Earlier this year, Trey Wince, took on the position of Director of New Disciples on the Connectional Ministries team. The Relay staff caught up with him to find out what he’s been up to since he joined the team:
Relay: What does “Making a New Disciple” mean to you? How does that fit into GNJ’s strategic plan?
Trey: It’s interesting that the word “disciple” has its roots in the idea of being a “learner.” If I’m not careful, I can sometimes get caught up in the “momentous” aspect of becoming a disciple of Jesus – as if discipleship is a switch that we flip once and then move on to the more important matters of faith. Learning about the person of Jesus and the endless implications that his life, death, and resurrection have on my life is, well…an ongoing process. That’s what making a new disciple is. It’s a process.
Making new disciples is the key to fulfilling our mission of supporting vital congregations that will transform the world. We’re also launching new faith communities and helping our congregations become more comfortable with the idea of sharing our faith stories. If we take the process of making new disciples seriously, practice the sometimes-difficult task of articulating that process to others, and look toward our surrounding neighborhoods, I think GNJ’s strategic goals will follow. More people will become interested in becoming fellow learners, our churches will begin to grow, our small groups will attract more meaningful conversations. All in all, I’m excited to watch and support new, creative initiatives all across our conference.
Relay: What is the difference between making new disciples and evangelism?
Trey: Simply put, “evangelism” is the act of sharing our faith. Often, we only think of that as telling our testimony, and while that is part of things, there’s much more to it. We are telling a story about what we believe in EVERYTHING we do. Day to day, that means the way we treat people in checkout lines and interstates actually says something about what we think of God (which isn’t always so good). On Sundays, our churches are not just sharing their faith from the pulpit. They’re telling their stories of faith in the way they hang signage for newcomers, clean their facilities, and welcome people from the moment they pull into the parking lot. Like I said, EVERYTHING we do is an act of evangelism.
We make new disciples when we practice good evangelism. When we share what we say we believe about God in everything we do, people are infinitely more likely to join us as fellow disciples: to commit to a life of learning from and following Jesus Christ. Things like a prayer of commitment, baptism, church membership, and increased involvement in the Church’s mission are all signs of new discipleship.
Bottom line, I think the evangelism and discipleship almost can’t happen apart from each other. Churches that practice good evangelism grow. Time and time again, churches’ best evangelists are their “newest, new disciples.” It turns out that people who have recently experienced the radical grace and love offered by Jesus can’t help but tell their friends!
Relay: GNJ’s strategic plan has a goal of 90 new faith communities. What is a new faith community?
Trey: Great question! I have to admit that I panicked a little when I saw the number “90”, but by “new faith communities” we mean variety of things. A church who begins a new worship service is beginning a new faith community. Same goes for the church that launches a second or third site. Calvary UMC in East Brunswick is a Korean speaking congregation that has begun actively empowering their younger members to lead in new ways. In the process, they have supported the launch of Greenhouse Church which is already planning to launch a second campus! Over and again, we see that the churches who go through the hard work of launching new faith communities get better and better at it.
I also feel like our “Communities of Hope” will serve as new faith communities as they begin to grow and develop around New Jersey. This helps prevent us from being too laser-focused on new churches when it might be a better investment to simply help our healthiest congregations expand their ministries further into their surrounding areas.
Relay: What kinds of new faith communities have we started and are they successful?
Trey: By far, the most common way of launching a new faith community has been through new worship services, and yes, many have been quite successful! Last fall, Kingston UMC went through the hard work of establishing a new worship service focused on their community’s unchurched population. Since launch, their Sunday attendance has increased nearly 40%! In my (humble) opinion, just about every healthy and growing congregation in Greater New Jersey should be, in the very least, exploring the possibility of a new worship service in the coming years. Oftentimes, it creates stress on a congregation to make significant changes to an existing worship service. However, a completely new worship service can be designed to connect with a new demographic in the area without infringing any longstanding traditions. Interestingly, even when the new worship service doesn’t quite pan out, churches are left better off for having asked important questions about how to connect with the neighborhood.
Relay: I have an idea about starting a new worship service, a satellite campus or a new faith community. How do I get started?
Trey: SO GLAD YOU ASKED! We want to get really good at this, so we’re doing our best to make launching new faith communities as clear and well-supported a process as possible. In fact, we’ve just assembled a 10 step “Pathway to Planting” outline that will give pastors a good idea for what to expect. The first step is really easy, though…just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Relay: How will you be able to help GNJ get to its goals of building new faith communities and making new disciples?
Trey: Before I get too far into plans and strategies, I should say that nothing’s moving forward if God doesn’t want it to, so we’ll need to keep a listening ear out for wherever God is pointing us. That said, I think we need to begin actively working church development into our way of thinking. Instead of “survival mode,” we need to shift imaginations toward the possibilities of new communities, new locations, and new methods of connection with new faces. This stuff is contagious, and once a few leaders begin launching new faith communities, it will inspire the entire conference to join in.