On August 19th through the 21st, 2020, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) convened a New Church Summit to strategize about the future of the Disciples’ New Church Movement over the coming decade in light of current realities and next normals. This three-day virtual event was hosted by Pastor Terrell L McTyer, Minister of New Church Strategies with New Church Ministry (NCM), and Erick D. ‘Rick’ Reisinger, President of Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF). Summit attendees included nearly 90 general ministry leaders, regional ministers, regional new church team leaders, church planters, seminary leaders, and representatives from various demographic and church planting initiatives.
After welcoming those assembled, Pastor Terrell introduced General Minister and President Terri Hord Owens who opened the Summit with scripture and prayer. She quoted from Isaiah 43:19 saying, in part, “I am doing a new thing” and urged all attendees to move beyond the familiar, citing the need of the Church to re-imagine itself.
“Now is the time to pivot and evolve,” she said, “to insure the New Church Movement remains a denomination-wide tool that all Disciples can connect with to support new faith communities.”
Terri then referenced the Preamble of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), before stating that “Hope” (for the Summit) “is on fire as long as there is openness to what God is saying.”
Following Terri, Rick Reisinger presented a brief history of the Disciples of Christ starting with the Stone-Campbell Movement and showing how strength of mission defined our denomination.
“The DOC started as a new church movement,“ he explained. “From 1832 to 1929, we were planting hundreds of new churches a year and continued to do so until the stock market crash.”
In 1902 alone, 300 new congregations were formed. During the Great Depression, however, very few congregations were started. Activity picked up, though, following World War II and remained steady through the mid-60s. Since then, several summit-like gatherings have been held to re-energize, and set goals for, the new church movement, including the 1980 ‘consultation’ which set a goal of 100 new congregations over the next ten years with a third of those being churches of color. Under the leadership of Jim Powell, 128 congregations were formed with just under a third being of color. In 2000, another summit was held which resulted in the 2020 Vision and the goal of planting 1,000 new churches by this year, 2020.
“We exceeded that goal,” Rick noted, “but we’re now in a completely different time and need to find new ways to be ministry to the community.”
Terrell noted the success of the 2020 Vision and the 1,049 faith communities that have been formed or have affiliated with the DOC over the last 20 years with about a third of these being racially or ethnically diverse.
“It appears that we’ve become the family of choice for our many newly affiliated congregations,” he said, “thanks to our dedication to God’s covenant of love which binds us to God and to one another.”
He noted that there was much about the 2020 Vision that had to do with denominational survival and projected congregational loss.
“Now is the time,” he said, “to push the new church movement from survival to service, from comfort to courage. Now is the time to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through our actions, to serve all people, and to make Disciples.”
Keynote speaker for the event was Mark DeYmaz, author of DISRUPTION: Repurposing The Church To Redeem the Community, whose basic assertion is that we need to do church differently to remain relevant. He noted that the first question any church planter is asked when looking for support is “Who’s your target audience?” Historically, this approach has led to homogenous churches with non-diverse congregations. He said the real question should be, “How can we be multi-cultural?” Why? Because the greater your diversity, the greater your community influence and the more likely your sustainability. This way your church is connected to more groups, more causes, and more influencers beyond its walls. DeYmaz asserted that disruption is a structural shift of the church; that spiritual church is not just a spiritual entity. It is a model of reconciliation and a reflection of the community’s composition that promotes peace.
He used as a model of a community-transforming church a three-legged stool. DeYmaz used the image of a three-legged stool to model a community-transforming church. One leg represents the SPIRITUAL. It is coached by the Senior Pastor and supported through tithes and offerings. The second leg is the SOCIAL, which is coached by an Executive Director and supported through grants and donations. And, the third leg is the FINANCIAL which is coached by a Chief Executive Officer and supported through a for-profit enterprise. In this way, the church achieves sustainability and is able to leverage its assets to bless the community, spread the gospel, and teach Jesus.
After a break, Yaw Kyeremating (a.k.a. King Yaw), a Ghanaian spoken-word artist, performed an original composition illustrating for the summit diversity in culture, in age and thought. Then, Rodney Cooper, PhD., made a presentation on Cultural Intelligence. Dr. Cooper is a Clinical Psychologist, Consultant and Certified Facilitator for Mosaix Global Network, of which Mark DeYmaz is president. Summit participants were asked to fill out a cultural intelligence survey prior to the gathering, and Dr. Cooper presented the results to the group, reflecting the cultural intelligence of this body of DOC leadership. Prior to doing so, he noted that cross-cultural competency is considered the fourth most desirable business skill needed for the future and that, by the year 2044, only half of the U.S. population will be Caucasian.
Cultural Intelligence (CQ), as explained by Dr. Cooper, is based on these four key quadrants: CQ Drive, which reflects the level of interest; CQ Knowledge, or knowing how cultures are different or alike; CQ Strategy, or one’s ability to adapt when dealing with members of other cultures; and, CQ Action, or one’s willingness to adapt. In all quadrants, the group attending the Summit scored well above the average of those who have taken the survey (150,000+ in 167 countries), with CQ Drive being the highest at 82% and CQ Knowledge being the lowest at 57%. Specific group characteristics Dr. Cooper cited include a tendency toward collectivism, or the valuing of group goals and relationships, over individualism; uncertainty avoidance through planning and predicting rather than flexibility and adaptability; cooperative and collaborative behaviors over competitive, assertive behaviors: and, a preference for long time orientation over short.
Following another break, Peter Wernett of MissionInsite by ACS Technologies spoke on the benefits of big data available from the community demographic analysis tools his organization provides to churches, denominations, and faith-based nonprofits. Big data can be analyzed for insights to aid organizational decision-making. It also provides on-going discovery. For churches, that can mean finding a new area where they are likely to grow or where current members will be more comfortable worshipping. Wernett asserted that religious big data innovators believe big data is essential to their ministry, that it provides faster and/or greater missional results, and that church leadership and budget rely on and are tied to, big data discoveries.
The second day of the Summit started with a presentation by Mark DeYmaz and Terrell called Disruption & TEAM Review. The purpose of this presentation was to prepare attendees to break into separate groups and develop their own ‘huddle pitches’ just as disruptors do when seeking support for their initiatives. Mr. Deymaz again focused on information from his book, pointing out that successful church planters are, by their nature, disruptors. He also advised would-be disruptors/church planters that in the 21st century demonstration, not proclamation, will build churches. In other words, show your good works. He then laid out the four steps needed to sell a vision or plan a pitch compelling enough to attract support. They are:
• Identify the problem you’re trying to solve.
• Present what you’d do to solve it.
• Detail the features and benefits of your solution.
• Ask for support in specific terms.
Terrell followed by describing the T.E.A.M. concept used to support church planters by New Church Ministry. It identifies what leaders of the new church movement need to succeed. They need to be Trained, Equipped, Assisted, and Multiplied.
These four needs were paired with the three legs of the Disruption stool to assign topics to the break-out groups around which each would develop their two-minute pitch. There were twelve groups in all, and the various topics included Training & Spiritual, Equipping & Social, Assisting & Financial, and Multiplying & Social. After an hour to prepare, and a thirty-minute break, each group presented its ‘huddle pitch’ followed by three minutes of Q and A.
Another half-hour break followed before Rick Reisinger returned for a presentation on funding. He started by explaining that DCEF, the general ministry that houses NCM, helps congregations and other organizations with their capital needs through loans, capital fundraising, and building planning.
Funding NCM itself, however, is a complex issue because it requires connecting general ministries, regions, congregations, and leaders. Furthermore, general ministries participate in different ways. In particular, Christian Church Foundation works with individuals and congregations on providing funds to new churches as old ones close.
Rick went on to explain how funds have been and are being raised by other expressions of the church, and what’s in the future. This included a call for Disciples Mission Fund giving to be instilled into the DNA of new congregations to support the mission of the whole church.
Rick moved on to discuss how the need for buildings is changing. He introduced DCEF’s pilot program, which facilitates the transfer of a building previously owned by a congregation that is closing, usually to the region. Its results can be seen in the Glendale Mission and Ministry Center.
Rick closed out his presentation by mentioning congregations that are creating space by launching their own nonprofit organizations, such as Missiongathering Charlotte, which bought a building, using the sanctuary for themselves and leasing office space to local nonprofits. He encouraged general ministries and regions to be creative in how they work with new churches to generate income.
As Rebecca Hale, Executive Vice President of the National Benevolent Association, noted in the chat, the question becomes,
“How do we create a theological and ethical ‘culture’ where buildings are not ‘our’ asset, but an asset for the good of God’s work in the world?”
The last workshop of the day, presented by NCM Associate Minister Rev. Dr. Jose Martinez, was on competitive analysis, standardization, and best practices through the lens of starting new churches before and after the pandemic of 2020. He started with the history of church planting after 9/11, which experienced a boom as the model shifted from denominations to networks, and a new theological undergirding was developed.
Jose went on to break down the ten models of church planting networks recognized before COVID-19, which ranged from collaborative to regional and urban to rural and their various strategies. Jose said that overall, this methodology, which included identifying potential planters, sponsoring churches, and coaching was very successful.
The next part of the presentation saw Jose discussing 2020 as a pivot year due to the coronavirus pandemic. He explored strategies that are currently being utilized, what church planters are saying, and what to keep in mind which echoed Rick’s earlier call to get creative.
Jose then looked at what’s been taking place in culture this past year because of the current global health crisis that will continue to affect people’s lives and the practice of church planting.
He ended the presentation by talking about the next steps that Disciples can take after the pandemic, urging them to change the metrics, adopt new mental models, and develop a process of hybridity where new models of church planting can grow.
Regional representatives and others participating in the chat continued the conversation about metrics, sharing what they’ve each learned about defining metrics within one’s context and vision/mission and letting data tell a story instead of assigning a passing or failing grade. As one participant noted,
“God says, ‘Well done good and faithful servant,’ not ‘well done good and successful servant.’”
Terrell opened the third and last day of the Summit explaining the purpose and process for the Implementation Strategizing unconference of the morning. An ‘unConference’ is an informal gathering of collaborators/participants who set the agenda for an event focused on discussion.
“We’re going to decide on our topics now for the discussion groups that follow,” he explained. “We’ll follow the rule of two feet, meaning you can go in and out of different conversation huddles, but we’re trying to get to a place of strategic thinking.”
It was impressed on participants that every conversation should arrive at a goal. Also, that this exercise was seeking the contributions of ‘butterflies’ (those moving easily from conversation to conversation) rather than ‘bulldogs (individuals dominating group conversation).
The subjects developed during Topic Brainstorming included:
- What does church look like after COVID-19?
- How do we make church cross-generational?
- How can we build sustainable new churches?
- How can dying churches help plant new churches?
- How do we make all congregations immigrant-welcoming?
- How do we recruit for and assess new churches?
- How do we make regional new church teams stronger?
- How do we build multi-diverse, inclusive congregations?
As in day two of the Summit, the strategy huddles had an hour to prepare, discussing their topics in detail, and arriving at their recommended goals. Unlike in day two, these huddles were not followed by pitches. Instead, participants elected to submit their discussion notes and goals to New Church Ministry for consideration and documentation.
Following a break, Terrell identified eight tactical teams that would implement new church movement strategies related to the list of topics developed during brainstorming. All participants were asked to sign up for two teams to continue working on the evolution of the new church movement post-summit. The tactical teams include:
- Funding, Facilities, Location, Place
- Inclusion, Diversity, Multiculturalism, Affiliation, Immigration Relations
- Nonprofit, Social Enterprise
- Post-Pandemic, Innovation, Disrupters
- Recruitment, Assessment
- Region Responsibilities, General Responsibilities
- Training, Technology, Resources/Data
- Transformation to New Church
Near the conclusion of the Summit, DCEF President Rick Reisinger thanked all attendees for the three days of time, effort, and ideas they contributed to the future of the new church movement.
“My hope is that we can expand our collaboration in making Disciples in the world,” he said. “I look forward to a re-imagined and energized new church movement.”
Terrell then closed the Summit with an impassioned plea for all to actively participate in the Multiply Movement. Quoting Mark 9:23, he said, “all things are possible to him that believes.” He then referenced the Great Commission and our denomination’s charge to ‘go and make Disciples.’
“That is in our DNA. It’s who we are as Disciples,” he said. “Every member of a congregation is responsible for making disciples, not just the pastor. In fact, some believe you’re not a disciple, until you’ve made a disciple.”
Recalling the goal he set forth at the 2019 General Assembly of making 1,000,000 new disciples by 2030, Terrell noted that while that’s a big number some feel it’s not big enough. Jose Martinez agreed, noting that five years ago 57,000,000 Americans were religiously unaffiliated.
“Surely, that number is even bigger now,” he noted. “So, maybe we should be setting the bar higher.”
To make a million or more new disciples over the next ten years one thing is certain: a covenantal direction for the New Church Movement relevant to current realities and next normals is a must. The New Church Summit, with its three days of presentations, strategy huddles and pitch exercises, was just the first step.