Diary of a Church Planter
Rev. Gary White, The Commons UMC
Why did you want to become a church planter?
I believe that planting allows me to maximize my gifts and graces…I have always struggled to grasp exactly how and where I ‘fit’ in ministry. The planting process afforded the grace to identify, reflect upon, and put my gifts and graces to work. The primary purpose of the church planting endeavor is to grow God’s kingdom by reaching un-or-under served people groups. As my spiritual gifts are very strongly biased toward evangelism, hospitality, and justice church planting is a perfect fit.
As a part of what some would consider the church’s “lost generation” I have grown increasingly frustrated with the church’s inability to minister to the needs of young adults and families. I have often heard it said that young people are ‘too busy,’ ‘too distracted,’ or ‘too self-centered’ to reach effectively… as much as we would like to believe that this says something about them, I believe it says much more about us; about our inability to identify needs and articulate the gospel in a way that is accessible to this unreached people group.
Too often, prevailing concerns, fears, or a perceived lack of resources prevents the local church from effectively identifying and meeting the needs of young families. Ministry to this people group, and, specifically to men in their 30’s – is almost an afterthought. The planting enterprise has allowed us to focus our efforts on structuring ourselves to meet the unique needs of young people from the ground up.
What has been the most exciting part of planting?
Everyday in the life of a planting pastor is interesting, challenging, and ever changing. If I had to narrow it down to one or two things, I would say that the process of identifying and responding to ministry needs has been most invigorating. I believe this is the gift of the planting process; it is an opportunity to embed oneself in and learn the unique rhythm of the community in hopes of serving the area(s) of greatest need. To do this, we were empowered and challenged by Annual Conference leadership to DREAM BIG! We began to look at our individual and collective strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats— given the freedom to respond in whatever way the Spirit led. There are other moments worthy of celebrating; our launch on Jan 22 was an amazing thing to behold – the fruit of months of planning and many years of dreaming. There is excitement on a daily basis as well – seeing so many people connecting to the vision and values of The Commons, making commitments to follow Christ, and witnessing families strengthened and relationships restored is a daily occurrence. Just last week, I received a text message from a person in our congregation saying that they
woke up singing one of the worship songs from the week before. Another individual shared that “through The Commons, my faith is becoming real…it’s making a difference in my life, my marriage, and the way that I relate to my children.” What a gift!
Where are you in the process?
The Commons held our first worship service in the FLC at FUMC Katy (our mother church) on October 29 and a second ‘preview’ service in November, and moved to our current worship site (The Tuscany Villa) in December. After previews at Tuscany on we launched weekly worship on January 22. Since that time, we have averaged 130 – 90 adults and 40 kiddos (birth-5th grade). Along with weekly services, we have a strong men’s ministry consisting of a monthly Friday evening fellowship and weekly discipleship groups. Ladies’ ministry includes M-cubed (moms mentoring moms) bible study and a monthly fellowship. Children’s ministry consists of “Commons Kids,” a full-service weekly worship service for kiddos birth-5th grade and in June, we’ll kick off our first Vacation Bible School program!
We also have a monthly “date your mate” program, where we provide programming and activities for children while moms and/or dads have an evening to reflect, reconnect, and fellowship with one another. Risktaking service and extravagant generosity mark ministry at The Commons – we regularly assist with worship services at Star of Hope Men’s Shelter Downtown and have participated in connectional giving – raising $2,200 to go toward other new church starts in our Conference and an Easter offering of nearly $2,500 to help in the rebuilding efforts of St. Barnabas UMC in Arlington.
How has the Annual Conference been a support?
The Commons would not and could not exist without the generosity of the people of the Texas Annual Conference. Through connectional giving and a shared vision, this life-giving ministry has been made possible. The coaching, mentoring, and motherdaughter church partnerships provided by the Annual Conference have been a Godsend, and has allowed us the opportunity to focus on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of planting while growing into administrative functions.
Personally, leadership in the Annual Conference has been an empowering force. A little over a year ago - as my appointment to this charge was being considered, I was ending a one-month stay in the hospital. Conference leadership’s pastoral concern, prayerful support, and commitment to planting the church that would become The Commons has been a breath of fresh air! I’ll not soon forget Dr. Waddleton’s sharing our Annual Conference’s faith in me and my vision for this new endeavor. This empowerment has been a catapulting force in the planting of The Commons, and something we work very diligently at instilling in our
own congregational leadership.
We believe God has given each person a gift and a dream – and God has called us to be that ‘common’ place where those dreams are discovered, gifts are shared, and people are equipped for their calling to be Christ’s body.
Rev. Jason Burnham Covenant UMC
“The Conference has been extraordinarily supportive in providing me mentors and training which keep me focused and connected. There is no greater rush of anxiety, hope and joy than the launch of a new church, which we experienced in January with 153 in attendance here on the southern edge of The Woodlands. Each week our Launch Team wonders what fresh faces we will meet and how we can best serve as hosts and hostesses of Christ. A significant challenge will be securing land, but I know that God will provide.”
Rev. Artie Cadar Christ Way UMC
“Our situation is a little bit different than the typical new church start,” notes Pastor Artie Cadar, “because our Hispanic congregation grew out of a primarily Anglo church in Friendswood. With Dr. Waddleton’s support we started a specific service for Hispanics this year which is averaging 80 in attendance for worship, and we have another English speaking service that draws 50-60 on a weekend. Friendswood UMC is still letting us use their facilities, but we are in the process of looking for a new location in the Beltway/I-45 area to help grow these congregations that enjoy a multicultural setting.”
Adds Artie, “Starting a new church can be tough, but I so appreciate the Conference for recognizing that the caretaking role of a pastor in this culture requires more outreach than usual. The Conference apportionment dollars are allowing Jose Pena to help me with pastoral care and is sending us to Boot Camp so we do not have to do so much of the work by trial and error.”