Church plants retain momentum, but not numbers, UMC expert says

David Burke


Like seemingly everything else in 2020, new church starts have stalled because of the pandemic.

In fact, the Rev. Paul Nixon, a new church strategist for The United Methodist Church, says fewer conferences have planted this year than at any other time in his ministry.

Nixon spoke to eight pastors in various stages of new church development Aug. 27-28 — two attending online and six in person at Topeka First UMC. One of the in-person attendees was from the Oklahoma Conference, the rest were from the Great Plains Conference.

Rev. Paul Nixon explains church planting during a session Aug. 27-28 at Topeka First UMC. Photos by David Burke

New plants, he told the attendees — each masked and keeping at least six feet apart — have tested the versatility of the planters.

“In 2020, we’re reinventing so much,” he said. “We’re starting over in so many ways.”

The Rev. Kyle Reynolds, who expanded a contemporary ministry called Common Grace from the parent of Olathe Grace UMC, agreed.

“We’ve adapted so many ways of doing things that we thought were impossible,” he said.

Church planters talked about their projects, from expanding a food pantry into a community center, a ministry based in the local music community, and a coffee house church plant.

Nixon said much of the expansion this year would be what he would term as Fresh Expressions — “highly experimental, highly related to meeting people where they are.”

“I see lots of that, especially in certain pockets,” he said. “Even in the plants we have, the majority of them is more low-cost plants with less than fulltime clergy assignments.”

The pandemic comes for church planters at the same time as a decision regarding the future of Tthe United Methodist Church was delayed from May 2020 to August and September of 2021 regarding human sexuality, Nixon said.

Participants kept their social distance at the workshop.

“It’s not just the COVID thing, it’s questions about how the denomination is hanging together and financing,” he said. “It’s a challenging year, but there’s opportunities.”

One of the first decisions for new church planters, Nixon said, is whether to begin with worship services or small-group studies.

The coronavirus pandemic has made that decision for them, he said.

“You can do small groups through outdoor gatherings while the weather holds up,” he said.

The Rev. Elmer Armijo, in the process of beginning a Hispanic church plant in Kansas City, Kansas, said he appreciated Nixon’s leadership and the camaraderie he’s developed with his fellow planters.

“The most important point is we have the desire to make this possible, to make this happen, to help each other, to be kind,” Armijo said. “He did a great job of the explanation of how to approach people.”

Contact David Burke, communications content specialist, at

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