More than 100 new church planters, coaches, seminarians, presenters, and Conference and National ministries staff are participating in the UCC's second annual New Church Leadership Institute meeting this week (Aug. 12-15) in Atlanta, Ga.
The program has grown significantly. This year's 100 participants represented 20 of the UCC's 38 Conferences. Last year's gathering drew 70 participants from 18 Conferences.
"This New Church Leadership Institute builds the foundation for the new church development we need in the United Church of Christ," said the Rev. Cameron Trimble, director of the institute. "These new church planters will strengthen and energize our church both in the present and the future."
A collaborative program of UCC-related Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, Emory University's Candler School of Theology, the UCC's Southeast Conference and the UCC's Local Church Ministries, the New Church Leadership Institute was made possible through a grant of $128,700 from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. In 2007, the foundation supported the event's first installment with a $50,000 grant.
While in Atlanta, participants discussed topics such as: "Why start new churches?" "Ten challenges new starts face," "Church planting: nuts and bolts" and "People are coming! Now what?"
Presenters included effective new church start pastors, a seminary professor and UCC leaders who specialize in church planting and coaching.
Breakout groups discuss sessions on planting congregations that are Euro-American, African-American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander/Asian American, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender, and Open and Affirming congregations.
The presentations will be translated into Spanish for Hispanic new church planters, and seminarians will receive credit for the Institute as an academic class.
"It is appropriate that the Institute is happening while the Olympics are being held since starting new churches in the 21st century is an Olympian task," said the Rev. David Schoen, the UCC's evangelism team leader, in his opening welcome. "We have learned from the Olympics that no athlete succeeds alone."
"Athletes have coaches, training partners, team members, a whole nation and world cheering them on. So it is with church planting," Schoen said. "A new church planter needs a coach, training partners, a core team, wider church support from association, conference and national ministries, and more. It takes the whole church system to plant a new congregation. The New Church Leadership Institute seeks to create that church wide support for new church planting."
This year, the Institute included a pilot program for ministers involved in redeveloping congregations seeking renewal. This pilot "redeveloper program" will be reviewed for expansion at next year's Institute, Schoen said.