Church Planting: Community Presence, Connection and Sharing the Good News

Church Planting: Community Presence, Connection and Sharing the Good News

Our vision is to be a diocese that draws on the gifts of all God’s people to serve Christ together and live Jesus’ Way of Love. One path we’re exploring to make this vision a vital reality is the development of new faith communities – otherwise known as church planting.

In August the Diocese of Washington hired the Rev. Rondesia Jarrett-Schell to lead our efforts in Bowie, Maryland, the first location we identified to begin this deeply hopeful and exciting work. Here, Rev. Rondesia describes just what goes into church planting.

The Rev. Rondesia Jarrett-Schell with attendees at the Genesis Gathering 2023 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Los Angeles CA

Recently, I attended the Genesis Gathering, a workshop for Episcopal church planters. There were over 60 people present, which I learned was only 1/6th the total number of Episcopal church planters in the United States. I was able to hear and experience the different approaches and styles of church planting. I was able to learn a few tools and strategies.

Best of all, I was able to see the Holy Spirit moving. With all the diversity and creativity, there was a core of good practices stemming from everyone’s experiences. Church planting relies on community presence, connection, and sharing the Good News.

Photo caption: The Rev. Rondesia Jarrett-Schell, Bowie Church Planter, with participants at the Genesis Gathering 2023 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, California.

Presence:

We find our labor where Jesus taught us: among people. Community presence is a church planter’s most important work. We listen to people’s stories, hopes, and dreams. We learn the community’s spiritual needs so we can provide safe space for faith sharing. Church planting begins where the people are. I visit festivals, community centers, local businesses, and community forums. I wear a t-shirt that says “You are not alone. Can I pray with you?” along with my clergy collar when I go to community events and coffee shops. Some people stop to ask me about my shirt, some want to pray, and others want to know more about the church plant! One church planter at the Genesis gathering started with inviting neighbors to poetry slams.

 

Connection:

The hardest part is building relationships. Think of how long it takes to build trust. People will be curious about being part of a new faith community but most will not be interested. Those who are not interested most likely already have what they need spiritually. The church planter is there for the seekers. We build trust with seekers when they see that we truly care about them and their community. They recognize the plant’s vision and mission, and understand it can do lasting good in their lives and in the lives of others. Shared vision, dreams, hopes and the intentional implementation of them, draws people together. I am always amazed when people ask about the Bowie church plant. They are excited to know more. I am excited that the Holy Spirit has led them to what they have been searching for.

 

Sharing the Good News:

As people finally find what they are looking for in a faith gathering they can’t help but share the Good News. If it is a place that welcomes their unique ways, follows their passions, understands their needs; if they sense the Holy Spirit moving; they will sing its praises to their friends. The church plant will grow. The growth is slow and steady, requiring patience, dedication, and trust in the process.

As we listen, build connections, and share the Good News, a community forms. Where, how and when we worship depends on what we learn about the community’s needs. It may be humble at first. I recently attended a praise and worship service with over 200 young adults. It started as a bible study in the pastor’s living room.

Planting is a dynamic ministry rooted in the sacrament of the present moment, led by the Holy Spirit towards the needs of our world. It’s true what they say in The Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” But only if you build what the people need.

The Rev. Rondesia Jarrett-Schell
Bowie Church Planter

Why Church Planting? Why Now? New Faith Communities in EDOW

Why Church Planting? Why Now? New Faith Communities in EDOW

The Rev. Canon Anne-Marie Jeffery welcomes particpants to Church Planting workshop
Why church planting, why now, new faith communities in the Diocese of Washington
A group studies what growing younger but diocesan neighborhoods have no Episcopal representation

“…So that we may become a spiritual home for our children and grandchildren.”
Diocesan Strategic Plan 

As people gathered by region and special interest cohort in 2019 to begin listening to where the Holy Spirit was guiding the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, one conviction rose again and again: we had to make an intentional effort to serve the needs of our youth and young adults so that we could become a spiritual home for our children and grandchildren. When the time came, the team tasked with drafting our Diocesan Strategic Plan molded that belief into a goal: to launch or relaunch three worshiping communities focused on rising generations.

In part, this goal emerged from the recognition that the average age of nearly all our congregations is significantly higher than that of their surrounding neighborhoods, Bishop Mariann shared in her address to Diocesan Convention this past January. “It is clear,” she said, “that the churches with the greatest success in growing young are those that make reaching rising generations their top priority.” In her address, the bishop issued an invitation to individuals interested in joining this effort.

Nearly every congregation in the diocese wants to be a spiritual home for rising generations and we are committed to providing resources and opportunities for that important work. The new faith communities initiative, however, asks different questions. Where in our growing population of young adults is The Episcopal Church underrepresented or not present at all? Where might God be calling us to offer something new? Whose spiritual needs are not being met?

In June, diocesan staff began working with experienced church planters from ACS Technologies–the company behind the powerful demographics tool MissionInsite–to help us discover what communities hold the greatest promise for new worshiping communities and dig into the specific context of each area under consideration.

Chuck Salter and Emily Reece–our ACS Technologies partners–prepared an extensive demographic report that identified regions with high and growing concentrations of young people. After prayerful deliberation, diocesan staff ultimately discerned four potential areas:

    1. Bowie, MD
    2. Downtown Silver Spring, MD
    3. Brookland/NoMa, DC
    4. LaPlata/Waldorf, MD

In late October, Emily and Chuck were on the ground visiting churches in these four areas exploring the possibility of partnership. The site visits were followed by a workshop on Saturday, October 29 for those who responded to Bishop Mariann’s call to be part of this work along with members of the congregations in the targeted areas and diocesan staff.

During our time together, we learned that it is likely that these new faith communities will not be the “bricks and mortar” based communities we are accustomed to, but they will need the support and input of existing nearby communities. We also learned that relationship building is essential for planting new faith communities. It is only by being in relationship with the people where we want to plant that we can know their needs and how to engage them.

At the end of the workshop, participants were invited to take their next step, from praying for this vital work to committing to being part of the initiative. I will repeat that invitation here. Please pray for us as we take our next faithful steps in growing younger as a diocese and please contact me if you’d like to take part.

Creator God, we seek to find new ways to share your message of love beyond the walls of our church buildings and ask you to send us leaders who are called to this work. Plant the gospel in their hearts and empower them with the Spirit, that they may see and hear the people they are sent to reach. Grant them joy, wisdom, and freedom in the midst of challenges; give them enough fruit for encouragement; laughter and humility to soften their hearts, refreshment for sanity; grace to support their teams; and resources to minimize their stress. In all things encourage them with your constant presence and knowledge of your love through Jesus who is our guide.

The Rev. Anne-Marie Jeffery
Canon for Congregational Vitality

Church Planting workshop participants study demographic data
A group of three intently studying MissionInsite demographics
Bishop Mariann speaks to Church Planting workshop participants