By Teddy Ray, Special Contributor…
First UMC of Lexington, Ky., where I’m executive pastor, we’re doing something that is becoming quite common in the North American Church. We’ve gone to multiple sites and multiple worshipping communities.
At the same time, we’re doing something very unique, at least from what I have seen as I survey the landscape—we are localizing nearly all of our ministry and mission.
This is not a hub-and-spoke sort of model, where one site is the “mother church” with several “daughters.” We do very little central planning, as you see in most multi-site churches, and it’s a very intentional difference.
I’d like to briefly explain how First UMC is organized. More importantly, I’d like to show the mission behind why we are organized the way we are. I hope you’ll see some of my excitement for what this structure allows.
We currently have three communities: Andover, Downtown and Offerings. I’ve made it no secret that I hope we have at least two more in the next five years.
We are a multi-site church. That’s a relatively new concept. In 1990, there were only 10 multi-site churches in the U.S. By 1998, there were only 100. By 2005, shortly before we opened our Andover campus, there were 1,500 multi-site churches.
Why multi-site? The United Methodist Church’s mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our history has shown the value and importance of making disciples by being where people are. Until the year 2000, the UMC had a church in every county of the U.S.!
To make more disciples, we believe it’s important to be in more places. In the history of the Church, the best way to reach new people has consistently been to open new places of worship. I’ve heard people complain that Lexington has 13 United Methodist churches. They ask why we couldn’t all combine into four or five larger churches.
My dissatisfaction is the opposite. I wish we had 30 United Methodist churches. Each new place affords a new opportunity to reach new people.
When our church began a new worshiping community in the Andover neighborhood, eight miles away from downtown, we began reaching people in that community that we never would have reached otherwise. Families that were no longer active in any church have come back to the Church, and multiple people have been baptized into the faith because of that new congregation.
We’ve also learned that we can do some things better together than we can apart.
Why hasn’t the Andover community become its own, independent church? Because we believe we’re better together. The three lead pastors (of Andover, Downtown and Offerings) spend time together weekly to offer each other support, encouragement and direction in the way each of our communities is going. We have a financial team that is able to handle the church’s finances much better and with less cost than if these three communities each tried to handle finances separately. On high days of worship like Pentecost Sunday, we all worship together and are able to draw on the gifts of people from all of our communities.
And when we start a fourth community—getting across another street to reach more new people—we believe that we can do that better together, too.
We are a very different multi-site church. Yes, there are over 1,500 multi-site churches in the U.S., but as far as we know, there is only one multi-site church doing what we’re doing. The typical multi-site church beams in a video of one pastor preaching to all of the sites. Or if not, all of the preachers preach the same sermon in their own setting. They have the same announcements at each site. They essentially offer worship site alternatives and keep everything else together.
That’s very different from what we’re doing.
Each of First UMC’s faith communities has quite a bit of freedom in its worship, its preaching, its discipleship and its outreach. That has been a very intentional, much-discussed decision. We have decided to be one church with multiple expressions.
We believe there are a number of good ways to worship and become disciples, and we want to allow each community to embrace the forms that are best for them. We all have the same Wesleyan theology. We all believe in the importance of worship, growth in small group community and service in the world. We all believe in making disciples. But we each embody those values differently.
Why are we one church? Because we believe we are better together. Because we all share the mission of making disciples. Because we want to maintain a connection of encouragement and ideas, even if we aren’t in the same building on a regular basis.
Why are we many communities? Because we believe we can make more disciples by being across more streets. Because we believe we reach more people through multiple expressions. Because we believe we can become stronger disciples when each community has the freedom to handle worship, discipleship and outreach just a bit differently.
Great new things
We have created a structure very different from most you may have seen. That inevitably creates questions and confusion, and we have had our fair share. It has been a challenging learning process. But I have a great excitement about the possibilities for First UMC’s future. I truly believe our willingness to try new things is preparing us to do great new things in Lexington and around the world. All of this only by the grace and power of God.
If you are doing something similar, or considering doing something similar, I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions. There’s plenty more behind all of this, and I would love to share it.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (859) 233-0545.
Mr. Ray is a licensed local pastor in the UMC. His blog is at www.teddyray.com.