New church plant emphasizes small groups
By Lindsay Peyton
Rev. Dr. John Wayne McMann and his wife Lauren, with their two children and one on the way, recently relocated to Willis for their next great adventure. FUMC Conroe was preparing to launch a church plant in the community – and McMann was offered the opportunity to stand at its helm. “I’ve been interested in planning a church since I got out of seminary,” he said.
Still, when he received the call last December to see if he would be interested in the move, he was reluctant to leave Marvin UMC in Tyler. “We had the opportunity to say yes or no,” he recalled.
McMann sought his answer in prayer – and Lauren did the same. He expected that she would say no, especially with the birth of their next child expected at the same time as the church launch.
“She went away to pray on her own, came back and said yes,” McMann recalled.
His heart soared. His desire to plant a church had been put on hold – but he realized that his calling was still very much there.
McMann went to Asbury Theological Seminary in 2016, after earning an economics degree at Sam Houston State University. At seminary, he was in the first cohort for a program on church planting. “I was a guinea pig,” he recalled.
And he was fascinated. He had the opportunity to learn from other church planters. “I love the adventure of reaching new people for the sake of Christ,” he said. “And I’ve seen churches that turn inward and have a fortress mentality. Instead, we need a frontier mentality, to reach more people and bring them the gospel.”
After graduation, he received his D.Min from United Theological Seminary. During his studies, he became immersed in the Wesleyan Band Meetings, and dove into John Wesley’s discipleship system, the Class Meetings. “At seminary, my life was changed by this,” he said.
At each church he served, McMann’s innovative spirit grew. For instance, in his five years as pastor of Kingwood UMC, he started a Saturday night service to appeal to a different demographic than Sunday worshippers. He also started a Class Meeting – which took off. By the time he left, 17 Class Meetings had formed, even one with a nearby nursing home.
There, McMann also moved Easter services to the park, which was such a success, he continued the practice as lead pastor of the Core Worship community at Marvin UMC. “We ended up reaching four times the amount of people we’d normally meet at Easter on campus,” he said.
Now, McMann is ready to take the next step – and begin sowing the seeds for his new church plant. And that starts with simply moving into the church’s future neighborhood and spreading the word. “We’re trying to meet as many people as possible,” he said.
The site of the church is located in the new subdivision called Woodland Hills in Willis. McMann explained that 4,500 new homes are planned, and 600 have already been built. There are also three additional subdivisions planned in the area, with 10,000 new homes projected by 2025.
The 8.5-acre property was purchased by the Texas Annual Conference years ago. Rev. Dr. Daniel Irving, Senior Pastor at FUMC Conroe, said that Conference leadership had followed the expansion of Willis for the past decade. “They identified this spot as a fantastic opportunity,” he said.
His appointment to Conroe seemed to confirm a future church plant. After all, he had experience – from launching the Journey out of Memorial Drive UMC.
“Then COVID hit, and everything was on hold,” Irving said. “It was uncertain what congregation viability would be afterward, and if they would be interested in starting something new.”
About a year after worshiping in-person returned, the pastor said there was still a lingering sense of resignation at the congregation. “We were not going to get back to the way it was before,” he said. “Things had changed.”
And members felt disappointed. Even Irving felt a weight – and started going on regular walks to pray and clear his mind. On one of his treks, he felt God speaking to him, “It’s time to stop looking back and move into what’s next.”
“God was saying, ‘This is what I put before you. This is my will for the church and the area,’” Irving explained.
He called his District Superintendent, Rev. Dr. Jeff Olive about returning the church’s focus to the plant. He spoke to church leadership. “Every single person supported the idea and was excited,” he said. “This gave us forward momentum, something to look towards. And that’s pretty huge.”
The next step was finding the right leader for the church plant. “We started looking within the Conference for someone who would be perfect,” Irving said. “It couldn’t just be anyone. It had to be someone with planting in their DNA. ”
Then McMann was identified as a prospective candidate. “He felt like that door had been closed,” Irving recalled. “We thought it would be a long shot that he would be interested. But indeed he was, and we were just thrilled.”
Already, the neighboring elementary school has been recruited as a temporary site for worship, with services starting sometime in January. Currently, Life Groups are forming. Irving said a launch team within FUMC Conroe is also being identified.
While the plant will be a second campus for FUMC Conroe, the congregation will be unique in its purpose, Irving said. “Our church is about 150 years old, and it seems like this is the next step for our future,” he added.
In the meantime, Irving and McMann have been vision casting for the plant. Already, McMann is focused on discipleship and forming small groups, much like the Band Meetings and Class Meetings that intrigued him in seminary.
“We want to be very intentional about discipleship, helping people not just learn about Christ, but have Christ in their lives,” he said. “How do we get people to understand that God is with us? How do we help people find that deep hope, joy and love?”
He continued, “I’ve felt a calling to help people come alive to what God can do. I think the local church can do that. This is God’s work, and I get to join Him. That’s an exciting place to be, and a very humbling place as well.”