Mississippi Conference plans 3 new churches

7/3/2007

By Jean Gordon

The Clarion-Ledger

 

The Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church is hoping to attract new believers by planting three new churches in the Jackson-metro area.

 

“It’s been documented that new churches are much more successful at bringing people to Christ than existing churches,” said the Rev. Embra Jackson, who is leading the conference’s effort.

 

Two of the churches will be “daughter” congregations of existing churches. Anderson United Methodist Church in northwest Jackson will start Anderson South in south Jackson. First United Methodist Church in Brandon will launch The Pointe in Brandon. The third will be an independent group located in Rankin County’s Lakeland Drive area.
 

“All of the district superintendents agreed this was the place to plant because of all of the growth,” Jackson said of the new locations. “And with all of the people leaving Jackson there needed to be a ministry to people staying in Jackson.”

 

The initiative aims to grow the United Methodist church, which like other mainline denominations faces a shrinking membership.

 

This year the Mississippi Conference closed eight mostly rural churches with dwindling or inactive congregations.

 

The three new churches expect to be up and running within six months to a year, Jackson said, and each will cost about $300,000 to get fully launched. The conference will supply some seed money, but most funding will come from sponsoring congregations, districts and members of the new churches, Jackson said.

 

Anderson United Methodist Church member Tim Howard, a Madison lawyer, is in charge of planting Anderson South.

 

“The reason why we’re interested in going to south Jackson is in some ways it’s an economically depressed area,” said Howard, 36, who is studying to be a church leader. “We want to teach the word of God and empower people.”

 

Specific locations of the new churches have not been selected but may include storefronts or space rented from a school, church or commercial building.

 

“Our target is for this to be for folks who have not been part of a church community,” said the Rev. Jim Taylor, associate pastor of First United Methodist Church in Brandon, who is in charge of launching The Pointe. “Traditional church really is irrelevant to them.”
 

The Pointe aims to create a casual atmosphere in which people feel comfortable in their shorts and flip-flops, Taylor said.

 

“The whole premise behind that is Christ meets us where we are,” he said.

 

The Rev. John Hugh Tate will lead the Lakeland Drive-area church, now called Metro Jackson.

 

He plans to drum up support for the new congregation through word of mouth and by speaking at other United Methodist churches.

 

Like Anderson South and The Pointe, the Metro Jackson church will be nontraditional.
 

“We’re not going to wear robes,” Tate said of the clergy. “We won’t have pews... a steeple and an altar.”

 

Though Tate, 32, admits starting a church takes the same work as opening a new business, the challenge appeals to him.

 

“This is a unique time,” he said. “We don’t have to do church as it’s always been done.”

 

This story first appeared in the June 25 issue of “The Clarion-Ledger” is used with permission.