One million new disciples! That is the goal for the next four years set by the 2016 General Conference. To accomplish this goal, the Conference challenged us to start 1,000 new churches by the end of 2020! So, why start new churches?
1. Jesus Commissioned Us.
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations . . ..” (Matt 28:19 NLT) Making disciples is our commission and our responsibility.
Approximately twenty percent of people in the United States are actively involved in a church. If this is true, then over 259,600,000 people are not. As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful . . ..” (Luke 10:2 NIV) John Wesley said, “The world is my parish,” yet we can meet many people in our own neighborhoods who are searching for God and a caring faith community. Potential disciples are young and old, new and long-time residents, as well as diverse ethnically and culturally. We encounter potential new disciples on the streets we walk and in the stores we shop. Jesus calls us to reach out to them, to “go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life . . ..” (Matt 28:19 MSG)
2. New churches are most effective in making disciples.
Donald McGavran and George Hunter, in Church Growth: Strategies that Work quote Lyle Schaller, saying, “Numerous studies have shown that 60-80% of the new adult members of new congregations are persons who were not actively involved in the life of any worshiping community . . .. By contrast, most long established churches draw the majority of their new adult members from persons who transfer in from other congregations.”
Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, a large congregation with over 5,000 in attendance, agrees, saying that “the average new congregation will bring six to eight times more new people into the life of the body of Christ than any older congregation of the same size.”
3. Starting a new church helps the parent church grow.
If an existing healthy church starts a new church, it becomes a much stronger, healthier church. By starting a new church, the existing church extends its reach into new communities to make new disciples.
Sycamore Creek Church in Lansing, Michigan, is a 17-year-old church that five years ago was a one-campus church averaging 107 in attendance. Now Sycamore Creek has four campuses with six worship services, and last year (2016) attendance averaged 229 in worship. By opening their minds, hearts, and doors, going into their neighborhoods, connecting with people, and making new disciples, Sycamore Creek Church is a vibrant, growing congregation.
4. Changing and new communities need new churches.
The population of the United States continues to grow, while the number of churches continues to decline. Some ask, “Why start a new church when we have so many struggling churches? Wouldn’t it be better stewardship to invest in existing churches?” Many struggling churches do need help. Many of these churches are land-locked, are in need of repair, or are in facilities that are inefficient and costly to maintain. Some existing churches struggle to reach out and make new disciples in their changing neighborhoods.
Some churches make the painful decision to close even though new people are moving into their communities. At the same time, new subdivisions are springing up as the population spreads from cities into surrounding farmland. Because new churches are more effective in making new disciples, the ministries of new churches are needed especially in both urban and suburban locations.
5. New churches are more effective in reaching unreached people groups.
Many communities are becoming more diverse. While we strive for multi-ethnic or multi-cultural churches, many people prefer to worship God in their native language using their native customs. They prefer to worship with others of similar background. As Chad Hall, founder of Coach Approach Ministries, states, “While we all long for a church of all nations, the reality is that most lost people are best reached by a community that is similar to the lost person.”
Recently a group of Korean pastors were meeting to discuss how best to reach their community. As they studied the demographics, it became apparent that the largest ethnic group in that community was from India. They immediately discussed how they could start a new church to reach these Indian people in their own language and culture.
6. A new church start creates a new life cycle.
Churches, like people, have a life cycle. They are born/started, grow and mature, age, and die. Many United Methodist churches are aging. Some congregations are at the end of their life cycle. Quite simply, new churches start a new life cycle and attract more people, more young people, more diverse people.
7. New churches are innovative centers for outreach and evangelism.
Junius Dotson, General Secretary of Discipleship Ministries, says that new churches are the “R&D” of the church world. Because they are creating new local traditions and because they have more disciples new to the Christian faith, they are quicker to try new ideas that often appeal to new and more diverse people. They are also more likely to take church into their neighborhoods. New churches are started in pubs and parks, in pizza shops and laundry mats, in theaters and schools, anywhere unchurched people gather. Faith communities begin with people who share hobbies and activities such as rock climbing, running, cycling, health and wellness, recovery, justice concerns, or various types of service. New disciples are made in these relational settings.
8. New disciples have a new place to grow.
New small groups, faith communities, and churches are easier entry points into the community of faith than are long-established ones. New disciples are looking for a place to grow in their faith and to be on the discipleship journey with others. Starting new churches provides a new place for new disciples to grow.
The ultimate goal is not to plant churches; the ultimate goal is to make disciples. By starting 1000 new churches in the next four years, the United Methodist Church will be better able to welcome one million new disciples of Jesus Christ, including “more people, more young people, more diverse people.”