Why Start New Churches?
The Detroit Conference has established a goal to create and nurture two new worshipping communities a year over the next five years. “Why start new churches?” Let’s look at some recent history behind this goal.
The Conference Leadership Team hosted an event this past August, calling together many of the leaders in the Detroit Conference. The focus was prayerfully to discern how the Detroit Conference can best live out the Conference Vision: “To create and nurture dynamic and fruitful congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” At that meeting these seventy-five leaders identified seven goals, which the Leadership Team arranged in three pathways. Pathway #1 is to “create and nurture dynamic and fruitful congregations.” The ministry focus of this Pathway is to create new spaces for new faces and revitalize existing congregations.
As a response to this Pathway, the Conference is gearing up with a major revitalization process called Vital Church Initiative. We are well into a pilot process in the Crossroads District and have recently launched it in the Blue Water District. We will be talking more about Vital Church Initiative at Annual Conference as we roll it out Conference-wide! As a Conference we have a priority to help our existing churches grow healthier and stronger. The Vital Church Initiative is one way our conference is helping to “nurture dynamic and fruitful congregations.”
Another goal from that leadership gathering is “to create and nurture two new worshipping communities a year over the next five years.” So again, “Why start new churches? Don’t we have plenty of churches already? Why not put more money and effort into helping our existing churches grow?”
As United Methodists, we have many reasons to make the investment in starting new churches. One of the most compelling reasons to start new churches comes from Jesus’ invitation found in Luke 15. The crowd was wondering why Jesus spent so much time with such “sinful people.” Jesus told them this story:
"Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn't you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, 'Celebrate with me! I've found my lost sheep!' Count on it—there's more joy in heaven over one sinner's rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue. (Luke 15:4-7 TM)
Starting new churches is a highly effective way of reaching unchurched people for Christ. In fact, it is one of the most fruitful ways. Dale Galloway, noted specialist in church leadership, says, “The most proven, most effective means for reaching people who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ is to start a new church. Research across many denominations has verified what Peter Wagner long ago stated: ‘The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches’” (Net Results, Nov/Dec 2002, p.26).
Steve Compton has studied the effect of establishing new churches. He discovered that in the first 30 years of existence, a new church grows faster and witnesses more professions of faith than established congregations (Rekindling the Mainline). Lyle Schaller also proposes a dozen reasons why a central component to any evangelistic strategy should be to plant new churches (44 Questions for Church Planters, pp. 13-36). These studies propose that if we want to accept Jesus’ invitation to find the lost sheep, one of the best ways to do so is to start new churches.
Another reason to start new churches is that new churches take the gospel to where people live. It is no secret that our state, therefore our conference, has seen many demographic changes in the past forty years. Our neighborhoods have changed, and many times our new neighbors do not feel “at home” in our established churches. They may want churches that reflect their ethnic heritage, language, and culture.
A third reason to start new churches is no single church can reach everyone. We all have different likes and dislikes. Multiple churches provide multiple points of entry for the pre-Christian. More churches make it possible for more people to know Christ. In addition, our existing churches often have local traditions that are meaningful to the “members” but have little relevance to those who have not grown up in the church. A new church will begin new local traditions relevant to a new generation and/or culture.
Most new churches grow rapidly and their growth is largely from inviting new people to new life in Christ. An added bonus of starting new churches is that they bring new life and vitality back into existing churches as well. Excitement from a new church will spread to surrounding churches.
Strengthening our existing churches and starting new churches are both worthy and vital ministries. Let’s pray together and work together “To create and nurture dynamic and fruitful congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”