BY HOLLY MCCRAY
Vibrant churches take many shapes. A recent Oklahoma forum that focused on the multisite movement attracted more than 200 people from 112 congregations.
Presented by the Conference’s New Faith Communities Ministry Team, the seminar was held at St. Luke’s Edmond — the newest satellite of multisite St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in the greater Oklahoma City area.
Attendance confirmed a desire to know more about multisite strategies. Participants came from one of every five churches in the Conference. (Of the 25 churches with 300 or more people in worship weekly, 22 participated.)
Speakers were nationally recognized experts in multisite strategy: Jim Tomberlin of MultiSite Solutions and Greg Ligon of Leadership Network. Their collective experience is from work with hundreds of churches.
Multisite is "church planting on steroids," said Rev. Tomberlin (aka @MultiSiteGuy and @MergerGuru).
"It’s a valid instrument for local churches." Multisites aren’t only in urban areas, and the concept isn’t new. In the U.S., 5,000-plus such churches are operating.
This movement was radically new in the 1990s, "cool" in the first decade of the 21st century, and now is mainstream, Tomberlin said.
"We don’t want to lose our message but have to constantly re-evaluate our methods."
He said 61 percent of Americans don’t go to any church.
A video portrayed the success of a multisite strategy in Sterling, Kan. The town’s population is 2,328.
"If it will work in Sterling, it will work anywhere," said Chris Tiger, the Conference’s director of New Faith Communities.
"Jim and I hope to paint for you that there are lots of opportunities," said Rev. Ligon.
They urged Oklahoma’s churches to make the most of mergers — a subject that can stop conversation cold but with proven value in multisite success. Property is "redeemed." Resources are pooled. Dedicated people in leadership focus on reaching new people rather than holding on to members.
Yet in general, any proposal to merge churches gets pushback. Congregations recoil and circle the wagons.
The consultants reject such negativity.
They see a lot of mergers in their multisite consulting work.
"Better Together" declares Tomberlin in his book by that name. The goal of a merger should be "join with," he said, not "hand over."
They recast mergers as extending ministry, not abandoning it.
"Build on where (church) is working; replicate that. Don’t get focused on where it is broken," Ligon advised.
Using a medical term, "ICU mergers" don’t succeed, according to their research. "Survival-driven" efforts "to preserve an outmoded way of doing church" are unhealthy, said Tomberlin.
The time is now to create multisites, they emphasized. The United Methodist Church is perceived positively in U.S. culture as safe, inclusive, and welcoming. Its legacy of involvement in social justice issues continues.
Lots of practical help for this growth strategy is available, they noted.
Among Conference-level resources are New Faith Communities’ help and the New People New Places grant program.
Apportionment giving by every church funds the work. With that support, more multisites are developing in the Conference in addition to St. Luke’s.
"I believe God opens amazing doors when you and I are willing to step out and try," said Rev. Dr. Long, OKC-St. Luke’s senior pastor.
In Claremore, First UMC is launching two satellites, and one will meet in a diner. Owasso-First and Edmond-Acts 2 are extending their Kingdom work.
Bishop Jimmy Nunn also fully participated in the Oct. 13 seminar. He thanked the advisers for calling churches to "make something happen."
"I do believe every county in Oklahoma has got potential to reach people for Jesus Christ," he said. "Lord, give us the will that we might act on that vision."
For more information, contact Rev. Tiger at the United Methodist Ministry Center, firstname.lastname@example.org , 405-530-2005.
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