New Faith Communities
We know that the most effective form of evangelism is creating new faith communities.
What is a faith community?
A worship experience linked to a discipleship system. This system introduces newcomers to the Christian faith and creates settings where they can come to know and believe in Jesus Christ. But it doesn’t stop there. The congregation also provides ways for new Christians to mature in faith and to learn to use their spiritual gifts for ministry.
The United Methodist Church is establishing new faith communities in three primary ways: by starting new churches, through existing congregations that link their current worship with a discipleship system, and by starting new worship experiences in an existing church that are linked to a discipleship system. The importance of establishing new faith communities can be seen in the following five trends.
Five Trends Shaping the 21st Century
1.) High Mobility of the U.S. Population: From 1990 to 1997, 90% of the U.S. population moved: 18% from one county to another county in the same state, 12% to a different state. In raw numbers, 78 million people moved out of their city or town to another place. Forty-eight million stayed within their state, while 30 million moved to another state.
This vast movement of people has created new opportunities for churches around the country. When people move into a new community, there is an opportunity for a church to welcome them and invite them to become active in their church. Even more important, most people are not going to be lifelong members of one local church. Rather, as people move into new communities, they will be looking for ways to connect with the community. One of those ways is through becoming part of a local church. Local churches that focus on creating faith communities that are open to new people are the ones that will grow.
2.) Birth of the Millennial Generation: Right now there are more children and youth in school than at any other time in U.S. history. They make up the Millennial Generation (born 1982-99). More numerous than the Baby Boomers and the Postmoderns when they were young, this generation will set the trends for the next ten years. By 2005, we will see a youth boom larger than that of the ’60s and ’70s. Congregations that create ministry with the Millennials are the ones who will meet the needs of a new generation. Creating faith communities that speak to the families of the Millennials will be a key strategy for churches in the first decade of the new century.
3.) Aging of the Baby Boomers: While we are seeing the birth of a new generation, the Baby Boomers will be creating new trends themselves as they move toward retirement. During the next two decades, record numbers of Americans will turn 50. By 2020, the number of those over 65 will double from 30 million to more than 60 million. As people age and move into retirement, churches will face the challenge of providing faith communities geared to their needs. A focus on spirituality, using gifts for ministry, addressing issues related to health and wellness, and teaching Boomers how to give back to society will be key.
4.) The Multiethnic Society: The ’90s could be called the decade of immigration. From 1990 to 1998 the foreign-born population increased by 27.1% to 25.2 million. In 1998, 9.3% of the population was foreign-born. From 1990 to 1998 the number of foreign-born Asians and Pacific Islanders increased by 39.2% (from 4.6 to 6.4 million), the number of foreign-born African-Americans increased 42.4% (from 1.7 to 2.4 million), and the number of foreign-born Hispanics grew 34.1% (from 8 to 10.7 million).1 Many communities are living in a multi-ethnic world. A key strategy for evangelism is creating new faith communities for specific people groups defined by language, race, etnicity, and generation.
Because the Millennial Generation has greater racial ethnic diversity than previous generations, a key to ministry with Millennials will be the creation of single-culture multiethnic faith communities that reflect the demographic make-up of their population. This diversity will continue to increase as we move through the 21st century. From 2000 to 2020 the racial ethnic make-up of those ages 0-17 will change as follows:
Ethnic Make-up 2000 2020
American Indians/Native Alaskans 1% 1%
Asian/Pacific Islanders 4% 6%
Hispanic 16% 22%
Black, non-Hispanic 15% 16%
White, non-Hispanic 64% 55%
5.) The Communications Revolution: The communications revolution brought about by the computer continues to accelerate. Networking via fax, Internet, and e-mail has changed the way people interact. On the drawing board are devices that will incorporate all three, plus live video and phone. As the printing press changed the world 500 years ago, so the computer chip will continue to change the way we communicate. Churches that tap into this resource will find new ways to stay connected with members, new ways to equip and train people for ministry, and new opportunities for sharing their faith in Jesus Christ.
New Opportunities Abound
As a result of the intermixing of these five trends, congregations find themselves in a world much different from even 40 years ago. They will need to learn to operate in new ways:
1.) Move from signing up members to developing disciples.
2.) Create systems of discipleship that move people through different stages of spiritual development.
3.) Create a flexible church structure whose strength lies in relationships, not in the layout of the organizational chart.
4.) Learn to create new faith communities that speak to the new people groups who come into their cities and towns.
New Congregational Development and Annual Conferences
An exciting trend in The United Methodist Church in the last decade has been a renewed emphasis on starting new churches. Annual conferences focused on starting new churches have turned their membership decline around. What have we learned here?
1.) Leadership is key. Invest in leadership training and development, rather than property and buildings.
2.) Existing congregations benefit from new church starts in their area. New church development is the research and development wing of the annual conference. By blazing new trails and having the freedom to experiment, new churches can teach existing churches how to reach new people groups.
3.) Build the discipleship system first, then invite people to worship. For the first 9-12 months, new church starters are instructed to start 12 small groups of 12 adults. When they reach that number, a worship experience is launched that includes the total number. In this way, the church breaks the first growth barrier of 120 in worship at the beginning.
Starting New Faith Communities
One of the myths of the past was that The United Methodist Church did not know how to start churches. That is no longer true. Throughout the connection, we can point to numerous examples of new churches that are having great success. Leaders are now taught a five-step process for creating new faith communities.
* Train and equip leaders: Before sending a pastor or a lay team to start a new church, train them. Annual conferences that invest in creating a pool of trained leaders for new church starts find themselves in position to successfully launch new churches. The skills that are learned can also be applied to ministry in existing congregations.
* Identify people groups: A faith community is most effective when it is in ministry to a people group. Through demographics, congregations can discover the people groups in their communities and create faith communities that speak to their needs and dreams. A people group may be a racial ethnic group, a language group, a generational group, or a combination. They share common beliefs and history, have similar circumstances, and look toward a common future.
Many congregations find that by establishing multiple faith communities they can reach multiple people groups. For example, when a church decides to start a new worship service to reach a younger generation it is in the process of developing a new worship experience for a different people group in the community. This generational group has different values, beliefs, and musical tastes from those who attend the current worship experience. By also developing a discipleship system that links to the new worship experience, a congregation creates a new faith community that can transform the lives of those who become part of the ministry of the church.
* Develop a healthy core group: The first job of a new church start leader or of the leadership core of an existing congregation that receives a new pastor, is to establish a healthy core group. This is essential for developing a sustainable ministry. What are the characteristics of a healthy core group? They live out the spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith—praying for one another, holding one another accountable, reflecting on Scripture, and asking God for a common vision that will lead the congregation into the future.
*Develop a discipleship system: A discipleship system is designed to equip and nourish Christians as they mature in faith. Typically it involves a combination of small groups (8-15 people) and fellowship/instruction groups (50-90 people) linked to public worship.
* Launch public worship: The next critical step is the launching of public worship. ‘Public worship’ is when the neighborhood and surrounding community are invited to join in worship. Studies show the importance of having more than 120 people at the first offering of a new worship experience—especially for new church starts and for worship services started by existing churches at non-traditional times (Saturday/Sunday evening).