New West Ohio UMCs reflect cultural changes

Would anyone have heard about Jesus if a rabbi named Saul hadn’t sailed all over the known world, telling every person he met about Jesus and planting churches almost everywhere he went?

Brad Aycock, Director of New Church Development for The West Ohio Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC), asks that question and believes the American church will look very different in the future, better reflecting what he calls Saint Paul’s spiritual entrepreneurship.

“Spiritual entrepreneurs often do things nobody else is willing to do,” he said. “They dream of what could be, not what is, and see the opportunity in every obstacle.”

The West Ohio Conference made a commitment to help those new and different worship communities emerge through the Plant West Ohio initiative.

The initiative is designed to help healthy, existing churches create new communities of worship. “New churches are one of the most effective form of evangelism,” Brad said, adding that they are one way to fulfill the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19. “We feel that disciples multiply, so we want our churches to focus on multiplying as well.”

To fulfill that commission, Aycock said, the Conference is not only focusing on the revitalization of existing congregations, it “also has to focus on creating new, innovative worshipping communities, connecting with people wherever they are. If we focus on becoming the hope within our communities, we’ll make a better connection with those who may not affiliate with a church.

“Church planting starts with building authentic relationships with those in the respective communities,” he said. “Many in our culture aren’t interested in being part of a church like the one we grew up in. We want to change people’s perception of Jesus by changing their perception of the church.”

As Director of New Church Development, Aycock works with established churches to figure out ways to create new ministries that reach new groups of people. Plant West Ohio recruits, assesses, trains, coaches and funds that work. It starts with the New Church Start Recruitment Tours, held in each district, that “create a space for a person to come to the table with an idea that might seem off the wall,” he said.

It’s what Marne UMC did with the idea for Little Arrows Play Café. Associate Pastor Dave Warner attended one of the recruitment sessions and shared his dream of creating a nonprofit organization that met the needs of young families.

The New Church Start Team did an assessment of Marne UMC. Once that was complete, the church sent Warner to the Plant West Ohio training, called the “Greenhouse.” Training includes field education and assignments, such as creating a 30- and 60-second elevator pitch that tells people about the new faith community. Participants pitched their elevator speech in a “shark tank,” and the winner received $5,000 for the new ministry.

Aycock said the church planters are coached throughout the Greenhouse, and ways to raise money for the new church start are explored. One source of funding is a grant from The West Ohio Conference, which can only be awarded after the Greenhouse training is completed.

“We want to help develop planters who will start sustainable new churches that multiply,” Aycock said. “Helping people grow their faith by giving is part of what it means to make disciples. We spend a lot of time in the Greenhouse working on developing a plan for fundraising and stewardship so the new church can have a healthy launch.”

Recently, The West Ohio Annual Conference embarked on the Light the Way Capital Campaign to raise $5 million that will be used primarily for new church starts.

“New churches are helping West Ohio become younger, more diverse, more reflective of our state,” Aycock said. “New churches can also be more nimble, adapting to change.

“Since we started Plant West Ohio in September of 2017, we’ve launched five different worshipping communities, each very unique in their approach to ministry,” he said, adding that in just six months there have been over 50 baptisms held in these new church starts with an average of over 1,000 in attendance each Sunday. “Every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story matters to Jesus.”

The Little Arrow Play Café is one of five new worshipping communities launched since September as part of the Plant West Ohio initiative. The other four are Central City Church in Columbus, launched from Central Avenue United Methodist Church (UMC) in Athens; Mosaic Church in Dayton from Ginghamsburg and Christ Kettering United Methodist churches; New City Church in Dayton; and Lifeline Toledo.

West Ohio has plans to launch four more worshipping communities by the end of 2018.

“Because of the initiative, lives are being transformed that will never be the same because of Jesus,” Aycock said. “Our conference is changing, in part because of these new communities.”

Entrepreneurial leaders who might be interested in starting a new ministry should contact Aycock at bradaycock [at] or 573.421.1824.