With a mission to make disciples, laity and clergy in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference are reaching out to new people in their communities. As a result, congregations are being revitalized and new communities of faith are being planted. The March 2012 edition of NEWSpirit is devoted to the stories behind our New Church Start efforts.
My first experience with new church starts was as a child of parents deeply committed to a church planting ministry in Parkal Mission, India. Over a twenty year period my parents planted nearly twenty village churches with hundreds converted to Christianity in the Parkal Mission. Most people in the Parkal Mission area were non-Christians (Hindus). Unfortunately many of the newly-Christian converts had to undergo persecution from their families and community members because of their conversion to Christianity. My parents were persecuted as well. They put their very lives at great risk. Bibles were snatched from their hands and torn in front of their eyes. However, they persisted and God blessed their efforts. Today the Parkal mission not only has local church ministries but also has one church-owned High school, two medical clinics and three orphanages. Funding to support these ministries, and for the construction of the churches and parsonages, came from partner churches in the Kerala region.
While serving the East Parade Church (1992 to 1997), a former Methodist mission in Bangalore, India, I had my first opportunity to lead a congregation in establishing a new faith community. Today this new faith community has a fulltime pastor. With a ministry focused on evangelism, the church also employs a fulltime missionary to reach out to nearby slum dwellers. The church also runs a free medical clinic and a center for brain-injured children – remarkable work!
While in graduate school, I was blessed to be the founding pastor of a Church of South India congregation in Detroit, MI. It was a joy to see the congregation being born, and ministries with children and youth thriving. Many of the congregants were new immigrants looking for a place to gather to be in community. We began to worship in the basement of a house and then moved to a space in a very welcoming United Methodist Church in the Detroit Conference. Today it is a thriving congregation with a fulltime pastor. I have seen God blessing these efforts move forward because there was commitment and passion behind it.
I believe that in the early years of Methodism – from the time of John Wesley and Francis Asbury – Methodists had a great desire to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and to gather them in new faith communities. Methodism grew in the United States due the hard work and passion of early Methodists. Today, most of our Jurisdictions in the United States report a decline in membership, which calls for the need to recapture our original vision to revitalize, as well as start new faith communities – otherwise we will perish.
Have we become too complacent in matters of faith and faith sharing? Do we simply want to be recipients of the faith –and not sharers of the faith too? How can we recapture our original vision and get the passion for sharing our love of Jesus Christ today? The fastest growing religious group in the U.S. is the Church of Latter Day Saints, because each member commits to faith-sharing missions throughout their life. So, what is it about your faith in Jesus Christ and about your church that brings you joy? With whom can you share it?
Remember our faithful calling as Christian disciples according to the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Each of us has a responsibility to share our faith as individuals and as congregations. Let this Season of Lent be time of prayer, reflection and rededication around this matter of faith-sharing and revitalizing our congregations. May our prayers especially lead to a plan of action that will engage us in ministries that reach out to our neighborhoods and communities.
Also, there are some among us who have taken great risks to establish new faith communities. We want to thank God for each of our new church start pastors and their commitment to living the Great Commission. Let us also find ways to support their efforts. In the January meeting of the Congregational Development Team, we decided to find partner churches to support our new church start efforts. Would you consider becoming a prayer partner or a financial partner for one of our new church starts or a revitalization effort?
By Christopher Kurien