Getting Something Started
Twice a year the Congregational Development Team has a very busy day. This year one of those days came on November 9. They heard presentations from 20 new church starts, asked them questions, and spent 90 minutes with Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase. To get this done, the team split in two, and had presentations running simultaneously in both conference rooms all day.
Through the years, the way the Missouri Conference funds these new church starts and revitalizations has evolved a lot.
“We used to be a reactionary board, where we would respond to requests, usually from a district, to fund a new church start or church revitalization,” said Director of Congregational Excellence Bob Farr. “Now we are working from a strategic plan of development.”
Farr has been at this a long time. He’s in his ninth year of being on staff at the Missouri Conference, in which a major part of his job is working with new church starts and church revitalization. He has previously served as chair of the Congregational Development Team for four years, and vice chair for another four. Before that he was part of a General Board of Global Ministries sub-team tasked with new church starts.
“There were only eight years, when I was on the Board of Ordained Ministry, when I wasn’t working on new church starts for the Conference,” Farr said.
And as a pastor, he started Grace UMC in Lee’s Summit, and was involved in church revitalization, the most notable being Church of the Shepherd in St. Charles.
Now when the pastors are making their pitches to the Congregational Development Team, Farr isn’t hearing anything new. These are all projects he has been working with year round, helping people analyze their potential, identify barriers and develop plans for the next steps. The District Superintendents and other conference leaders are involved in helping develop the plans.
That doesn’t mean the presentations made to the Congregational Development Team are just a formality or that their funding is a foregone conclusion. They are empowered to take a hard look at everything they are presented, and look at the proposal with fresh eyes.
“They are an outstanding advisory team,” Farr said. “Sometimes they will notice something that will cause us to reconsider an approach that we are taking.” It’s hard work for the team, but it’s also fulfilling.
“Being able to see new churches planted all over Missouri and the potential those ministries have to reach new people for the kingdom of God is something that breathes hope into my soul,” said Robyn Miller, team chair. “I really appreciate the leaders around the table and the hearts of the pastors who are planting new churches.”
The team as picks up some pointers from the planters when they hear what they’ve been up to.
“I had several take-aways from the presentations that I’m going to try at my church,” Miller said.
In round numbers, it costs about $300,000 for the Missouri Conference to start a new church. The first year the church receives $125,000 to cover the pastor’s salary and benefits, rent, marketing and other expenses associated with launching a new church. The second year it receives $100,000, and the third year it receives $75,000.
Benchmarks for growth and future viability are monitored along the way, and if the church appears that it will not reach a self-sustaining size by the end of the process, it may be discontinued at any point during the funding phase.
The actual amount of money being granted varies somewhat from year-to-year as churches are at different phases of development. In 2014 the Congregational Development Team funded churches with $862,000. This year it will grant just under $700,000.
The reason there are often more than three new churches starting at once is that well established local churches are often taking much of the expense of launching a new congregation on themselves. In other cases, a legacy church may have closed and gifted its facility and remaining financial assets to a new church start, reducing the need for Conference funding.
“At this time most of our new church starts are satellite campuses or restarts,” Farr said. “That cuts our costs in half.”
It’s not just less expensive for a new church to be attached to an existing one, it is generally more effective. Previously about one out of three new church starts continued beyond their launch period. Recently that success number has been closer to two out of three.
1 – The Gathering at Webster Groves
This is a third site of The Gathering in St. Louis, which meets at a middle school in Webster Groves. It launched in 2014. It has a robust children’s ministry. Chris Abel is the campus pastor.
2 – The Way at Wentzville
This new church was initiated by Morning Star. It has been renting a school for Sunday morning worship, but is preparing to purchase and remodel a shopping center for new location. It launched in 2013. Jimmy Cooper is the campus pastor.
3 – Wellspring
Wellspring launched as a new church in 2011 in the former St. Marks UMC in Ferguson. It was a central point for ministry and civic gatherings during the civil unrest in Ferguson. The pastor is Willis Johnson.
4 – LaCroix at Benton
This launched in 2014 as a satellite campus of La Croix in Cape Girardeau. It is a video venue, with sermons by Rev. Ron Watts from Cape Girardeau, recorded the previous evening. JT Thomason is the campus pastor.
5 – SunRise at Wright City
This satellite campus of Sunrise UMC in O’Fallon launched in March of 2015 and is currently averaging 130 in attendance. It is in the former Open Hearts UMC. It hosts Upwards soccer, has an outreach program called The Fifth Quarter after every high school football game, and has developed a community playground. Troy Merseal is the campus pastor.
6 – Harmony
Harmony UMC is a restart that launched in 2014. Nate and Meredith Hopping are pastors.
7 – Family of Faith
This worshipping community at Lafayette Park UMC in St. Louis is the only Vietnamese language United Methodist congregation in the Missouri Conference. Mai Le is the pastor.
8 – Kuomba
This Congolese congregation is a worshiping community that started in 2015 at Central UMC in Kansas City. Fataki Mutumbala is the pastor.
9 – Church@Center
This is a church within a church at Schweitzer UMC in Springfield. It was launched in 2013 to reach people in the surrounding community who may be receptive to church in a different form than the established worship services at Schweitzer. Mark McKnelly is the pastor.
10 – Evolution
This new church in south St. Joseph was launched in 2014 in the former Hyde Valley UMC church building. It is a satellite of Wesley UMC in St. Joseph. Leanna van Zandt is the pastor.
11 – The Church at Wilkes
This is restart that was initiated in 2013 at Wilkes Boulevard UMC in central Columbia. It was launched to reach a new population of unchurched people by being very mission oriented. Meg Hegemann is the pastor.
12 – Elevation
Launched in 2011, this new church start has had a couple of homes, and has been doing well in Ronnie’s movie theater in St. Louis for the past couple of years. Daniel Taylor is the pastor.
13 – La Trinidad
This Hispanic church in St. Louis meets at Arlington UMC near the airport. Elsie Quintanilla and Jose Marino Chacon are pastors.
14 – La Plentitud
This Hispanic church in the Southwest District, and is a second campus of Oakton UMC. Ymbar Polanco is the pastor.
15 – Woods Chapel
This second campus of Woods Chapel in Lee’s Summit is in Blue Springs. Michael Scott is the pastor.
16 – Good Shepherd in Platte County
This second campus of Good Shepherd launched this year. It is located at the former Northland KC church. Adam Mustoe is the pastor.
16 – Beloved
This church is receiving a redevelopment grant, and is increasing its relationship with local schools. Kevin Kosh is the pastor, and he is assisted by a retired pastor and lay speakers.