Creating new places for new people


       One of the things we know is that new people find a place more easily in something that is new than in already established groups and activities. There are plenty of opportunities in the church to join classes, ministry groups, and enter into fellowship but most folks seem to be more comfortable becoming a part of a new venture than one that has a long history. 
      This reality is true in the church as well as other segments of society. People are more likely to come into relationship with Christ and the church when we create new places for new people. That is one reason why we start new classes, launch new missions, and design additional and alternative worship experiences. It is also one reason why we plant new churches.
     The North Georgia Conference is blessed with many strong, healthy, and inviting congregations where everyone is invited and welcomed. Creative and exciting ministries are abundant in many existing churches. There are people in those established churches that share the Good News with their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. However, people for whom the church has not been a part of their lives or those who have not been actively involved in a church for a long time are reluctant to become a part of their fellowship.
      In addition to the existing churches offering a welcoming environment, the North Georgia Conference launched 38 new projects from 1959-1987 to invite people into a relationship with Jesus Christ and into the fellowship of The United Methodist Church. Many of those congregations are now well established and strong congregations and many of the missions to immigrant populations are still providing ministry to their communities.
      In 1987 the North Georgia Conference launched an expanded and intentional effort to create new places for new people with the creation of the Office of Church Development. Rev. Charles Barnes was appointed as the first Executive Director and a new emphasis was begun.
      In the years since the establishment of the Office of Church Development (now New Church Development) 162 efforts have been put forth. 74 new churches were started and 44 of them have been chartered and continue as vital congregations. 52 missions were begun to reach various ethnic and cultural groups of people. 29 of these missions are still in existence. 34 churches were provided an opportunity for a “fresh start” and all but two of them benefited from that effort and continue to provide ministry. There have been 3 occasions when multiple congregations have benefited from merging with other congregations in an effort to strengthen all of them.
      A month ago the last session of the Annual Conference made the decision to start three new congregations and six new missions in 2012.  These include initiatives to reach a broad spectrum of ethnic and cultural groups all across north Georgia. The Office of New Church Development will work cooperatively with the district superintendents, Strategic Growth Teams in each district, and with the Connectional Ministries staff to continue resourcing these efforts. Our goal will be to discover ways and places that we can extend a winsome and welcoming invitation for people to enter into a relationship with Christ and the United Methodist Church.
     Every United Methodist congregation in North Georgia is a part of this dynamic thrust to create new places for new people through our connectional church apportionments. Funding for the new churches and mission initiatives is dependent of the support of each local church through our missional giving. The faithful commitment of local churches to pay their conference apportionments allows us to continue to reach persons who currently do not have a faith relationship with Christ and to provide them with Christian nurture and fellowship.
     Eric Lee is the pastor of The Bridge United Methodist Church which chartered in January 2012. He said, “Starting a new church is exciting because it is an opportunity to establish a new faith community through which God can impact the larger community around them in new and different ways.”
Steve Usry, pastor of Harvest Point United Methodist Church, was appointed to start a new church in the Griffin District in 2000. He said the exciting thing about starting a new church was to discover that “when we show up to get to work in the planting process… God has already been on the ground working in people’s hearts and tilling the ground that we are showing up to water and plant.”
      Every member of every United Methodist Church can contribute to the growth of the Kingdom of God through faithfully witnessing every day to the redemptive love and grace of Jesus Christ. And we can expand our reach beyond our own congregations through starting new places for new people. Thank you for your continued support.