Strategies for starting new United Methodist churches have changed over the past several years, a pastor who helps guide church starts told a group of clergy in a recent training session.
“In the past, we had a lot of ‘parachute drops’ (beginning churches without the guidance of a parent congregation), but not anymore,” said the Rev. Dr. Iosmar Alvarez, Lexington District superintendent in the Kentucky Conference. “Now, we believe churches should be planting churches.”
Alvarez met with 15 people beginning the 2019-2020 planter incubator program, Sept. 20 at the conference office in Topeka; 20 overall have enrolled. It was the first of five sessions, concluding in February, teaching the strategies behind starting a new church.
“The past was more like, ‘build it, and they will come,’” said Alvarez, founding pastor of the largest and fastest-growing Hispanic congregation in the United States. “In the past, we had a very heavy focus on social work only, instead of discipleship. Now we are more into discipleship making and transformation systems.”
Churches over the past several years have looked for more quality than quantity, Alvarez said during a break from the instruction.
“We’ve gotten past the megachurch mindset, where every pastor wants a megachurch. Not anymore,” he said. “They are learning that doesn’t work. It’s too complex to try and multiply those. It is easier to multiply a church of 30, 60 or 100 than to multiply a church of 1,000.
“We have moved from megachurch to mega-impact. We have gone from talking about seating capacity to sending capacity,” he added. “People want to make a difference.”
Instructing church planters also has evolved over the past few years, he said. Those guiding planters are teaching more about finances, developing budgets and responsible fundraising.
Potential churches also need to have a full grasp of the situation in where they may be planting, he said.
“The biggest mistake is not knowing the realities, not defining the reality well — we call it the good, the bad and the ugly. If you don’t define that, you’re in big trouble,” he said. “Everything you’re making or creating is from thin air. It’s not contextual, it’s not informed by reality, and it will be ineffective.”
The potentially widening schism in the denomination over human sexuality has come into play when discussing new church starts, Alvarez said.
“People are very divided in this issue of human sexuality and same-sex marriages. For me it’s an excuse, No. 1, because it’s the latest justification that we have found,” he said. “We have not been making disciples for a while. So, this declining is not because of that issue. We need to focus on making disciples regardless of what our position is.
“People are so concerned with what is going on with the global church, when the local church should be their concern so much of the time,” Alvarez added.
This is the sixth year of the planter incubator program and the fifth year of the 20 by 2020 program of growing church starts in the Great Plains, said the Rev. Nathan Stanton, congregational excellence director.
The planters will present their ideas to a panel of judges at a session based on the TV series “Shark Tank,” Jan. 14 at Lincoln St. Mark’s UMC.
Stanton said the presentation on ministry action plans was moved to the first session this year, and he thought it was productive.
“We felt like it would be best to give them instruction and coaching up front about how to put this plan together first,” he said. “From here, they’ve got this God-given vision. Now, as they go back to where they’re appointed or planted, our hope and prayer is they’ll find a higher level of motivation to work on this.
“Now, they have to work on making this vision come to life where they’re appointed.”
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