Attendees at the Sent 2017 conference receive communion in preparation for returning to their ministries.  From left to right, foreground: Mauricio Chenlo, Marvin Lorenzana, Giselle Guity; background: Veronica Armendriz, Madeline Maldonado, Karla Minter, Sharon Norton.

By Peter Graber
Thursday, August 23, 2018

Most Mennonites believe in church planting, and some are willing to act on those beliefs. In 2007, Conrad Kanagy published a comprehensive survey of Mennonite Church USA[Footnote 1].  Kanagy noted that interest in church planting had declined since the last survey in 1989, but remained stronger with Racial/Ethnic members and pastors.  The numbers could be disappointing for those who believe God calls us to seek new believers and start new churches. 

 

Table 4.1 from p. 80 of Road Signs for the Journey

Table.jpg


But read closer:  In 2006, Mennonite Church USA had about 100,000 members.  If 10 percent were willing to move their families to help start a new congregation, that would be 10,000 people ready to move to start new congregations across the country.  If 30 people move for each site, that would be 330 church plants.  Standing with them would be 20,000 people ready to volunteer their time and 48,000 people willing to donate.  And if 31 percent of the estimated 1,000 pastors are also willing to plant a church, there would be 310 church planters ready to lead those efforts.

Of course, it is 2018, not 2006.  All the numbers are smaller, and some attitudes have changed.  After all, a check mark on a survey does not guarantee that someone would take the risk of 

moving to begin a new church.  But what if only a tenth of what is projected above were possible?  Are there not 1,000 people and 30 pastors ready to move to begin new congregations? 

The answer is yes!  People across Mennonite Church USA have been reaching out to neighbors and acting as midwives to newly formed faith communities.  For the last three years, many of them have gathered at an annual conference, Sent, led by Mennonite Mission Network.  Not all would call themselves "church planters," but they share a common vision to give their lives to people who are not yet Christians.

At the most recent Sent conference in Chicago, "there were no blue hymnals in sight, no four-part harmonies.  No one even asked me my last name or tried to play the Mennonite game," said Zach Martinez, pastor of Sojourn Mennonite Church of Northern Colorado.  "Instead, the conference seemed to seek a theological commonality, a commonality centered on the idea of a peace church."

And this somewhat invisible movement among us does not leave those not directly involved unaffected.  Vern Rempel, Littleton, Colorado, commented that "there was a sense that legacy churches often greatly benefit from new church starts, and may even see new life themselves from the new activity around them."

Immigrant churches, especially Hispanic congregations, have been leading the way in church planting for many years.  Legacy congregations are beginning to test the waters.  And church leaders are listening.  Area conference leaders are seeking ways to support church planters in their regions.  Mennonite Mission Network has had a church-planting staff person for a decade, networking with interested leaders and offering training and support.  Mission Network has also been encouraging local outreach through the Missional Discipleship Initiative, and testing a training program for new church planters, which will launch in January 2019.

The not-so-small minority from the 2006 survey has turned into a movement within Mennonite Church USA.  We shall see what God will do by the time the next denominational survey is made in 2023.


[1] Kanagy, Conrad L., Road Signs for the Journey: a profile of Mennonite Church USA, Herald Press, 2007, Scottdale, Pa.

 

 

 

 

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Peter Graber is the marketing and communication director at Mennonite Mission Network. 

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