Affirming that "now is the time for new church development," Local Church Ministries' board of directors voted April 22 to endorse an ambitious strategy for planting and welcoming 250 new churches into the UCC by 2011 and as many as 1,600 new congregations by 2021.
The strategy, as detailed in an evangelism document called "Now is the Kairos Time," has also been affirmed by the UCC's Council of Conference Ministers.
"Kairos" calls the church to embrace a four-fold strategy: 1) nurturing a church culture that embraces and engages in new church development; 2) creating systems that recognize, recruit, assess, train and coach new church planters; 3) encouraging and empowering congregational multiplication [churches starting churches]; and 4) preparing for increased outreach and welcome of affiliating [already-existing] congregations.
LCM also voted to give $200,000 to the Southeast Conference's Nehemiah Project, which calls for intensive church planting and outreach by the UCC in the southeastern United States. The grant will be used to support new and renewing churches in the burgeoning region over the next two years.
"The Nehemiah Initiative is very big, not only for us, but for the whole UCC," says Southeast Conference Minister Timothy C. Downs.
Thanks to the UCC's Stillspeaking Initiative, the UCC has seen a burst of interest from those living in the Southeast. Affirming inquiries in response to the denomination's four-year advertising campaign have come disproportionately from those living in southern states, places where the UCC's presence has been the weakest numerically.
"We're going to move ahead with assessing and planning for new churches," says the Rev. David Schoen, who heads the UCC's Evangelism Ministry Team in Cleveland. The influx of new churches is expected to include newly planted congregations as well as existing congregations that will seek affiliation with the UCC. Currently, about 40 existing churches have expressed a "firm interest" in joining the UCC.
A "leadership training camp" for new church planters is being planned for 2007 in order to "identify, coach, train, mentor and inspire" those who feel called to plant new UCC congregations, Schoen says. But it's a special calling.
"A lot might think they have the skills for new church planting and they might, but leadership is crucial," Schoen says. "A 'church planter' is one who actually has what it takes to do it." Schoen says church planters are gifted with motivational, relational and visionary abilities, plus the practical skills necessary to put vision into practice, to pass on the vision to others and to train newcomers for ministry and leadership.
In 2006, the Southeast Conference has welcomed three new churches into the UCC.
On April 22, the Alabama-Tennessee Association granted standing to Holy Trinity Community UCC in Nashville, and Unity Worship Center, UCC in Montgomery, Ala.
In Columbia, S.C., the 300-member Garden of Grace UCC was granted congregational standing on April 29 in the Georgia-South Carolina Association. Ironically, leaders of Garden of Grace first expressed an interest in the UCC in December 2004 during the UCC's first national ad run. Then, in March 2005, during the UCC's second ad run, the church formally voted to seek affiliation. Finally, it was during the church's third ad run that Garden of Grace received congregational standing.
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