From Aug. 19-21, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) convened a New Church Summit to strategize about the future of its New Church Movement over the coming decade in light of current and future realities. This three-day virtual event was hosted by Pastor Terrell L McTyerminister 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. 

Disruption, cultural intelligence and data

General Minister and President "Teresa" Terri Hord Owens, who is the first Black woman to lead a mainline Christian denomination in North America, opened the summit by urging the church to reimagine itself. “Now is the time to pivot and evolve,” she said via Zoom. 

Reisinger agreed, citing a 2000 summit which set the goal of planting 1,000 new churches by 2020. “We exceeded that goal,” Reisinger noted, “but we ... need to find new ways to be ministry to the community.” 

To that end, Mark DeYmaz, author of "DISRUPTION: Repurposing the Church to Redeem the Community" was the keynote speaker for the event. He asserted that disruption is a structural shift of the church wherein it is no longer just a spiritual entity, but a model of reconciliation and a reflection of the community's composition that promotes peace.

The afternoon’s events were primarily focused on culture, with a spoken-word performance by Ghanaian artist Yaw Kyeremating, which illustrated his and many immigrants' struggles with identity and a presentation by Rodney Cooper, Ph.D., on cultural intelligence. According to a survey participants completed prior to the summit, they have strong cross-cultural competency skills, which will serve them well in a world where this kind of competency is considered one of the top five most desirable business skills needed for the future.  

The day ended with Peter Wernett of MissionInsite by ACS Technologies speaking on the benefits of big data, including organizational decision-making, on-going discovery and faster and/or greater missional results.  

Pitching, funding and church planting 

The second day of the summit incorporated a more hands-on approach. During the morning sessions, attendees developed pitches that paired their needs to the spiritual, financial and social legs of a new church 

The afternoon saw Reisinger return for a presentation on funding and how buildings can be used as an asset. He introduced attendees to DCEF’s pilot program which facilitates the transfer of a building previously owned by a congregation that is closing to its regional ministry. Reisinger 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 (the DOC’s health and social service ministry), 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 state of the world was certainly not far from presenters’ minds. In the last workshop of the day, NCM Associate Pastor Jose Martinez explored starting new churches post-pandemic. He urged church planters to change their metrics, adopt new mental models and develop a process of hybridity where new models of church planting can grow.

Measuring success was a popular topic among participants. As one noted, “God says, ‘Well done good and faithful servant,’ not ‘Well done good and successful servant.’”

The future of the New Church Movement 

With two days of presentations and workshops under their belts, participants were ready to move on to strategic conversation huddles on the final day of the summit. Topics ranged from sustainability to diversity and inclusion. After an hour in breakout rooms, participants elected to submit their discussion notes and goals to NCM, which identified eight tactical teams that would implement new church movement strategies related to the list of topics.  

McTyer closed the summit with an impassioned plea for all to actively participate in church plantingRecalling the goal he set forth at the 2019 General Assembly of making one million new disciples by 2030, McTyer noted that while that’s a big number, some feel it’s not big enough. Martinez agreed, noting that five years ago 57 million 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 10 years, one thing is certain: a covenantal direction for the New Church Movement relevant to current and future realities is a must. The New Church Summit, with its three days of presentations, strategy huddles and pitch exercises, was just the first step.  

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