The fundamental premise of this resolution is that the Episcopal Church needs to make a serious commitment to planting churches, both because Jesus gave us the Great Commission and because of all the recent statistics about declining membership. Planting new churches is not the only way that to grow the church or make disciples of all nations, but it is one essential way and maybe the most effective way. (Another way is the revitalization of existing congregations, and we have also drafted a resolution addressing that important opportunity.) New congregations tend to reach the unchurched and people from different cultural contexts more effectively than existing churches, and new plants offer opportunities for the renewal of other nearby parishes and missions. I do not believe the Episcopal Church can hope to reverse the current trends of numerical decline without a serious church planting initiative.
In order to begin a church planting initiative, this resolution dedicates significant funding to create a capacity to plant churches. Our goal is not merely to allocate money to plant new churches now, although we are funding some new plants. Our hope is to make some of the cultural and organizational changes necessary to enable churches to be planted this triennium, while making it easier to plant additional churches in the future.
As an Episcopal Church, we don't really have the structures in place for church planting. Some of our Dioceses have those capacities, and a few plants have taken off in other places due to a leader's strong vision or the Holy Spirit bringing something about in spite of ourselves. We don't have a clear path for people who want to plant churches, and we are not recruiting the people we need. Church planting is not a focus (or even more than an occasional elective) at most seminaries. We aren't networking successful Episcopal church planters across dioceses and using them as coaches and mentors, and we aren't raising the money for church planting that we could be. To address these and similar issues, this resolution has a number of important interrelated components.
First, we offer three-year grants for the creation of three seminary faculty positions. A key component in long-term church planting is making it a central component of seminary education. As long as our new clergy get, at most, one or two classes taught by an adjunct, we won't be able to train an entire cohort of church planters. To have full-time faculty positions at three seminaries dedicated to church planting means that not only would seminarians that want to become church planters have church planting courses, but the future clergy of established parishes would have a better understanding of how to help church plants in their area. These faculty positions would also be responsible for developing curriculum and methods for teaching church planting to non-residential students. As seminaries increasingly enter strategic partnerships with diocesan and other training programs, these positions become important in keeping this evangelism work a central component of non-traditional formation programs where it is desperately needed. While these positions will probably cost the seminaries more than $100,000 each year and we would want them to last beyond the initial grant period, we hope these grants would spark seminaries to hire new faculty and initiate these needed programs.
Recruit Church Planters
Once we have teachers, we need students. Recruitment of potential church planters is essential. Successful future planters may not be the folks most likely to come from an endowed parish to a Commission on Ministry weekend. Creatively combing our networks for those with the gifts and inclination to plant a church is essential.
Create Curriculum and Provide Training
Right now, the Episcopal Church does not have a church planting curriculum. What kinds of training, coaching, and preparation would be necessary for a successful planter in addition to or instead of some of the traditional seminary courses? How can we ensure the successful appropriation of those skill sets? Figuring out the right answers to these questions is necessary to move forward.
We know some of the needed skill sets to be learned for many potential church planters will include bi-lingual and bi-cultural training (or multi-lingual and multi-cultural training). Many other future planters will benefit from internships in current church plants. Funds for both of these programs, as well whatever other training is deemed necessary, is included.
Direct Support for New Church Plants
Direct support for church plants is also essential if we hope to foster them. We estimate that in the first triennium, no more than 50 church plants could be started, given current capacity. Hopefully in future years, with greater recruitment and more successful plants within the Episcopal Church, this number would increase. Our ballpark number is to support these plants at $100,000 per year for up to three years, with the new church plant's diocese providing at least a matching grant of 20% of the overall church plant budget. Admittedly, supporting fifty church plants costs a lot of money. But this money is also the necessary investment in future churches that will not only allow us to live into the Great Commission, but will also birth new sources of diocesan and church-wide giving. These are the seed funds we need to sow today if we hope to reap the resources we need for future mission.
In order to undertake these programs successfully, our resolution provides direction for three complimentary groups of people.
First, a task force is to be formed of people with experience in church planting. This entire process needs to be overseen by those who have been successful at working with Episcopal Church plants. We have people with great wisdom and experience in church planting, and we want them to be front and center as we figure out how to move forward.
Second, we believe that church planting is the kind of exciting venture that interests donors. In fact, we believe that a vibrant church planting network will bring forth faithful people who want to commit significant resources to fulfilling the Great Commission. To that end, we have made church planting a priority for the Development Office. Once we begin this initiative, we believe that the Development Office should be able to raise significant funds to underwrite future church planting costs.
Third, we instruct the Communications Office to tell the story. Being able to explain our church planting work will energize the church, draw non-Episcopalians who are looking for new church plants, provide connections with new and existing donors, and help recruit future church planters. Telling the story is an essential component to creating a continuing capacity for this work.
A funding allocation is included for staffing costs for this work, as well as for the costs of the Task Force.
Yes, it is a lot of money...
We know that allocating over $6 million dollars, and raising $2 million more, is a major commitment. But a major commitment is exactly what we need. At this point in the life of our church, we can decide either that we are going to do whatever we possibly can to make disciples and reach the unchurched people around us, or we can decide that we have other priorities. The budget figures in this resolution are what we believe can be usefully spent this triennium in this area based on where we are. We wish we could be asking for a larger allocation because we wish we could realistically plant more churches. I hope and pray that General Convention will choose to make creating a capacity to plant churches our highest priority at this time. I hope also that you will join me in praying for those who will come within the reach of Christ's saving embrace in the new Episcopal congregations we will be planting.
Creating a Capacity to Plant Churches
Resolved, the House of ________ concurring, that the 78th General Convention create a church-wide network for church planting that will include: establishing seminary faculty focusing on church planting, recruitment of up to 50 potential church planters this triennium; training of potential church planters including sending some planters to training conferences and providing church planting internships for some planters; providing grants to support up to fifty new church plants this triennium; and creating the capacity to continue to recruit and train fifty new church planters each triennium while supporting up to 50 new church plants each triennium, and be it further
Resolved, that the budget for creating this church-planting network will be $8,433,800 to be allocated as follows:
$ 900,000 for the creation of three seminary faculty positions ($300,000 per year);
$ 100,000 for the development of a church planting training program;
$ 90,000 for the recruitment of church planters ($30,000 per year);
$1,093,800 for training of potential of potential church planters;
$1,000,000 for the development and implementation of a program to train bilingual/bi-cultural lay and ordained leaders for Latino/Hispanic ministries;
$ 750,000 for staff to support this program;
$4,500,000 for grants to support up to fifty new church plants, with the size of grant depending on the context and needs of the church plant;
and be it further
Resolved, that the Episcopal Church Development Office is directed to prioritize raising funds for church planting, with the expectation that $2 million will be raised this triennium to support church planting and a network of donors interested in church planting will be developed to raise up to $5 million each year in future trienniums; and be it further
Resolved, that Dioceses receiving new church plants under this program will contribute a minimum of 20% of the costs of any new plants in their Diocese; and be it further
Resolved, the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies appoint a task force of not more than twelve people, consisting of those with experience in church planting, diocesan oversight of church planting, and academics working with evangelism and mission, to carry out the provisions of this resolution, including developing criteria for receiving grants, providing a reporting process, making recommendations to Executive Council about grants to be awarded, helping to select potential church planters, and developing a network of coaches and internship sites, and that this task force shall include a number of people experienced in the ministry of planting churches; and be it further
Resolved, that the Communications Office be directed to make a priority of reporting on the stories of church plants on an ongoing basis, through news stories, video, and other means, and through developing a website that provides detailed information about the various church plant initiatives happening throughout the church; and be it further