We don’t want to create a box and expect every church plant to fit that box. God is way more creative than that and so are we! Many of the most effective strategies for starting new churches bubble up from the mission field itself. We need to keep open minds and hearts to discern what God is doing or seeks to do in and through us!
The Holy Spirit is doing amazing things across our annual conference resulting in some unique “outside the box” church plants. We encourage prayerful risk-taking in starting new churches. There are, however, numerous strategies that have experienced fruitfulness in reaching newer, younger and more diverse people for the Kingdom. This is a list with a simple description beneath each one.
1. Mother-Daughter (Partner) Strategy – An existing United Methodist congregation (or, perhaps, several churches) serves as an anchoring, sponsoring or parenting force in launching a new church. This could be a cluster of partner churches or a combination of partner churches and another entity.
2. Parachute Drop Strategy – This type of plant happens when a cabinet sends a planter into a territory to plant a church and (1) that planter is not from that territory plus (2) there are no active partnerships in place with other United Methodist churches or institutions in the area.
3. Multi-site Expansion Strategy – A new faith community meeting at a new site remains part of a sponsoring church, even as they may develop a distinct staff and ministry team system. Multi-sites vary in pastoral and staffing strategies. They typically have a site pastor – who may or may not be the lead preacher at the site.
4. Church-Within-a-Church Strategy – In a world of very expensive real estate, many new churches will share space with other churches (both partner churches and other collegial congregations). Existing congregations choosing to share property may find that new churches may better serve their immediate neighbors, especially when the new church specializes in a certain racial-ethnic culture and/or a certain generation or social group.
5. The “Elijah/Elisha” Strategy – This strategy requires a proactive discernment process with the district superintendent or conference staff. Congregations may either discover a new vision and recommit to fruit-bearing ministry or respond to God’s call to become an “Elijah” new church start (2 Kings 2:1-14 tells how Elijah passed on the legacy of his ministry to Elisha). Elijah churches intentionally choose either to (a) join another church and give their physical assets to the conference to reach a new group of people or (b) open their doors to a planter and launch team that takes over management of the facility to start a new congregation.
6. Vital Merger Strategy – Most of the time, mergers do not truly create new churches. Two declining churches typically agree to share one facility and decline together rather than alone. However, East Ohio Conference, for example, has a strategy that requires both of the merging churches to sell their buildings, pool the funds, move to a temporary location, find a new name, receive a trained planter and proceed as if they were a new church. Leadership of the planter is key.
7. Closed/Reopened Facility Strategy – Similar to the above strategies, except that there is no church left to share its facility, turn over its ministry, or merge with another congregation to create something new. The new church begins to address the needs and culture of the community population.
8. House Church Strategy – This may well be the oldest strategy for church planting that exists, certainly reaching back to Asia Minor in the first century, and also to frontier America when population was very sparse. House churches are typically small, limited to the number that can fit in a home or a small meeting space. They are often lay-led, with clergy visiting to bring the Sacraments. House churches may organize into networks, akin to circuits of very small congregations.
9. Intentional Communities – The strategy is often traced back to the early church movement described in Acts 2. There have been Intentional Communities throughout most of Christian history, going back to Franciscan, Benedictine and early Celtic orders. More contemporary examples of this strategy, still in existence, were founded in the early 1950s. Typically, Intentional Communities remain small in size (3-12 people) and have no plan to “formalize” as chartered churches with land and a church structure.
10. The Surprise Birth – Sometimes, churches are born unexpectedly – just as children may come along in a season when we did not expect them. Some of our best United Methodist congregations have emerged in this way, as a work of the Holy Spirit and faithful laity. With wise pastoral care and negotiation, these projects often can be brought into the United Methodist fold as official new church projects.
11. Integrated Multi-Ethnic Projects – This strategy results in an intentionally multi-ethnic church plant that worships as one integrated body to create a unique cultural expression and reflect all groups involved. This is what heaven looks like, so why not intentionally plant churches that are integrated? This strategy reflects the work of the Holy Spirit to bring together as one in Christ a multitude of cultural, racial and ethnic groups. We recognize that The United Methodist Church is just learning how to implement this strategy effectively.