New Church Planting Conference Emphasizes Love for God, and Others

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Throughout the New Church Planting Conference, artist and church planter Dave Weiss illustrated the themes for worship. Shown here, his painting made during the opening worship service, which also illustrates the overall theme of the conference: “Plant Generously, Reap Bountifully.”

On May 16-19 about 120 people–including seminary and academy students–gathered at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., for the 2012 New Church Planting Conference. The event is held every other year, sponsored by the New Church Development Advisory Committee and Congregational Life Ministries.

With the theme “Plant Generously, Reap Bountifully,” the conference was a training event for church planters and district leaders, while also offering a chance to celebrate the wide variety of new church plants across the denomination.

Church planters were recognized and received laying on of hands and prayer for their ministries. At the same time, the conference also included members of house churches as well as people who are simply interested in a movement for new congregations of Brethren.

Speakers emphasize knowing the heart of God

Keynote speakers Tom Johnston and Mike Chong Perkinson of the Praxis Center for Church Development, are successful church planters and pastors as well as consultants and coaches for denominations doing church and leadership development.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The two keynote speakers for the conference (from left)–Mike Chong Perkinson and Tom Johnston–are founders and senior developer and executive director, respectively, of the Praxis Center for Church Development. Their work entails training and coaching church planters and serving as consultants for church revitalization.

The Praxis Center looks at Jesus as the model for building the church, Perkinson told the group. The speakers called on Brethren to consider basing church development in Jesus and how he understood church, and to let go of acculturated ways of thinking about what church should be.

The highlight of church should be Christ, not great music or scintillating preaching, Perkinson said. This leads away from assessing the health and wellbeing of churches through statistics like attendance, to assessing the church’s identity in relationship with God. “Church planters, be released from the numbers game!” Johnston said.

It also leads away from an emphasis on right belief to discipleship as a way of life, and makes family relationships a  priority alongside personal relationships with Christ. Perkinson told how he includes his daughters in his ministry, even at elementary school ages inviting them to help pray for a neighbor in need of healing, for example. The end result is that children and spouses of church leaders and other families in the church, are discipled and become devoted followers of Jesus too.

Among other basic principles for church, Perkinson and  Johnston presented what they call the “Irreducible Core” from Matthew 22 and 28: 1. Love God. 2. Love others. 3. As you go make disciples. As pastors seek to replicate Jesus’ understanding of church, and how best to express God’s love in the community, the church grows in the way families grow–through personal relationships, in which faith is shared. The process is longterm, the speakers said, but in story after story they told of seeing groups welcome new disciples through the sharing of God’s love.

Brethren are using a variety of models for new churches

Above: Daniel D’Oleo gives a workshop on the vision of Renacer for creating new Hispanic congregations within the Church of the Brethren. Below: Kim Hill Smith, a founding member of Common Spirit Fellowship in Minneapolis, Minn., presents a workshop on house churches.

The range of workshops at the New Church Planting Conference illustrate the variety of approaches Brethren are taking to plant new churches.

“Retro Yet Relevant” was the title of Kim Hill Smith’s workshop on house churches, for example. She is a founding member of Common Spirit Fellowship, a house church in Minneapolis. The house church movement harks back to a model familiar to Brethren since their beginnings 300 years ago, she said. Two more Common Spirit house churches have been started on the same model, one in North Manchester, Ind., and one in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Daniel D’Oleo gave a workshop on Renacer, a movement creating new Hispanic congregations in the Church of the Brethren. Renacer began in Leola, Pa. Over three years, two more Renacer churches have been planted in Roanoke and Floyd, Va.

Another model is campus ministry-based. Primarily occurring in Michigan, churches are emerging out of ministries with college and university students. Michigan District executive Nate Polzin is leading one of these, the Church in Drive in Saginaw.

Energy and a structure for new church planting is centered in districts with active New Church Development committees. including but not limited to Atlantic Northeast, Virlina, Shenandoah, and Northern Plains. In Atlantic Northeast District, for example, the styles and models for the current group of 12 new church plants is wide and various including Brethren Revival Fellowship groups, Spanish- and Arabic-speaking congregations, and an arts-based model for missional churches.

In the Church of the Brethren, districts are responsible to develop new congregations, while denominational staff take a supporting role. Congregational Life Ministries executive Jonathan Shively and his staff, with guidance from the denomination’s New Church Development Advisory Committee, offer support and encouragement for church planting and facilitate training opportunities and coaching for the districts. Recently the denomination’s Mission and Ministry Board affirmed church planting as one of six directional goals for the Church of the Brethren.

During one of his workshops, Shively discussed the problems and possibilities inherent in a structure that decentralizes the work and places most responsibility at the local level. Issues include how Brethren can give recognition and support to new church plants across district lines, the fact that opportunities for planting may be greatest in districts with less resources, and related funding questions for the denomination as a whole.

Facilitating access to effective assessment, training, and coaching for church planters has become a focus for the denominational support to districts where church planting is becoming most successful. Denominational staff also are providing opportunities to celebrate the hard work and struggle that goes into new church planting.

For more about church planting

For more information about the Praxis Center for Church Development go to and . For more about church planting in the Church of the Brethren go to or contact . A photo album from the New Church Planting Conference is at .

The conference received an offering of $829 to the Emerging Global Missions Fund to support church planting. More about the fund and an opportunity to give online is at .

Opportunities to celebrate and learn more about church planting are coming up in July at Annual Conference in St. Louis, Mo. New fellowships and congregations will be welcomed at the beginning of the first business session on July 8. Later that afternoon, a reception for new fellowships and congregations will be held from 4-6 p.m., and a 9 p.m. insight session will address “New Churches: Stories and Strategies.” On July 9 a church planter networking session will be held at 9 p.m. On July 10 another 9 p.m. networking session will discuss the emergent and missional church. Go to .

The July/August issue of “Messenger” magazine will include a cluster of articles on new church planting. To subscribe, go to .

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