By Rev. Blair Boyd Zant and Rev. Richard Hunter
The landscape for faith communities in North Georgia
is ripe with potential. Our cities, county seats and many of our rural communities are experiencing significant population growth. We have a large population of spiritual refugees, in other words, our neighbors who have dropped out of church due to relocation, division, displacement, church closures, and loss of connections. There is an ever-growing number of “nones and dones” who have decided that religious organizations and the institutional church are not relevant to their daily lives. Many of them are in a place of pain and hurt, and need a place of healing at this time.
In response to this population growth, the diversity all around us, and the increasing numbers of displaced United Methodists due to disaffiliation, the Center for Congregational Excellence has developed a conference-wide Strategic Growth Plan
for 2023-2025. This plan gives us 7 strategies for enabling and resourcing vibrant communities of faith that are relevant to the people in our communities today.
These strategies are not about recapturing the church of the past. They are not about just numbers or building more buildings, these strategies are rooted in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment of Jesus Christ, the savior who calls us to “love one another as I have loved you.”
1. Sending Missional Churches
In the last year we have already seen these strategies emerging across our conference. Strategy #1 is identifying and developing Sending Missional Churches
in every district. For example, The Nett in the Central East District has launched two new campuses in the last year: At The Table in Norcross, a multi-ethnic church designed to reach young adults, and a satellite campus in a shopping center in Lilburn. Cascade UMC launched a satellite campus in midtown Atlanta in September and is developing a long-range plan to launch more campuses across the city.
2. Fresh Expressions
are new forms of church created primarily for people that are not yet a part of any church and often meet in places where people are already gathering or within affinity groups. In the 2022-2023 conference year, the North Georgia Conference started 21 new Fresh Expressions
initiatives. They range from fitness related to young-adult focused, Brew Theology to assisted living facilities, House Church to Messy Churches, meal centered and micro communities, dinner church to coffee shop meet ups, and one Fresh Expression that meets in a comic book store. This fruitful strategy will continue.
3. Anchor Church Stability
Strategy #3 is Anchor Church Stability.
Due to disaffiliation or division, many of our churches in strategic places are struggling and need to restart, revitalize, or be reinforced. Through the Academy of Leadership & Innovation, offering workshops and coaching, as well as funding needed staff, we are committed to rebuilding these churches.
4. Better Together
Last October, 78 laity and clergy attended a 2-day training event on the merger process. This training has already been fruitful. That's why Strategy #4 is Better Together: two or more churches joining together for missional impact.
St.Timothy and Allgood Road UMCs completed their merger process in December 2022 and have become STAR Community UMC. They are now developing a long-range plan to serve their growing, diverse community. Peachtree Road UMC and Collins Memorial UMC are in the merger process to move the Westside campus of Peachtree Road to a larger campus due to their rapid growth. St James UMC Alpharetta is merging with Sharon Community UMC in order to establish a mission center in Roswell. The Sharon campus will house a feeding ministry, a multi-ethnic worship community and new ministries to serve the community.
5. Community Development and Discipleship
Strategy #5 is Community Development and Discipleship.
Churches across our Conference are creatively utilizing church property for innovative community ministry and mission. Thanks to our connection, we are learning best practices from one another, identifying partners, and navigating together.
! At The Table UMC in downtown Norcross was launched in February and The Harbor UMC, an online church campus, was launched in March, and Grace UMC Elberton launched in August.
initiative at Annual Conference.
are United Methodist congregations devoted to Christian hospitality, and the welcome and care of people who've been displaced from their church home by disruption, disaffiliation, or closure. A Lighthouse designation signals that a congregation is committed to welcoming and caring for people who have been through crisis or who are looking for a new United Methodist church home. Ideal churches for this movement are:
Additionally, online faith communities like The Harbor UMC are well-positioned to offer welcome and care.
More than 100 people across our annual conference have contributed to the formation of these strategies.
Each District Strategic Growth Team worked alongside their District Superintendent and District Lay Leader to identify three priorities in their district related to these strategies. These 24 places of opportunity and potential are now priorities for 2023-2024.
Each of these strategies is meant to enhance the work of our entire connectional church, with the final component being every one of you who is witnessing to Christ passionately and loving your neighbors well wherever you are planted.