A new church

I’ve started planning a new church for Washington, D.C. To be specific, a Universalist Christian church. As I put it in a letter to denominational and local stakeholders:

My vision (much less the plans) for this new church is still developing, but I see it as a traditional-postmodern church start, as found in other denominations; including, in time, hundreds of new members; having a cooperative and inspiring spirit, while being undefensively Christian; and engaging in an optimistic, adventuresome and savvy outreach model. I do not want to let this project carry on so long that it dies on the vine. My goal is to have a functioning, gathered church fit for an application to the Unitarian Universalist Association in 2012.

Universalist National Memorial Church, my former pastorate, is a Universalist Christian church in Washington, D.C. but Washington could certainly use two (or more). The research I’ve seen suggest one would help the other, and besides, it’s not too much of a stretch to think a new church within a tradition can be planted in city every 150 years.

My goal, for the rest of 2010 is to come up with both that vision and that plan. Some conditions — for lack of a better word — are already in place.

  • First, as the organizing minister, I feel a responsibility to take a theological and structural lead. The conventional wisdom, where the people gather and then a vision takes place, seems both to get the order reversed and has had a poor record of recent success. (In this way particularly, I think Doug Muder is on to something. See his article in the current UU World.)
  • Second, the church will be necessarily more modest materially than others. Staffing, housing and mission will have to be accomplished in unconventional ways, and this new church should share what works with the larger fellowship.
  • Third, it should be born with a concept of life-long discipleship and preparation for ministry, express the best of Universalist catholicity (now in deep eclipse in an age of Unitarian Universalist particularism), and plan for new churches.

What I need from you is your spiritual support. In time, I shall surely ask you to ask your Washington-based friends and family to consider participating. Others I’ll ask for advice and some for material support. But for now, please spare a prayer for the success of this project.

I’ll be blogging as this vision and plan develop.

27 Replies to “A new church”

  1. You and your endeavor are in my prayers. I’m a long time admirer of your work. I wish you success, all the way from Texas.

  2. My prayers are with you! Have you connected with Pastor Dave at Micah’s Porch? He is very knowledgeable on church planting and has a support group of sorts starting up.

  3. May God bless you in this endeavor. If you need assistance, D.C is not that far from Southern New Jersey.

  4. Please know that the Chesapeake UU Growth Committee (CHUUG) is ready to help in any way we can. I am available to discuss any time you like.
    John Gubbings
    co-chair, CHUUG

  5. How exciting for the DC area and for our faith. I know that Rev Dr Richard Speck and I are looking forward to supporting your efforts in the coming weeks and months.

    Mark Bernstein
    Regional Growth Development Consultant
    Central East Region of the UUA

  6. Dear Scott,

    While I think the concept has validity, I think three things: (1) you have a covenantal responsibility to consult with Lily and Rob about a third UU congregation in DC.
    (2) you should seriously consider whether under-capitalized new starts do more harm than good to the cause they seek to promote;
    (3) you should ponder why this mission has your name on it and not that of someone in their 20s.

  7. @John.

    1. The pastor and moderator of UNMC have been notified, and from her have so far been supported. I have more responsibility to UNMC than All Souls for obvious reasons. (And you forget the Ethical Culturalists have joined the UUA.)

    2. The days of cash-heavy starts are impractical. There are plenty of models to suggest there are other options — and less cash than earlier generations have known.

    3. Because they’re broke? Or lacking in experience? Or that the UUA has scared away any Christian much younger than me?

  8. @JohnB – With regards to the questions about who starts a new church, and how it is resourced…

    In the research on church planting, it is often best if the planter is a long-time resident of the community where the church is being planted. Selecting a fast-rising 27-year old pastor and parachuting him/her into the community is an older model with a problematic record.

    In the cases of both urban and rural/small-town church plants, a native planter with a day job is far more sustainable. And so in this case the age of the planter may not matter. The diversity of ages present in the forming embryonic congregation would matter a lot more in terms of healthy growth potential.

    Although Scott has not revealed his model, I can imagine a Universalist Christian echo of the low-resource Jewish havurah (lay driven groups for study, worship, and service; that tend to refrain from owning real estate, or employing full-time rabbis). Havurah have been rather successful at extending Jewish community without huge financial investments.

  9. Best wishes for a successful ministry.

    I am of the opinion the best bet for the next wave of liberal churches is going to be free standing startups led by trained ministers and close associates.

  10. Much congratulations. Prayers and thoughts for the success of this venture. Wish that there were more UU options like this in other cities. Our church has gotten more inclusive of “spirituality” but not Christians; and if you are not politically liberal, forget about it. It is not a “welcoming community”. I hope yours is. Doing a different model will help the church focus on the people and not the building.

  11. Scott,
    Liberal or fundamentalist, city or country, every new church planting will thrive when the focus is on ministry to the person. Have the heart of a pastor and your plant will root and grow. Spurn theological disputes and love the people. Love the people. Love the people.

  12. I send you my warmest encouragement and support. I have long thought that you had this in you. 🙂

  13. Scott,

    I’m thrilled to hear about your vision for a Universalist Christian church start in the DC area. Models defined by minimal materials/property and a strong missional focus have been successful for many other denominations in their church planting endeavors. And what an exciting way to embody the conviction that who we are isn’t measured by what we own but by the shape of our service and the depth of our love.

    You and your efforts will be in my prayers.

    Also, I imagine the folks at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Seminary might be a good local resource if you are ever in need of practical support.



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