On Tuesday afternoon, May 6, Bishop James King of the South Georgia Conference hosted the Spring Learning Retreat group – a gathering of residential bishops of The United Methodist Church and secretaries of the general agencies – on an immersion experience to The Chapel in Brunswick, Ga. to learn about how the conference is using innovative adaptive leadership to revitalize congregations and plant new churches.
Dr. Tim Bagwell, executive director of New and Revitalized Congregational Development, shared helpful information about some of their experiences, successes and struggles. The group heard stories from pastors at three of 48 new and revitalized congregations. Of the average Sunday worship attendance at South Georgia churches, 16.8% are part of these 48 congregations.
Dr. Drew Young of New Covenant United Methodist Church told the story of how they buried one church and birthed another at the former Epworth UMC. Volunteers from other churches helped with repurposing the building. They started with a two-pronged approach that included invigorating worship and teaching the Bible in real and relevant ways.
Dr. Young said increasing “foot traffic” was one of the strategies they used to increase attendance. “If you can get people moving through the church, some of them will stick,” he said. They revamped unused classrooms and leased them for art studios; they started a preschool. They came up with innovative ways to reach the community, from giving away free ice cream cones at the Dairy Queen to free prom attire to live jazz and poetry.
“What once was a dying flagship church is now on its way out to sea finding new disciples,” said Young.
Revs. Matt Hearn and Andy Laymon told the story of a church that birthed another church three years after it started. Gateway Community Church in Pooler, Ga. is a church “for the beat-up, broken and bored in church.” No matter your past, come here to be loved, they say.
Gateway’s approach to planting new churches is to plant sister churches that have Gateway’s DNA but are unique to their own communities. The pastors are initially appointed to Gateway, and while they are there, they gather a launch team who serve in their ministries to learn how it is done. Gateway Community Church in Effingham is a successful church plant with a focus on ministry to the poor.
Kevin Veitinger of The Foundery says that some people would never darken the door of a church, even one like Gateway. Veitinger, who once worked for Starbucks, drew on that experience and connected it with his Methodist roots to plant a different kind of church.
The Foundery has four parts: the church, a coffee shop, a conservatory that allows artists to show their work at no cost, and a ministry that develops community by providing free spaces for groups. Their building ends up being used for many hours of the day, and the coffee sold helps pay for the ministry.
Dr. Bagwell said that what great leaders do is to empower other leaders, and that is the focus of The Chapel in Brunswick, Ga., a place where significant adaptive leadership is at work.
Senior Pastor Rev. Jay Hanson is clear on God’s purpose for his life: “to seek God, share what he shows me, and serve where he sends me.” He believes that churches will have problems, but the answer to problems is the right leadership. He believes that there are leaders perfectly suited for particular challenges, but no leader is right for every challenge – so you need lots of leaders.
After sharing his philosophy of leadership development, the group had an opportunity to meet and hear from other church leaders at The Chapel about how they work to develop leaders from as early as fourth grade and about how the church offers leadership development opportunities at different levels, including helping parents to be spiritual leaders at home.
Anne Bosarge, The Chapel’s director of discipleship, shared about the church’s children’s ministry and their development of student leaders, and Drew Thompson, The Chapel’s executive pastor, spoke about the church’s philosophy of membership.
Pastors Rev. Carl Barnhardt, pastor of The Pointe in Albany, and Rev. Dorsia Atkinson, pastor of LifeSpring UMC in Statesboro, spoke to the group about the climate and culture of collaboration that has developed among pastors and Rev. Hanson’s encouragement and cultivation of leaders.