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Church starts must ‘set believers to work,’ bishop says

West Ohio Bishop Bruce Ough says forming new congregations takes a
"theology of being in mission." File photo by Cassandra M. Zampini.

By Elliott Wright*
August 6, 2009 | EVANSTON, Ill. (UMNS)

Forming strong new congregations takes a "theology of being in mission," according to the president of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

"We don't start new churches just to get new people in the door but to set believers to work in mission," West Ohio Bishop Bruce Ough said in an interview during the 2009 United Methodist School of Congregational Development.

“The church's mission has not changed over the course of 2,000 years. It has always been to make disciples.”
–Bishop Bruce Ough

The West Ohio Annual (regional) Conference is starting three or four new congregations each year, primarily through a comprehensive plan that involves two main strategies.

One strategy encourages existing strong congregations to plant satellites or second campuses. The other is a "restart" approach in which strong congregations bring about what amounts to a new start where a weak congregation exists or might otherwise be phased out.

"We have identified 30 congregations that are capable of doing second-campus or restart ministries, and we keep adding to the list," Ough said. "These tend to be medium-to-large congregations that have the resources in both leadership and funds. The goal is for congregations to multiply themselves."

Making disciples

Congregations, said the bishop, are the primary contexts in which the church teaches disciples about following Jesus and adopting Jesus' mandates for transforming the world. The mission statement of The United Methodist Church is "To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World."

"The church's mission has not changed over the course of 2,000 years," Ough stated. "It has always been to make disciples. We have added the phrase 'for the transformation of the world' to apply to ourselves the mandate Jesus set for himself in his first sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19). That was to preach good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, preach deliverance to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and free the oppressed -- to extend the reign of God."

New communities of disciples are needed to continue and expand the church's mission, the bishop said, and new congregations often have a more balanced approach to individual piety and social transformation. "Older congregations can lose some of their original vision, sometimes confusing activities with mission," he said.

A false dichotomy

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The United Methodist Church has four "focus areas" for ministry -- starting new congregations, developing leadership, engaging in ministry with the poor and extending health ministries.

In an interview, Ough said the first two are often interpreted as building the body of Christ -- the church -- while the other two are viewed as world-transforming mission. He sees this as a false dichotomy.

"Developing congregations and leaders are equally part of mission and transformation,” he said. 

*Wright is the information officer of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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