Check In With Church Development


Photo: Dinner Church is just one of the Fresh Expressions movements happening in our Conference.

In the North Georgia Conference, our Center for Congregational Excellence works alongside the Board of Church Development, District leadership, and local churches to forge creative, sustainable, mission-fueled ministry across the communities in our Conference. 

No one model works for every situation, so the team has studied and helped implement a variety of strategies with an eye for context and potential. Some of the various models include Vital Mergers, Multi-Site churches, Cooperative Parishes, Multi-Ethnic Plants and Expansions, Fresh Expressions, and Digital Campuses. 

How has the effort been going? Read on for inspiration and explanation! 

Church Planting and Expanding in 2020

Meeting the challenges of 2020, the Board of Congregational Development and Center for Congregational Excellence implemented strategies across the Conference that could not only weather the pandemic but lead the way for creative ministry into the future.

In January of 2020, Congregational Excellence and the Board of Church Development granted funding and guidance for the launch of Westside Table, a West Midtown campus of Peachtree Road UMC. This second campus quickly adopted the role of a digital campus, holding its very first worship service online. 

Digital ministry became a hallmark of church development for the past year. Congregational Excellence and the Board of Church Development made more than $250,000 in Technology Grants to 108 local churches in the Conference (read more about those grants here). 

The Fresh Expressions movement was tailor-made for this unexpected season of ministry outside our buildings. The Center for Congregational Excellence conducted House Church Training with Acworth UMC, Bethelview UMC Forsyth, Bethlehem UMC Buford, Bogart UMC, Chamblee First UMC, Cumming First UMC, Eatonton First UMC, Elizabeth Lee UMC, Lawrenceville First UMC, Lindsay Chapel UMC, McEver Road UMC, Mountain Park UMC, Neighborhood UMC, Sam Jones UMC, Simpsonwood UMC, The Nett UMC, Trinity UMC Rome, Union Chapel UMC Monroe, Wesley Chapel UMC Covington, and Wesley Chapel UMC McDonough and Dinner Church Training with Mount Pisgah UMC. 

This year's Multi-Ethnic Ministry Development Cohort was a rich experience and included participants from Grayson UMC, St. Paul UMC Summit Street, SugarHill UMC, The Nett UMC, St. Timothy UMC Stone Mountain, East Point First Mallalieu UMC, and Douglasville UMC.

In collaboration with the cabinet, Congregational Excellence and the Board of Church Development offered financial support toward strategic appointments to assist cross-racial ministry and communities in transition. These decisions are informed by MissionInsite demographic studies. This funding went to Grayson UMC, SugarHill UMC, Smyrna First UMC, Wesley Chapel UMC McDonough, and St. Timothy UMC Stone Mountain, Austell UMC, Ebenezer UMC, Korean Church of Atlanta, Korean Church of LaGrange, Korean Church of Newnan, Immanuel Korean's Kennesaw UMC Campus Ministry, Rock Springs Gwinnett College Campus Ministry, Trinity Korean, and The Nett Vietnamese Mission. 

Coming Soon

2021 is just three months in, but already Congregational Excellence and the Board of Church Development are helping to launch new church starts. Slated for launch in 2021 are:
  • Westside Table, Peachtree Road UMC West Midtown Campus, In Person Launch
  • New Worship Gathering @ Faith Creek UMC, Newnan
  • Augusta Cooperative Parish
  • Redwine/Candler/Chikopee Cooperative Parish + Multi-ethnic Church

Church Development Strategies Explained

A great deal of research, study, and prayer goes into the adoption of models for Church Development in our Conference. Would you like to know more about these strategies? The church planting models taught, endorsed by, and/or funded by North Georgia in the past five years include:

Partner Church/Multiple “Parent” Strategy
In this strategy, an existing United Methodist congregation (or, perhaps, several churches) serves as an anchoring, sponsoring, or parenting force in launching a new church. This could be a cluster of partner churches or a combination of partner church(es) and another entity such as a United Methodist campus ministry, retirement home, or church agency. Recent examples:
  • Liberty Hill UMC, planted from Hillside UMC. Housed intentionally in a long-term rental space in Cotton Mill Exchange, Canton that doubles as a church home and income-generating wedding/events venue.
  • City on a Hill, planted from Hillside UMC. In 2019, COAH completed an Elijah/Elisha merger with and at  Woodstock UMC, and is now known as The Way, Woodstock.

Multi-site Expansion Strategy / Missional Merger
Putting this strategy to work means a new faith community meeting at a new site remains part of a sponsoring church, even as they may develop a distinct staff and ministry team system. Multi-sites vary in pastoral and staffing strategies. May serve as a missional outpost, and focus on strategic partnerships with local non-profits and community assistance agencies. If also hosting congregational worship, the sites may have a campus pastor – who may or may not be the lead preacher at the site. Recent examples:

  • The Vine, Flowery Branch Campus
  • Redwine UMC + Candler UMC
  • Wesley Augusta, Wesley West Campus, 2018
  • The Nett Church, Bethesda Campus, 2018
  • The Nett Church, NettWorks Campus (formerly John Wesley UMC), 2019
  • Smyrna First UMC, Tillman House Mission Campus (formerly Tillman UMC), 2019
  • Westside Table, a second campus of Peachtree Road UMC, 2020

Multi-Site Model: Digital Campus
The Digital Campus using the Multi-Site Model is a 2020 innovation. Utilizing the expansion of the digital mission field, established churches develop dedicated online faith communities. The digital campus is tied to the main campus, just as a brick-and-mortar second campus would be. The digital campus, however, also might have a dedicated digital campus pastor, name, brand, and/or vision, and receive/disciple members and leaders who are unique to their digital community. These campuses may also host in-person worship, discipleship, and service opportunities, but the main doors of the campus are online. Recent example:

  • Westside Table (Peachtree Road UMC), 2020

 Church-Within-a-Church Strategy
In a world of very expensive real estate, many new churches will share space with other churches (both partner churches and other collegial congregations). Existing congregations choosing to share property may find that new churches may better serve their immediate neighbors, especially when the new church specializes in embodying a racial-ethnic culture and/or a certain generation or social group. Recent example:

  • Chapel Roswell UMC, 2015

Fresh Expressions
Fresh Expressions is a missional movement designed to reach those who are not yet part of a church congregation. Fresh Expressions are lay-driven communities who form outside of, but tethered to, an established church community and building. The FX functions as a church: engaging in worship, forming Christian community, growing in Christian discipleship, practicing sacrament and ritual, generating income through offering, and seeking personal and social transformation. Recent example:

  • Douglasville Dinner Church, 2017

“Elijah/Elisha” Strategy
This strategy requires a proactive discernment process with the district superintendent or conference staff. Congregations may either discover a new vision and recommit to fruit-bearing ministry or respond to God’s call to become an “Elijah” new church start (2 Kings 2:1-14 tells how Elijah passed on the legacy of his ministry to Elisha). Elijah churches intentionally choose either to (a) join another church and give their physical assets to the conference to reach a new group of people or (b) open their doors to a planter and launch team that takes over management of the facility to start a new congregation. Recent examples:

  • Berkmar UMC becoming the Nett UMC, Berkmar Campus, 2017
  • The Way Woodstock (City on a Hill + Woodstock UMC), 2019
  • Trinity Korean

Vital Merger Strategy
In its most ideal scenario: Two or more churches make the decision to close their buildings, merge their resources, receive new pastoral leadership, and in a new location with a new name, and proceed as a new faith community.  This is different from an Elijah/Elisha in that both/all churches involved in the merger are established, chartered churches with property, and not a church plant being welcomed into an existing (declining) church and infusing its leadership, ministry style, and cultural DNA. So far in North Georgia, at least one of these ideals has been compromised in every case. Either the merger found a home in one of the merging church’s property, the pastoral staff remained or combined, or the name did not change, or simply combined the names of the pre-merged churches.

  • Covenant (Cumberland UMC + Faith UMC), 2015
  • Neighborhood Church (Epworth + North Druid Hills UMC), 2016
  • Connections at Metropolitan UMC (Henry M. White UMC + Bowen UMC), 2017
  • West Georgia UMC (St Andrew + Wesley Foundation,West Georgia College), 2018
  • Northbrook + Christ UMC, 2020

Strategic Appointment and Staff Salary Support to Help Churches Serve Communities in Transition
These decisions are informed by MissionInsite demographic study and made in collaboration with the Conference Cabinet. 

  • Wesley UMC McDonough, Central South, 2019-present
  • Trenton Dockery, Grayson UMC, Central East, 2019-present
  • Minho Chung, SugarHill UMC, Central East, 2019-present
  • Chaloea Hale, Smyrna First, Central West, 2019-Present
  • Associate Pastor, Ebenezer UMC, Central South, 2021

Closed/Reopened Facility Strategy
Similar to the above strategies, except that there is no church left to share its facility, turn over its ministry, or merge with another congregation to create something new. The new church begins to address the needs and culture of the community population. Recent example:

  • New Worship Gathering @Faith Creek UMC (closed Fall 2020)
House Church Strategy
This may well be the oldest strategy for church planting that exists, certainly reaching back to Asia Minor in the first century, and also to frontier America when the population was very sparse. House churches are typically small, limited to the number that can fit in a home or a small meeting space. They are often lay-led, with clergy visiting to bring the Sacraments. House churches may organize into networks, akin to circuits of very small congregations. Recent example:
  • The Nett UMC

The Surprise Birth
Sometimes, churches are born unexpectedly. Some of our best United Methodist congregations have emerged in this way, as a work of the Holy Spirit and faithful laity. With wise pastoral care and negotiation, these projects often can be brought into the United Methodist fold as official new church projects. Recent example:

  • McEver Road UMC (Designed as a 3-church vital merger, two of the participating churches dropped out. McEver Road forged ahead, selling its building and property, and planted in new location.)

Integrated Multi-Ethnic Projects
This strategy results in an intentionally multi-ethnic church plant that worships as one integrated body to create a unique cultural expression and reflect all groups involved. This is what heaven looks like, so why not intentionally plant churches that are integrated? This strategy reflects the work of the Holy Spirit to bring together as one in Christ a multitude of cultural, racial, and ethnic groups. We recognize that The United Methodist Church is just learning how to implement this strategy effectively. Recent example:

  • Austell First UMC, under the leadership of Rev. Joel Rodriguez (merger with Smith Chapel)
  • SugarHill UMC
  • St. Timothy UMC, Stone Mountain
  • Nett UMC
  • Grayson UMC
  • Douglasville UMC
  • St Paul UMC Summit Street, Gainesville
  • East Point First Mallalieu UMC

Classic Missionary Strategy
This type of plant happens when a cabinet sends a planter into a territory to plant a church and (a) that planter is not from that territory plus (b) there are no active partnerships in place with other United Methodist churches or institutions in the area. Note that we have stopped planting according to this model. Recent examples:

  • The Fountain UMC, renting space from Johns Creek Elementary School
  • Arbor Pointe UMC, downtown Houchston

Land Grants
Land grants have been made to assist churches and districts in purchasing land strategic to future ministry. Recent examples:

  • In Augusta, for Wesley West, held by Wesley UMC Augusta,
  • In Athens (Barrow County), held by Central East District

comments powered by Disqus