Momentum builds for new churches
About 70 people, including 30 new-church developers, gathered in Atlanta to talk about how to bolster healthy new churches in the UCC.
The New Church Leadership Initiative, held Aug. 14-17, included Conference and National staff, new church planters and coaches, and a number of seminary students. It was co-sponsored by the Southeast Conference's Nehemiah Initiative and the new church development program of UCC's Local Church Ministries, based in Cleveland. Eighteen of the UCC's 38 Conferences were represented.
"It was exciting to bring together so many amazingly talented people who are unified around church development," says the Rev. Cameron Trimble, who has directed the Nehemiah Initiative since 2005. "There was an electricity and excitement and a feeling that we could really turn to each other for help."
The Nehemiah Initiative began as an effort to support new churches and renewal projects in the Southeast Conference. Initially, the project received grant funding to plant four new churches in two years and to engage in active renewal with six more congregations. Having met these goals in only 18 months the initiative — financed in part by the Carpenter Foundation — has reapplied for funding through 2008.
At the Atlanta training event, courses offered included strategies for evangelism and planting new congregations in a post-modern era, vision and mission planning, multicultural awareness for new churches, fund raising and stewardship, and the importance of discipleship and worship to church planting.
Trimble cites three key tenets of the Nehemiah Initiative's success. First, new church developers, as well as Conference and Association staff, must understand the work involved in planting new congregations. Second, a long-term and active coaching relationship between a trained new-church coach and a church-planting team establishes best practices in the planting process. Third, new church planters need to be networked together for mutual support and collective learning.
"A grassroots movement of connected new church planters, in and beyond Conferences, will build momentum among our new church leaders," Trimble says.
The Revs. Todd and Nicole Yonkman, co-pastors of a new-church start in Fishers, Ind., say they are encouraged by the number of gifted UCC pastors who have a passion for mission and evangelism in their communities.
The biggest challenge for the UCC, says Todd Yonkman, will be "figuring out how to train more people."
"It is one thing to be successful in a church plant and another to be successful as a denomination," he said. "We are still learning the training piece."
A second installment of the New Church Leadership Initiative is scheduled for Aug. 12-15, 2008.