By Bob Farr
The Missouri Conference has a 30 year history of new church planting. Most people date the modern day church planting movement from 1990. That’s the year Bishop W.T. Handy appointed four pastors to plant four new congregations in the Missouri West Conference. However, in the two previous years, Bishop Handy also appointed two more pastors in the Missouri East Conference to plant two new congregations. So in the span of three years, the Missouri Conferences began six new congregations—more than had been planted the previous ten years combined. The Missouri Conferences has been planting new congregations ever since. Over the last 30 years more than 45 new congregational plants have been started with 28 of those new starts becoming congregations. Today nine of our largest 25 congregations are from new church starts in the last 30 years with well over 20% of the Missouri Conference’s total attendance coming from these congregations. Plus the Missouri conference planted Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas which is the largest United Methodist congregation in America.
Thank you, thank you Missouri conference for your generous support and commitment to starting new congregations. It is making a difference in the Kingdom of God and helping us reach younger more diverse populations of people in Missouri and impacting people around the world. These congregations have had and will continue to have a profound effect on who we are in Missouri today. Again, thank you for being one of the most new church starting conferences in United Methodism.
Our work is not complete! Despite the success of our new church starts our total worship attendance in the Missouri Conference continues to fall though we decline at less than 5 percent (or half the rate of the United Methodist denomination as a whole). We have had five years out the last nine years in the plus column, but the down year’s total numbers far exceed the up attendance years. Besides that, our percentage of the population who attends and/or participates in a Missouri United Methodist Church continues to fall as the Missouri population continues to grow.
We still have five zip codes within Missouri with 50,000 people or more with no United Methodist Church presence. We still have fifty communities with 1,500-5,000 people where we have no presence or our congregations have less than twenty people attending.
When I planted Grace UMC in Lee’s Summit in 1990 there were very few models for church planting. Most of us went off to a School of Congregational Development three-day class and came back with a planting model called “phone for you” to begin our congregations.
Today, 30 years later, there are multiple planting models and new models being attempted every day. There are multiple trainings, coaching, seminars and books on new church planting. All this has been very helpful and we have seen the success rate of planting go from two-thirds failure rate to a two-thirds success rate. However, I think planting a congregation in today’s culture is harder than ever. It takes every creative, hard-working, risk-taking, strategy-making juice you have as a planter plus a heavy dose of prayer, Holy Spirit, the right lay people, and timing to get a new sustainable congregation.
The Missouri conference has a three prong strategy to reaching new people: