LAKELAND—"I think vibrancy and vitalness and vitality are all the keywords we’re after," said Rev. Dan Jackson, director of New Church Development for the Florida Conference.
"To be honest, the tough thing to wrestle with is, how do you define the reach and the impact of the church in today's world," he said. In February 2014, Jackson began the twisting, turning and sometimes unpredictable ride to start new churches for the conference, presenting a four-year strategic plan to the Cabinet.
|In identifying the top 20 underserved areas in the annual conference, data was gathered through a research program called MissionInsite. It divides the American population into 71 lifestyles.|
Once approved, the work was to identify the top 20 underserved areas in the annual conference and not only find strategies that worked, but also what "the key worries of life" were that could be addressed in those areas.
Data was collected through MissionInsite, an updatable demographic research program that divides the American population into 71 lifestyles. "What's the lifestyle there? What's the racial and ethnic makeup of the area?" Jackson said.
He cited a startup church east of Florida City and U.S. 1, a new Branches location in Homestead. They found an area 80 percent Hispanic, then discovered the need to identify how many were first or second generation Latino because one group prefers services in Spanish and the other favors English.
Included on the list is a multiethnic church coming to Jacksonville's urban core and where abandoned buildings, graffiti, poverty and crime were once the norm. Today, it's a rapidly revitalizing and eclectic mix of tattoo parlors, hip coffee shops and an infusion of young professionals.
"We are going right into the inner city and figuring out how best to (address) that." It’s led by Rev. Juana Jordan, who grew up in the city and recently returned there as a new church resident at Southside UMC.
“The more de- and unchurched the population," Jackson said, “the more you have to identify where people are in their spiritual development.”
Describing a city changed since living there as a child, Jordan said she hopes "our new faith community is able to come alongside the many changing faces and cultures within the city's urban core and be a transformative agent."
Two church startups targeted for Tampa are the Riverview, Apollo Beach area and a neighborhood identified by Jackson as South-South Tampa, another neighborhood once struggling that has more recently seen millennials buying houses, raising families and building "a place to be" north of MacDill Air Force Base.
Starting two new churches in the same region would not have been possible under the conference's previous funding model, which was built on a financial partnership between the district and conference.
"We had to get to the point where we could think strategically as an annual conference, rather than thinking as nine independent districts," Jackson said.
“We're now capitalizing on the strong leadership we have in many of our churches through multi-site expansions and adoptions,” he added.
"The amount of new starts is unusual," he said, reflecting on his job over the past three years. "I think a lot of that comes from the energy to push forward and connect with the communities that Bishop Carter has brought (to us).”
Plans are for many of the new churches to open their doors for worship January through May 2018.
The current list of new churches planned for 2018 starts and their leadership:
West Palm Bay: Rev. Sean Peters – an elder in full connection from the South Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference who began on staff at FSU Wesley.
West Orlando: Rev. Brian Johnson – currently at Tomoka UMC and will be moving to make this start.
Longleaf/201 Corridor: Rev. Jeff St. Clair – a second-site ministry developing out of Mandarin UMC; St. Clair will continue as associate pastor at Mandarin.
Jacksonville Urban Core (African-Amerian): Rev. Juana Jordan – currently new church resident at Southside UMC.
South-South Tampa: Reverends Chris and Erica Allen – relocating from Nashville, TN; elders in full connection. Chris Allen has Tampa roots.
Apollo Beach/Riverview: Rev. Ryan Hall – the second site of Sun City Center; Hall a new church development resident of Sun City Center.
Branches Homestead (Latino): Rev. Tony Baurichter – current pastor of Branches UMC; will be leading both Branches churches.
Edgewater North Port: David Schutte – the second site of Edgewater UMC.
Grace Sarasota (Re-start): Pastor Patti Nemazie – a merger-adoption of Vamo UMC by Grace UMC - Cape Coral.
--Doug Long is managing editor of the Florida Conference