Never Ourselves Alone: Renewed commitment blossoms
Written by J. Bennett Guess
August - September 2005
September 1, 2005

Strategic evangelism leads to new churches, hopeful signs

"Churches are falling out of the sky!"

That’s the description of one Conference Minister who shared with me his astonishment at the number of unaffiliated, existing congregations that have phoned him in the past year and expressed an interest in joining the UCC.

In addition, the Stillspeaking Initiative has uncovered clusters of people all over this nation who are interested in forming new UCC congregations in places where none previously existed.

Recognizing the unusually high number of inquiries from those living in the so-called "Bible Belt," the UCC’s evangelism ministry is developing a "southern strategy" for the planting of new UCC churches.

Why have I taken up cheerleading? Because, for decades, we’ve immersed ourselves in negative self-talk about congregational decline and closure. And we have mourned, rightly so, the loss of numerous congregations that have chosen to leave our fellowship. Don’t get me wrong: The loss of any congregation — large or small — diminishes us.

But the opposite is also true.

Every time a new church joins us, we should take time to honor how we have been strengthened and enriched by such an affirmation of UCC identity. And, if you look at the list we’ve published on page 12, you’ve got to acknowledge the news is good.

At the past two General Synods, more than 160 such churches have been recognized and celebrated. Some are newly formed congregations, while others are those that have sought out UCC affiliation.

Consider just one success story: With 5,500 members, Victory UCC in Stone Mountain, Ga., joined the denomination about four years ago. A predominately African-American congregation, Victory joined the UCC because of its social justice commitments, not in spite of them. Instantaneously, the congregation became our second largest and has modeled generous support of and commitment to the wider church.

And the excitement is building: Three more large churches are considering affiliation with the UCC. It’s not a done deal yet, but serious conversations are taking place. And if all goes well, these churches — which represent three distinct constituencies and three different regions of the country — will bring almost 12,000 new people into the UCC’s connectional, covenantal life. Stay tuned.

If you or your church would like to support new church growth, consider supporting the New Church Challenge Fund, a financial campaign established to offer greater support for the development of new congregations.

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CONTACT INFO

Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-3801
guessb@ucc.org