New Church recognition at Annual Conference



   A youth member of the Annual Conference told me, "The things I have enjoyed at Annual Conference are the New Church Development videos and reports. They are really exciting."  
      I share that opinion with her and I am excited about my new appointment as the Director of New Church Development. I am eager to get started and learn as much as I can as quickly as I can (yes, I believe you can teach an old dog new tricks). I will do my best and with the help of many others we will maintain the momentum of creating new places for new people and at the same time help shape the future for this vital ministry. I look forward to the many challenges and opportunities in my last year as an itinerant elder before retirement at next year’s Annual Conference session.
    If you were in Athens for the recent session of the North Georgia Annual Conference you experienced an example of the excitement and energy of the work of New Church Development. You most likely remember the marching band accompanied by almost three hundred people carrying placards representing the churches and missions that have been started since 1991. They represented 25,998 members with an average weekly worship attendance of 17,409. People of those congregations have contributed $12,542,714 toward the mission and ministry of the conference through their apportionment giving $1,532,235 in last year alone.
Prior to the band and banners parading through the hall where we were gathered, we had heard a "half-time pep talk." Tommy Willingham told us of some of the good work that has been done but he reminded us that "the game is not over. This is just half-time."
    I am thrilled to follow Tommy as the Director of New Church Development to help lead the team into the "second half." I have never started a new church but I have strongly supported those efforts throughout my ministry. I was so excited when the conference created the Office of Church Development in 1987 and even thought about applying for the job. Although I had the passion for this ministry, I knew I did not have the experience or skill to do the work. Charles Barnes was appointed to that new focus and he pioneered the work of starting new congregations in our area. Three other directors have built on the foundation that Charles laid and North Georgia is recognized across the denomination as the leader in church development.
     Plans for the coming conference year include a new church start in the Covington area. Andrew Covington has already gathered a small group together to begin this new outreach into the community. Funding has been provided to City on a Hill and Cascade United Methodist Churches to allow them to have an Associate Pastor who will extend those churches ministries to start a new church or expand to a second campus.
    The Office of New Church Development will be working to help establish six new missions during this next conference year. A partnership with Mt. Pisgah UMC, the Atlanta-Roswell District, and the General Board of Global Ministries to reach the Brazilian population will reach the Brazilian population in north Fulton County. Three new Hispanic missions and two Korean missions are also scheduled.
     Starting new churches and other places for new people is a costly endeavor. One church planter said, “It takes money to plant churches… money from somewhere.  In the Atlanta area it takes money to rent schools, buy land, and hire staff.  We don't need to waste money on new churches, but we don't need to pretend it's free either.” However, money put toward creating new places for new people is not an expense; it is an investment. An investment in the lives of people who don't know Christ. An investment in people who have wandered from their faith journeys and are seeking to return. An investment in the Kingdom of God and the future of the Church. It is a good investment that has paid good returns. 
The growth of the North Georgia Conference over these last 25 years owes much to the efforts of those who have been involved in starting new churches and providing new ministries to the rapidly increasing immigrant populations in our area. The staff of the Office of New Church Development is committed to continued cooperative efforts to create new places for new people. Please pray that God will continue to provide the wisdom, passion, and necessary resources for this great work.