Six important findings about new worshiping communities

November 4, 2014

My travels this month have been fascinating, because they have allowed me to look at new church movements from the view of a seminary, practitioners, and denominational leadership.

I spent a week at San Francisco Theological Seminary, for their launch of the Center for Innovation in Ministry. Then, I helped to host UNCO, where practitioners and pastors support one another in ministry. Finally, I went with the Center for Progressive Renewal to present a new church study for ecumenical partners--the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Canada, and the United Church of Christ.

I want to highlight a few things from the study. We know many of these things intuitively, but it’s always good to have research that backs our instincts.

1) There are different types of new churches. They are traditional (including African American), immigrant and multi-ethnic, and alternative. (Here are some examples of alternative communities.)

2) There are varied ways that new churches start. New churches can be initiated by the denomination, a clergy person, or a group of lay people. Lay people tend to start traditional churches, and clergy often start alternative communities. Having a partner congregation can be extremely important for a new community.

3) Experience is not necessary. The ELCA has been working with seminaries to establish a path from theological education directly to planting new churches. The research suggests that not having a lot of senior pastor experience can be good for a new church. Also, women pastors tend to be better at attracting un-churched people.

4) New churches reach people that established churches do not. Our established churches are made up of members who are older and whiter than the general population. New churches, in comparison, are much more diverse and younger. In addition, they are reaching people who have never attended or have dropped out of church. For alternative communities, it's important for them to highlight that they are not conservative evangelicals.

5) Social media is an important outreach tool. For new churches, social media and the general ability to communicate publicly is an important tool for outreach. Furthermore, the researchers suggest that social media will probably become even more important in the future.

6) It takes 8-10 years before a church becomes viable. In past decades, it took 3-5 years for a community to grow. Now growth typically occurs between 8-10 years. This is often difficult for denominational bodies to understand, because we have funding structures that support a shorter amount of time.

Comments

I somehow

I somehow agreed with your findings! However, I doubt the 6th finding which is taking around 8-10years for it to become viable. As long as the community goes to church and prays, I believe it is an enough proof that the church is viable.

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Very good point… The

Very good point… The definition of "viable" is quite slippery. Many times we think of it as economically sustainable, but that undermines the definition of what it means to be a church--for many of us, it's where the word is preached, the sacraments are administered, and prayers are uttered.

Post from the field

All true.
Two big questions to be answered, though, are: 1) whether the minister needs to be full-time or even halftime. 2) whether a site from which to launch ministry 7 days a week is essential (of the essence) or not.
If the answer to both of these questions, or even one of them, is yes, then funding sources become necessary. This is a harsh reality that necessarily dances with the joy of a mission and ministry that is creative, outside-the-box, healing, and transformative
Vision is essential.
And lots of conversations.

The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck
Vicar
TheAdvocateChurch.org

I am a big proponent of

I am a big proponent of having funding available to pastors who start new churches. We don't have any problem funding secretaries or denominational staff. In fact, we would think it was really odd to expect them to work without funding. So why would we treat pastors who start new churches differently?

At some point it becomes a social justice issue.