Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Question of Planting Churches in Non - "Upper-Class White Suburbs"

As I go about the Conference, I've repeatedly heard a couple of questions that I would like to attempt to give an answer. The questions are: Why do we start new communities of faith mostly in all white, affluent suburbs? And, Why are we starting new churches when we ought to be revitalizing our existing congregations?

For the next two weeks, I'll be attempting to answer both of these questions, questions which I fear are based on misinformation or a lack of information. I hope my responses will be helpful in better understanding our Conference Priorities.

1."Why do we plant new communities of faith ONLY in upper-class white suburbs?"

This is a common misconception about our new communities of faith. The simple answer is that we DO NOT plant ONLY in upper-class white suburbs!

Under the leadership of Dick Freeman, in the past two decades we have planted: House of Restoration, Glenn Addy, IMANI, Church Without Walls, Church Across the Street, Tabernacle, Genesis (Guntersville), The Summit (Hwy 431 in Albertville), New Life (on Sand Mountain at Grant, AL), Church of the Reconciler, Albertville Hispanic, Cullman Hispanic, Decatur Hispanic, Riverchase Hispanic, Florence Hispanic, Huffman Hispanic, Big Sandy in rural Tuscaloosa County, Jordan Crossings, Brandon in East Florence. These are 19 that ARE NOT in "upper class white suburbs." Not all of these new communities of faith root. For instance, we worked at IMANI for nearly a decade before we finally decided that we were not going to succeed. However, most of our communities of faith that have been multicultural, multiracial, and are in or near marginalized neighborhoods have succeeded far beyond the national average for new church starts.

We have invested, as a Conference, close to ten million dollars in these new church starts, nearly half of our total investment in new church starts. Our main limitation is pastoral leadership. We simply do not have enough pastors (yet!) who are multilingual or who have gifts for ministry in these settings.

However, some of these churches like "Genesis" in Guntersville are amazing places that are national leaders in ministry in settings where there are many people in need. Jesus has assigned us this mission and, with God's help, in places throughout our Conference, we are stepping up to the task!

Will Willimon