BY HOLLY MCCRAY
Three Oklahoma churches plunged into multisite plans June 1, with grants from the New Faith Communities Ministry Team: Owasso-First, Claremore-First, and Edmond-Acts 2.
"Each is involved in a multisite situation, but they’re all a little different," said Chris Tiger. He champions all their efforts as the New Faith Communities director, which is a new Oklahoma Conference staff post.
He and the ministry team want other congregations to consider this option, too.
The multisite approach seems most successful currently for reaching new people. Various Christian faith families already deploy the strategy.
"This seems to be a way that God is blessing; it’s a movement," said Rev. Tiger.
"Many people don’t go to church, and many people don’t know God. Some people have been hurt by the church, and they need to (experience) a different expression for it. You have to have the right approach."
When OKC-St. Luke’s opened another campus, at Edmond, "that opened the door for us in Oklahoma Methodism to think we should be doing something like that."
A forum on multisite church growth will be hosted Oct. 13 by St. Luke’s at its Edmond campus, 900 N. Sooner Rd. The free event is for all interested persons.
Tiger talked farming. "Before a plant emerges, there are a lot of things going on underground. The root system is being developed to support that … There’s a lot of ground work that occurs even in a multisite plant."
Owasso expanding to Catoosa
Four Owasso UMC leaders share the duties of also nurturing Disciple UMC in Catoosa as this multisite vision advances. In 2015, worship attendance averaged 435 at Owasso and 44 at Catoosa.
Layman Andy Henson and provisional elder Sarah Thornhill are the ministry team on site in Catoosa. Providing oversight are ordained elders Chuck Horton and Jim Cinocca, based at Owasso.
Henson has begun preaching regularly at Catoosa.
Next steps include renovations of the Disciple UMC facility, built in 2002. It sits across the street from a high school, and a daycare center also operates there.
Senior Pastor Horton said Disciple’s ministry began 133 years ago.
3 campuses in Claremore
First UMC of Claremore is branching out to reach more people by leasing space in a shopping center and also starting a service on Tuesday nights in a diner.
The additional sites will complement worship services offered at the main campus in varied formats, which include the Blue Jeans Service.
Renovations are under way at The Vessel, the name chosen for the storefront site, Tiger said.
First Church’s youth director Jaimie Willis will be that campus minister. Thirty members from the main church will join him there. The New Faith Communities grant is designated for The Vessel.
First UMC is funding the church-in-a-diner project separately. Associate Pastor Stephen Cagle will lead it. One of the church members owns the Coney Island restaurant in Claremore, explained Senior Pastor Ray Crawford. The goal is to start offering worship there this month.
Claremore’s population is 18,000-plus, and 87,000 people live in Rogers County. First Church averaged 857 in worship last year and reported 44 professions of faith.
"We think of ourselves as a regional ministry," said Rev. Dr. Crawford. "All the county is our parish."
Tiger said, "Sometimes people don’t want to come to a (formal) church; that feels intimidating, for whatever reason, but they’ll be willing to come to a storefront church."
Acts 2 goes to school
Andy Nelms, associate pastor at Edmond-Acts 2, will lead One Church, which will meet next door in Frontier Elementary School. A spring launch is planned.
Led by Founding Pastor Mark Foster, Acts 2 already has experience launching new congregations. That church planted Edmond-Connect UMC, which recently chartered.
Tiger said, "Acts 2 has grown quite a bit, again. There’s been research done about how you keep being a high-performing organization. Act while you have lots of momentum going. The spinoff also stimulates your growth."
Worship averages 574 people at the church, which also reported 24 professions of faith last year.
People like to try something new, Tiger emphasized.
"You might have a strong Sunday School class, but if you offer a new class you get more people that will try it, to be part of something new. It’s the same way with worship."
The bigger vision
Each of the three churches newly engaged in multisite ministry will receive a total of $372,000, distributed over 43 months, through the New Faith Communities grant program, which is funded through Apportionments.
Demographic study is a big part of the strategic work by Tiger and the New Faith Communities Ministry Team.
"The more strength and health that a congregation has, the better off they are to be able to have a multisite," Tiger said.
For the New Faith Communities Ministry Team, Michael Andres spoke at the 2016 Annual Conference. He is a member of McFarlin UMC in Norman.
He updated delegates on projects previously launched.
• Lawton-Community reported 61 percent growth in worship attendance since the year began.
• In Glenpool, Living Water relocated from its storefront site to a renovated church building on 5 acres.
• Summit transitioned from a stand-alone church plant to a church-within-a-church at OKC-Quail Springs.
• In Edmond, Connect expects to complete its first building project and move in by November.
"As our team has observed other annual conferences, been in conversation with church-start leaders and experts, we feel that the time is right for our Conference to shift its new faith community focus toward a multisite strategy," Andres said.
"It is the work done through St. Luke’s Edmond Campus ministry which helped model for us what multisite ministry could look like."
Also speaking for New Faith Communities at Annual Conference, Derrek Belase spotlighted the value of the United Methodist connectional system.
"Since 1968, our annual conference has started 26 new or merged congregations, which are still in ministry today and are paying Apportionments into our Conference budget system," he said. "Only three have closed."
The 2016 Conference budget is $14.9 million, apportioned among some 500 churches.
Rev. Belase pointed out those 26 churches are responsible for more than $2 million of that amount.
"It goes without saying that our missional outreach and witness would be greatly diminished without these," he concluded.
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