When I was a young church planter, excited to be moving into a fast growing area to begin a new work. It never dawned on me that this new endeavor would some how be threatening to existing United Methodist churches. I had assumed they would be anxious to partner with me to reach new people and give them a new place to connect to God and each other. I was wrong. Rather than welcome the new work, several of the churches worked against it. They spoke negatively about starting a new church, complained to the district superintendent that I was “invading their territory,” accused me of “sheep stealing” (oddly enough no one part of our core or worshipping congregation came from any of the United Methodist churches except one “missionary” couple), and even wrote letters to the editor when a feature article about the new church appeared in the paper.
When a new faith community is moving into your neighborhood it may seem scary. In most cases, however, our experience has shown that it will actually increase awareness and improve the number of visitors in existing local churches. You might actually consider welcoming, evening partnering or sponsoring, a new faith community to move into your neighborhood. The office of New Faith Communities of the NC Conference of The United Methodist Church has actually noticed three positive trends when a new faith community moves into the neighborhood. There is increased awareness of all United Methodist churches, there is often a renewed spark of evangelistic zeal in existing members, and there is a chance for your members to become missionaries for a year or so and get some vital training and experience that will benefit your congregation.
When a new faith community moves into the neighborhood there is usually a flurry of activity related to advertising, community interaction, and awareness raising. They canvas neighborhoods, hold food drives, and send our thousands of mailers letting folks know that something new is on the horizon. What most churches don’t realize is that just by doing this, they are raising awareness of all faith communities in the community. Suddenly your church has a chance to be seen with new eyes when it had been ignored before. Fairly consistently when a new church begins advertising and working in the community and is advertised as a United Methodist Church, the existing UM churches notices increased visitor flow. Now folks begin to notice that your church is there as well. Let’s face it, a lot of the people in your community will not want to be part of the new church, they may not like the worship style or that it meets in a gym or theatre, so they begin to look at other options. That is when they show up at your door, so make sure you are ready!
Secondly, when a new faith community moves into your neighborhood it is a great chance to reinvigorate your evangelism team. The new church is going to pour lots of money into advertising, your visitor flow will increase just by the awareness raising, so now is the time for your witness team to go into action. Make sure your welcome team is on their “A” game. Get out into the community and meet your neighbors. Engage in active, invitational evangelism. Take advantage of the renewed awareness and open your doors wide.
Lastly, this is a great opportunity to send a few people to participate in the new community as core team members and missionaries. Free them up to make a twelve to eighteen month commitment to get this new work off the ground. During that time they will learn new evangelism strategies, gain awareness of the community, and renew their commitment to inviting people to get to know Jesus. Then, when they return, they bring with them experience and passion that will benefit your church.
So, when you hear a new faith community is coming to your neighborhood, welcome them. Invite the pastor to come share her vision for the new community. This could be just the thing to spark renewal in the life of your church! I remain:
Consumed by the Call,