In an historical vote taken during the 2011 Louisiana Annual Conference, delegates agreed to make Congregational Development (the starting of new churches) a priority by allocating 10% of the conference budget to that area. It was also decided that the 10% would be reached over time. At the current pace, the 10% will be reached in 2020--today, the Congregational Development budget stands at $435,000.
When the vote was taken in 2011, the conference was experiencing a leadership transition. At that point, the last three church starts took place in 2007 and could all be described as “parachute drops”--meaning they did not have a “parenting” congregation during the start process. These three congregations are located in Walker, Ponchatoula and Baton Rouge.
Statistically, parachute drops are not considered to be the most successful way to start a new church. The more successful new starts are often “parented” by an existing congregation. By God’s grace, and a large investment of time and human and fiscal resources, the three churches are in existence today. Two of the three are on a sustainable track, while the third continues to utilize conference resources.
Dr. Rob Weber was appointed in 2012 to assume responsibility for Congregational Development after Rev. Steve Stephens’ appointment to the Northwest Texas Annual Conference. During Dr. Weber’s tenure, the conference took a creative approach to new starts as they continued to move toward the 10% allocation.
In addition to the new church starts, a “restart” has taken place in Lafayette with The New Church on Louisiana Avenue. Led by Rev. Robert Johnson, the congregation has a renewed sense of vision and purpose. Worship attendance has grown from 32 to well over 100 in just one year.
Rev. Chad Brooks continues to work in Sterlington toward the launch of The Foundry, located in the Monroe District. Rev. Brooks has had several events prior to launching this fall, and is heavily using social media and other creative means to cultivate excitement for this new faith community.
In New Orleans, Revs. Sione Tu’uta and Billy Turner are starting a “new thing” in what was the Carrollton United Methodist Church. As the neighboring area around the church is experiencing transition, the church must now respond to the changing needs of the community.
Rev. Beth Tu’uta is also working in the New Orleans area to transform the site previously known as First United Methodist Church, Kenner into a multi-cultural place of worship that serves an ever-changing part of the city. This unique faith community has combined El Mesias UMC, a predominately Spanish-speaking congregation, with the Kenner congregation to form One Love United Methodist Church.
The New Orleans developments are unique to Louisiana and are “laboratories” for experimentation.
As the world of Congregational Development changes across the United Methodist connection to respond to the changing needs of our communities, so has our leadership. As of Jan. 1, 2015, Rev. Steve James from the Western North Carolina Annual Conference has joined the Louisiana Conference team on an interim basis until a new Congregational Developer is named. Rev. James, along with Rev. Jim Ozier of the North Texas Annual Conference, are serving as consultants to the conference as it assesses the current status of its new church starts and visions the future development of this crucial area of ministry.
Rev. James is assigned to not only assess the current status and to help vision the future, but also works directly with Revs. Johnson, Brooks, Tu’uta, Turner and Tu’uta. Each of these pastors has a coach that works with them one-on-one; Rev. James spends several days each month in Louisiana and is in daily communication with the developers. Rev. James will also assist the conference as it raises the awareness and need for the development of new faith communities, while identifying future church planters.
The ministry of Congregational Development is dynamic and changing quickly. Bishop Harvey and the cabinet are intentionally working to raise the awareness and importance of this area of ministry. “The Annual Conference voted to make Congregational Development a priority in 2011, and it is crucial that time, talent and resources be aligned with the priority,” said Harvey.