|Congregations Grow when "Love Meets Needs"|
By Elliott Wright*
Leawood, KS, August 2, 2007--Churches grow when "love meets needs," the pastor of The United Methodist Church's largest congregation said in opening an annual gathering of church developers.
The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Houston, was the keynote speaker at the 2007 School of Congregational Development. Windsor Village has 16,886 members today; it had 25 people when Caldwell was appointed pastor in 1982.
He told more than 600 church developers from across the US that a congregation doing what it should be doing in responding to people's spiritual and material needs will have a "capacity problem"--not enough space.
Windsor Village, a predominantly African American congregation, is currently completing the first stage of a new facility suitable to its worship, educational, and community outreach needs. It engages in multiple community-based ministries, including housing, health, and economic development.
Caldwell said that church growth requires spiritual and economic capital combined in plans that have been "taken to the altar of God" for sanction. He chided the denomination for talking too little about finances and rarely mentioning "the T word" (tithe).
Once God gives a vision, the Houston pastor declared, God will also make provisions to achieve it. He used as his text Genesis 13, a passage in which the households and flocks of Abram and Lot part company. Lot takes his choice of the land; Abram (later Abraham), content to let God provide, received as far as he could see. "God gives us what we see," Caldwell said.
The United Methodist Church is embarking on a plan to start 650 new US congregations in the next five years. Membership in the US has dropped below eight million. Membership outside the US, primarily in Africa and the Philippines, is increasing and stands at 3.5 million.
The six-day School of Congregational Development, which focuses on the US, is sponsored by a joint committee from the United Methodist General Boards of Discipleship and Global Ministries. It was hosted this year by the Kansas East and Missouri Annual Conferences and held at the Church of the Resurrection, an 14,000 member congregation in Leawood, KS.
Another plenary speaker, the Rev. Steven Blair, told of what is happening in a new United Methodist faith community as love meets need. Blair, 29, is pastor of FirstLight, a developing congregation that worships in a school building in Gardner, Kansas.
His experience at FirstLight, he said, convinces him that the church should move from "marketing to messaging," that is, shift from trying to sell something to the "announcing of who we are" as Christians and Methodists.
FirstLight has an average of 230 persons in worship each Sunday. It celebrates Holy Communion every week around a table on which is inscribed, "You are Accepted." This affirmation, Blair said, is highly effective among newcomers who may not even know the Bible stories--yet.
The people at FirstLight, the pastor explained, are coping with such questions as, "What does it mean to be the people of God in this time and place?"
Blair brought along Kevin Norris, a participant at FirstLight, who saw an announcement of the fellowship in a grocery store. He said that he had been wary of organized religion because once as a teenager a church usher asked he and a group of friends "if they belonged" there. At FirstLight, he said, he had discovered that he was acceptable to God as he accepted God's love.
Both Caldwell and Blair spoke of the contemporary relevance of Methodism's founding theology in the ministry of John Wesley in 18th century England. Wesley emphasized both personal and social holiness, by which he meant a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ and the social expression of the Christian community in the church.
The School of Congregational Development this year featured 18 ministry tracks ranging from the starting of new congregations to the relocating of existing local churches. The tracks cover a variety of ethnic and racial ministries and such topics as worship and pastoral leadership.
*Wright is the information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Aug 03, 2007