The UMC established 3,175 new places for people to worship God around the world during the past quadrennium, according to a report detailing for first time the work of church planting throughout the entire UM connection.
The Worldwide Church Plant Update, which was presented last week to the Council of Bishops’ Congregational Vitality Team, includes 684 new churches started by annual conferences in the U. S., 574 new churches and cell groups initiated by Global Mission Initiatives and 1,917 new missions, churches, circuits and preaching points in the Central Conferences.
“The report suggests that we are making huge strides in reaching new people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is a marvelous thing,” said Karen Greenwaldt, General Secretary of the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), which helps annual conferences plant churches within the U. S. through its New Church Starts (Path 1) division.
Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), which leads the Global Missions Initiative for the church, echoed the encouraging aspects of the report. “I think the major significance of this is that there are places where the church is growing and where the church is making disciples for the transformation of the world, and that should be an encouragement for all of us,” Kemper said. “So we focus on bright spots of our church, which creates the energy to move forward. I think that’s a key element which we should see in this report.”
Bishop Mike Lowry of the Central Texas Conference, who chairs the Vital Congregations Team in the Council of Bishops, said bishops on the team were “delighted with a sense of accomplishment this report represents.”
The church plant update was compiled with data from GBOD’s Path 1, which surpassed the General Conference’s new church start development goal of 650 in the U. S. during the 2008–2012 quadrennium by 34 churches, GBGM’s Global Initiatives, which topped its four-year goal of 400 new churches by 174, and a survey of bishops in the Central Conferences’ seven episcopal areas.
Under the Global Initiatives, 346 churches or cell groups/sections were started in Southeast Asia, 157 in Africa, 60 in Latin America and 11 in Eurasia Central Asia and Baltics.
Bishops from the Central Conferences reported 553 churches/missions planted in Africa Conference, 571 in Congo Conference, 131 in West Africa Conference, 620 in Philippines Conference, 16 in Central and Southern Europe Conference, nine in Germany Conference and 17 in Northern Europe Conference.
The specific types of new places for new people to worship vary from location to location—from traditional church buildings to cell groups meeting in homes. The initial worldwide update demonstrated the need to more clearly understand the definitions being used for new churches.
“Next we need to develop more adequate definitions for what ‘new churches’ are in order to understand the strategies behind formation of preaching points, sections, house churches, community groups, etc.,” Greenwaldt said.