Monday, February 07, 2011

What We Have Learned About Planting Churches in North Alabama and Beyond…

Alan Beasley reports that Russellville First paid their entire Fund 524, Birmingham-Southern College, times two! I hope all of our churches follow Russellville’s lead and I hope all will receive an offering for our scholarships at BSC in Lent.
Will Willimon

Do you prefer the good news or bad news first? Most people prefer the bad first so here it is. Nationwide eighty percent of new churches fail. The only worse odds are among new restaurants. It is tough to start anything.

Why should we start new churches when many fail? Glad you asked.

  • Because there is no more effective method on the planet to reach new people for Christ.
  • Because the only denominations that are growing are those that are planting churches at a rate approaching two percent. (In case you are doing the math that would be sixteen new communities of faith per year for us. We start about a fourth of that number.)
  • Because everywhere in the world where the church is expanding (ie. China, India, Africa etc.) it is happening on the foundation of rapidly multiplying communities of faith.
  • Because Jesus commands us to go and do the new thing making disciples.
  • Because…selfishly we need more vibrant churches to share the load of paying for our mission (OK…I admit that is not the best motivation…but it is motivation.)

Can the failure rate be reversed? Again, glad you asked. Now for the good news…YES! We can reverse the numbers to an eighty percent success rates by focusing on four areas. That is where we have been pouring our energy into over the past eighteen months. In Jim Collins Good to Great lingo, “The flywheel is slowly beginning to turn.”

Effective Assessment of the Plant Pastor

Dr. Charles Ridley identified thirteen characteristics of effective church planters. Potential church plant pastors must be assessed for their effectiveness potential based on these characteristics. Jim Griffith has trained a team of pastors from our conference to do this kind of assessment. We have also developed a partnership with Growing Healthy Churches to do detailed assessment for our potential church planters. We are committed to having no one plant a church in North Alabama without the pastor and church having the highest potential for success.

Proper Training

We have sought outside help, partnering with Griffith Coaching to provide training through his “boot camp.” This boot camp trains in habits and skills that lead to the highest likelihood of ongoing effectiveness. All new church pastors in North Alabama have now had that training as will all future new church pastors.

Ongoing Coaching

Jim Griffith has provided coaching for us for the last two years. In turn he has produced a group of pastors from our conference to begin providing ongoing coaching for our plant pastors. We have adopted the Growing Healthy Churches model of cluster coaching. An effective new church pastor from our conference will lead each of these coaching clusters. Here is the message; you are not alone when you go out to plant in North Alabama. There is a team and ultimately a person who will be a friend, mentor and coach. Church planning in North Alabama is now a team sport!

Parent Churches

Partnership with a strong, vibrant parent church is paramount for effective plants. We are evaluating the possibility of treating any money given from a parent church in a similar fashion as capital money. This gives the parent church a financial incentive and benefit for doing this important kingdom work. We have found that any parenting church gets a big spiritual boost from becoming a church planting church.

Our Greatest Needs

Our greatest needs: Gifted plant pastors. Only a few have the gift mix to do this difficult work. If your fell called to this, I need to hear from you. We promise to give you what you need to succeed. Committed partner churches. Church planting cannot remain the domain of the conference. In fact…I work for the day when it is no longer the work of the conference. Because ultimately; churches plant churches!

Tommy Gray

Director of Congregational Development

North Alabama Conference of the UMC


Jason Woolever said...

Thanks for posting this Bishop Willimon. I agree with this 100%... I'm in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference... The need is so great...

EF + said...

I think the congregational support component is critical. Anecdotally, it seems to me that when a person decides to plant a church on his/her own, that church plant fails. But when a person is working with a parent church (or group of churches) as a part of an intentional strategy to birth new churches, those plants thrive. I know this is just based on my own localized observation, but I think these are successful for a couple major reasons:

1) Financial support - with a parent church(es) involved, financial support is more committed and more regular. Church planting is already one of the toughest assignments one can have, then to have to do that while working a full time job as well is just to make it that much more difficult.

2) Participant support - often the hardest part of anything is getting a critical mass that can support the ministry of the plant. Parent churches often send not only a church planter, but also a handful of their best members with the planter help them achieve that critical mass.

3) Community - ministry is already lonely enough, maybe one of the lonely professions in the world. As a part of a birthing process, the church planter is often viewed as part of the ministry team of the parent church and is able to have support, encouragement and accountability that makes ministry enjoyable.

Thanks for your commitment.

Andrew Kenny said...

It was nice to meet you today in Belfast Northern Ireland. I'm glad you are an admirer of Mr Wesley who is also one of my heroes of the faith despite his few flaws. You liked the quote by William Booth I gave you and in case you forgot it I'll repeat it. The context was that some pietistic Christians were condemning him for going to the owners of Distilleries and bookmakers of his day in order to ask for large sums of money to fund his many social projects. His reply was 'I will wash the money in the tears of the widows and orphans.'
I'm sure you know the other one by Booth:
'There is one God and John Wesley is His prophet'

And so say all of us!

Peace and Grace to you.