Buoyed by encouraging numbers and boldly optimistic that the trend will continue, the Rev. David Schoen led a rousing celebration of new church plants Friday afternoon in the Plenary Hall of the Tampa Convention Center.
"This is the greatest amount of new churches planted and received in a five-year period since the first decade of the UCC," said Schoen, minister and team leader for the UCC Congregational Vitality Discipleship Ministry, during the opening day of General Synod 28. "And here are the rock stars among us."
With that, about 100 members of new church plants - many of them youth and young adults - streamed forwarded in two lines, one at each end of the stage, wildly waving arms and placards. "We're excited about these growing numbers," said Schoen.
Since Synod 27 in Grand Rapids, Mich., 78 new churches have sprouted. Added to the 95 churches gained from 2006 to 2009 - including newly planted, affiliated and in-process churches – the five-year total increase is 173.
"The Central Atlantic Conference has had 10 new church initiatives in the past two years, and the Southern California Conference has added 23 in the past five years," said Schoen. "Some Conferences that haven't seen growth since the 1980s are increasing numbers as well."
Newly planted congregations, affiliating congregations, churches birthing churches and several existing churches starting outreach worship to new communities and generations are leading the way, said Schoen.
"New churches really live that UCC DNA of continuing testimony, a Stillspeaking witness, extravagant welcome and changing lives."
Schoen made note of the imaginative names of some of the new starts: El Epicentro, Victorville, Calif.; A Different Christian Voice, Middleton, Mass.; Recovering the Promise, Springfield, Mass.; Least of These UCC, New York, N.Y; All Creatures UCC, Phoenix; Unchurched, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Open Table Community Church in Mobile, Ala.; and El Nuevo Camino (A New Way), in Buffalo, N.Y.
"As good as this is, our goal is to continue to increase, and even double the number of new churches in the next five years," said Schoen.
Notable among the new starts is New Covenant Community Church in Baltimore. "We've gathered a core group to start the first African-American-led new-church plant since the 1960s," the Rev. Brian Murray said from the podium. "We're a new solution for the contemporary belief."
Following Murray to the podium, the Rev. Cameron Trimble, executive director for the Center for Progressive Renewal, enthusiastically pronounced, "This is just the start. There is a new church waiting to be birthed in your conference, in your community.
"The Center for Progressive Renewal will work with conferences and local church ministries to recruit, assess, train and coach new-church planters and multiplying congregations," said Trimble.
"With you, imagine what is possible."