When Rev. Roger Ross told his former district superintendent he felt God was calling him to plant a new church, the District Superintendent laughed out loud and advised him that they don’t really do that kind of thing.
The District Superintendent wasn’t wrong. Their Conference was only starting about one new church per decade. Several years later Ross got his turn and was given the opportunity to plant a new church. It went well, and he was in the initial stages of planning a second site when his appointment changed to a large, historic church in need of revitalization.
Ross in now halfway into his first year as the Missouri Conference Director of Congregational Excellence and still has that passion for starting something. He wants to ensure that people in Missouri who are called to start something new don’t have an experience like his. He wants to see that they receive not only opportunities to follow their call to plant but also have encouragement, training and support.
On January 22 and 23, 36 gathered for the New People: Church Planting Discernment Retreat in Columbia. Ross conveyed that for years, as people bemoaned the decline of the United Methodist Church, an analogy was used of the church being a great ship at sea, going on to say large ships don’t turn on a dime but adjust course by a few degrees at a time to change their destination.
That analogy doesn’t really work for Ross. Instead, he sees the United Methodist Church as a flotilla of 32,000 boats. Some are slowly sinking, some are sinking rapidly and some are making improvements and becoming bigger, better boats than they ever were before. Going back to the original analogy, he doesn’t think it’s necessary to get all 32,000 ships moving in the same direction.
“The biggest problem is we’re losing thousands of ships,” Ross said. “We need to build a whole bunch more ships and launch them into the ocean. To do that, we need a boatload of current, spiritually savvy, evangelistic entrepreneurs.”
Church consultant Lyle Schaller once advised that churches that just wanted to hold their own needed to be starting 1 percent of their total number of churches per year. In Missouri, that would be eight new churches per year. Ross said there needs to be three things to start something new: a planting team, a place and funding. More than a dozen sites in Missouri have been identified. Congregational Development has funds to assist with new church starts. When Ross arrived in Missouri, he was not given a list of potential planters, so for the past several months he has been asking everyone for names. He now has 74 names on a list. The next step is getting people trained, and the New People: Church Planting Discernment Retreat was the first step in that process.
“We’ve had some spectacular failures on planting, sometimes didn’t have training and support needed to hit the ground running,” Ross said. “Having a good match of planter and mission field means the chance of plant making it goes way up.”