said. “A lot of these folks are United Methodists. Often hospitals or other charitable organizations get to them first, because they know how to do that.”

The church of the future, Shockley said, is going to have to create multiple strategies, given the shifting financial landscape and the 21st century culture. “There’s a church in Central Florida that worships at a school,” he said. “The first thing they started was a six-day-per-week coffee shop. The money from the coffee shop actually supports the mission work of the local church. They’re thinking creatively. That kind of marketplace ministry is very attractive. It gets the church closer to the grassroots of the culture.”

Shockley is excited by the gradual rise of the Path 1 lay missionary planting network, admitting it stirs some controversy because of its focus on training bi-vocational pastors who must already have a full-time job.

“In places where church plants can’t readily support the clergy salary and benefits package, why not find, train, deploy and coach lay pastors who can do it a lot more economically — who are already invested in the community and have networks they have established?” Shockley says. “I doubt we’re going to plant mega-churches using that strategy, but for us as Methodists, it’s a both-and conversation. We’ve always been a small church denomination, and I think missionally we’re going to reach certain demographics through smaller and midsize congregations that will never become large congregations.”

Planting some large congregations is still crucial, Shockley says, because they “become our air craft carriers that can launch resources back into the connection to help our smaller and midsize churches.”

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.