By Don Dewey, Co-Regional Minister/President
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” ~Proverbs 29:18
Since coming to this Region in 1985, I have had two primary passions in my ministry beyond the local church. One a lifelong love for youth ministry and the other a desire to see new churches started. I lived out these passions by serving on our Regions Youth Leadership Team as an adult sponsor for over 18 years as well as Counseling and Directing camps for over 30 years and served on our Regions New Church Development committee both as member and then Chair for almost 15 years.
As I reflect on these passions for ministry I have come to realize that they stem from my love of the transforming grace I know in Jesus Christ and my desire to share it with our next generations of youth and young adults. Growing up as a PK (preachers kid) I sometimes took for granted the love and support as a young person discerning my faith that I received from faithful adults who nurtured me and taught me what it means to be a Christian person.
It was these faithful, caring adults that made room for my questions, my challenges, my need to do things differently that instilled in me a desire to make our Gospel witness accessible to those coming after us. Through their faithful lives I was able to “catch” the love and grace of God for myself and build a life-sustaining faith.
Unfortunately, that has not always been the case for many of our young people. As a Disciples of Christ denomination, as is true with most mainline denominations, we have been in serious decline for over 4 decades. We have failed to reach in any significant way the next generations and so many of our churches are dwindling and aging.
Along the way, attempts have been made to slow or stop the decline – the Church Growth Movement of the 70’s and 80’s, and the Transformation Movement beginning in the 90’s until now.
In early 2000 former General Minister and President Dick Hamm proposed a bold 2020 vision for our denomination. Challenging the Church to start 1000 new congregations by the year 2020. Since then we as a denomination have started over 800 new churches. Unfortunately, some of them have failed but many have continued which has brought new life and hope to us as Disciples.
The same has been true for this Region over the last decades. We have started new congregations and some have continued while others have failed. We have invested time, energy and resources along the way with the hope of creating new places of witness and ministry as we seek to follow the command of Jesus to “go make disciples.”
When we were called into Regional Ministry, I brought these same passions for ministry into our call. I continued to give time to growing our Regions youth ministry and working with our New Church Development committee to launch new Disciple congregations. In the meantime, we were faced with congregations deciding they needed to close and pass on their resources for new potential ministries.
One of those congregations was South Bay Christian Church. After going through a 3 year discernment process with an Interim Minister and seeking insight from several consultants about potential new ministry opportunities, they reached the conclusion that they were no longer able to provide the leadership that would be needed to revitalize and transform their ministry into a new future.
Though I had met with their leadership numerous times, I was invited back to meet again to hear their decision to close as a congregation. It was a painful and difficult decision but one they made looking toward the future. They wanted to deed their property and their resources over to the Region with the promise that they would be used for creating a new Disciple ministry in the Redondo Beach area.
This gift became the launching pad for what has developed into the Hatchery ministry. The Hatchery is an innovative church-planting ministry of the Region with the focus on reaching the next generation with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The Hatchery is a three-year church-planting incubator for those seeking to start new Disciples churches. The Hatchery provides a place for theological training and hands on social entrepreneur experience for starting and developing new models of sustainable Disciple ministries within our Region.
Directed by ordained Disciple Minister Spencer Burke, who also serves on our Regional staff as New Church consultant and under the guidance of our Regions Leadership Development committee the Hatchery ministry has received unanimous support from our Regional Board since 2013 including start up funds designated in 2014.
This ministry officially launched in September 2015 with six potential new church planters. Due to unforeseen situations three of them have been unable to continue at this time in the program. However, the remaining three will be creating and developing three new sustainable Disciple ministries within our Region by end of their three-year study and preparation.
The goal is to have up to nine new church-planter students per year who are interested in developing entrepreneurial leadership skills along with a theological education to start self-sustaining Disciple ministries in our Region.
This new church-planting model has gained the attention of several of our Disciple Regions across the denomination as well as the interest of other denominational leaders. This model is not to replace other models of church planting employed by our Region’s New Church Development committee nor to take away from those seeking a more traditional approach to both theological education and church ministry but rather to expand our witness of the Gospel for future generations.
If we truly wish to live into the 2020 vision of starting 1000 new congregations in 1000 different ways as one of our Disciple priorities, then this model maybe another way for us to fulfill that commitment.
I am excited that the PSWR is willing to be bold in their vision for sharing our witness of the Gospel, and pray that we will continue to explore and try new creative and innovative ways in responding to the command of Jesus to “go make disciples.”
Will some of these attempts fail? Yes, we know that some will. But will some succeed? Absolutely! We also know that if we are not willing to step out in faith and take some risks we will continue to decline.
Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” I give thanks for the faithful members of South Bay Christian Church whose desire to leave a legacy as they envisioned a future for those who would come after them, have allowed us to create a place for future new ministries to be developed. May we all be as bold and faithful!
Together on the journey,
Don & Susan