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Starting A Church

December 26, 1991|JANET LOWE

How most new churches are formed:

* An existing church that has become too big or is spread over too large a geographical area is split. In the East, South and Texas, where "super" churches of thousands of members are popular, this process is not as common. In California, where many people are newcomers, smaller, community-oriented churches are preferred.

* An established church decides to set up a "mission" church or found a congregation in a newly built-up neighborhood. These churches often have the advantage of receiving seed money or professional help from their denomination.

* An independent pastor, sometimes loosely associated with a parent church elsewhere, pioneers a fold of his own. This is an entrepreneurial effort, and often flies or falters depending on the charisma of the pastor. One way of understanding the nature of a new church is to check the credentials of the pastor. Some denominations have very strict rules regarding ordination, while others depend less on training and more on the pastor's passion for his calling.

Why new churches sometimes flop:

* Failure to understand the nature of the neighborhood. A church without a children's ministry isn't likely to appeal to a community of young families. Singles and retired people may want the special fellowship of singing in a choir. A willingness to respond to social as well a spiritual needs is crucial.

* Too small a congregation to support the expenses of a church or pastor. The spirit of competition exists in churches too, and one congregation very well may draw members away from others. In a newsletter telling of the church's youth program, one pastor discouraged rivalry with a church in a nearby town. "We urge the young people there to be loyal to their church and its ministry in that community," he wrote.

* Lack of commitment and insufficient faith. Each pastor interviewed for this story expressed the need for a patient, dedicated and prayerful pastor and congregation. Most said their task would be impossible otherwise.

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