Throughout our history, the Stone-Campbell movement has been marked by courageous leaders called to create communities rooted in God’s mission.
Disciples have answered this call by establishing new churches through organic and affiliating growth in the United States and Canada.
It is through partnerships with all the expressions of the Church, financial stewardship, missional transformation, and the faithful call and development of new leaders that Disciples continue to change the world.
In the 1950s, more than 180 new Disciples congregations were formed in newly growing suburbs in the United States.
Social turmoil and issues with ecumenism led to the formation of only 60 congregations in the 1960s.
During the 1970s, church planting was not a priority for the Disciples. Of the 70 churches planted in the ’70s, very few exist today.
In 1977, Convocation of the Christian Church challenged the denomination once again to engage in church planting.
The Church Advance Now program was established in the 1980s, resulting in 130 new church starts, nearly double the previous decade.
The 1990s saw about 120 new church plants. It became apparent that Disciples regions were losing interest in church planting because of the expense and lack of skilled planters.
The 2020 Vision
Preliminary discussions at the General Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) were captured in the book, “The 2020 Vision,” by then General Minister and President Dick Hamm. In his book, Hamm challenges the church with four priorities to guide the Church through the first two decades of the 2000s.
- Formation of 1,000 new congregations by 2020
- Transformation of 1,000 congregations by 2020
- The calling and forming of new leaders and the continued re-forming and development of current leadership
- Becoming a pro-reconciling/anti-racist church
Since the former Church Extension had been seriously engaged in supporting new church planting for more than 100 years, Church Extension directors accepted the challenge of providing leadership to the Disciples church planting efforts.
In November 2000, Church Extension invited regional partners, a handful of planters and other partners to attend the New Church Summit in Indianapolis. At this summit, the goal of planting 1,000 congregations was adopted, and partners were challenged by church planting experts to think about church planting in a new way. It was at this summit that a new spirit of partnership emerged with all ministries of the church working toward the same goal.
The effort to establish 1,000 new congregations was supported by the Pentecost Offering, which is witness to the passion among the Disciples of Christ to start new churches. The offering is equally divided between the region in which the offering is received and general new church ministry.
New Church Ministry
By March 2001, the New Church Ministry team was formed and new strategies for church planting were implemented. The new church movement celebrated 40 new congregations in its first year.
By September 2002, the New Church Ministry team sponsored its first New Church Planter training for more than 40 people. By the end of 2002, the movement celebrated 60 new congregations.
In 2003, during the second New Church Planter Training, New Church Ministry received word that it had been awarded a $1.67 million grant for Sustaining Pastoral Excellence in New Church Ministry from the Lilly Endowment. This grant enabled New Church Ministry to add to staff, while increasing the sustainability of new church projects with an excellent coaching program. By the end of that year, the movement celebrated 80 new projects.
In 2007, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) surpassed the halfway mark of its goal to establish 1,000 new churches by 2020.
More Disciples congregations have originated in the decade beginning in 2000 than any decade in the Church’s history.
The movement today
At the 2019 General Assembly in Des Moines, IA, Hamm announced the achievement of the goal to begin more than 1,000 new faith communities. According to New Church Ministries and Year Book and Directory data, more than 60 percent are still bearing Christ’s witness to the world five years after their inception.
To learn more about some of the emerging congregations that were formed during this time, read our 2020 Vision New Church Impact Report.
The new church movement is a major contributor to the racial/ethnic diversity of the church, as exemplified by at least 28 languages in which our congregations worship, demonstrating our commitment to affirm and advocate for our current and emerging racial/ethnic communities.
With the goals of the 2020 Vision accomplished, Jose Martinez, Minister of New Church Strategies, launched DisciplesNEXT at the 2023 General Assembly. DisciplesNEXT is a new methodology to train leaders as movement initiators that foster faithful communities; communities that exhibit the marks of the faithful church: true community, deep Christian spirituality, and a passion for justice.