Today I heard good news on the church planting front of The United Methodist Church. One news release from the General Board of Global Ministries announced that the UMC has planted 574 new worshiping communities outside the U.S. the past four years. In fact, in Vietnam alone there are 14,000 more people who are part of the UMC. Bishop Bruce Ough, who has been involved in the development of UM pastors there writes,
“It is remarkable to witness what God is doing through The United Methodist Church throughout the region,” said Ough. “The Holy Spirit is breaking through. Lives and entire villages are being transformed. Disciples of Jesus are being formed and equipped for ministry. Leaders are being trained. The distinct United Methodist witness of soul care (cultivating love of God) and social care (loving our neighbors) is taking deep root.”
Another news release, this time from Path 1, which is a church-planting effort of the General Board of Discipleship, announced that 684 new UMCs were planted in the U.S. over the past four years. This is up considerably from the 278 new churches planted the four years before that. The additional good news is that the closure rate during those same periods dropped from 26% to only 8% among these new-church plants. Currently the UMC is planting 11.4 new churches each month in the United States.
The Indiana Conference is a part of this effort. Although a Johnson County new-church plant has discontinued, two new efforts have begun–one near Avon, led by Rev. Alex Hershey, and a second one in Jeffersonville, led by Rev. Daniel Payton. (Please pray for both of them and these efforts!) We also have a number of Hispanic planting efforts going on, especially in Indianapolis, Marion, Hammond, Hobart, and East Chicago. The largest of these averages 90, others average a couple dozen people or more. Rev. Sergio Reyes and Ezekiel and Suri Becerra are leading these efforts. (Please pray for them too!) Additionally there are churches that are working on establishing new congregations, such as St. Joseph UMC in Fort Wayne.
My dream has been that someday the UMC in Indiana experiences a church-planting movement. We’re not there yet, but there are some positive signs. But is church renewal–through the Fruitful Congregation Journey–and church planting going to be sufficient to reach and disciples those in Indiana? I read a third article via the internet today that indicates that the answer is probably “no” if our goal is to get them to attend our churches.
Tim Stevens, on staff at our own Granger Community UMC, wrote an article pointing out that 60% of the American population is not turning to organized religion to meet their spiritual needs. He writes: “These are people who might believe in God (whatever that means for them), have a respect for Jesus and are on a spiritual journey, but they don’t consider the church (as we know it) as a resource to help them take steps. And it is likely they never will. They pursue their spirituality through culture, friendships, music, TV personalities, their own study of the Bible, self-help books and more.” Thus, the attractional model that we’ve been investing in for so many years isn’t going to get the job done. We’re going to have to take the church to the streets–into our homes, neighborhoods, conversations, and activities.
How might the institutional church help us do this? What one thing might your church do?
— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development