MNA Details Long-Term Vision
By Larry Hoop
Church Planting, MNA

Image via Unsplash.

On a Sept. 6 webinar, Mission to North America’s executive leadership team — Irwyn Ince, Murray Lee, and Chris Vogel — detailed the key elements of MNA’s vision, unveiled at the 50th General Assembly last June. It is an ambitious plan to add 1,000 churches in the next 10 years. 

Ince noted that in today’s secular age such a goal will be a challenge. “Our neighbors are asking questions about life, meaning, and purpose,” he noted, “but they’re not looking to the church for answers. So, we must learn what it means to be on a mission for Christ as a community with limited to no agency in the culture.”

Three components are key: evangelism, pipelines, and partnerships.

Evangelism. Rather than shuffle current church members from one PCA church to another, MNA plans to bring new people into the fold. For this reason, Vogel said, “We need to have more robust conversations about evangelism.” Several churches are already onboard. Lee reported that a “grass roots” work is now underway to identify through statistical data the PCA churches that excel at “professions of faith. “[We’re] reaching out to these churches to find common threads,” Lee said. “What can we learn from these brothers and sisters who are seeing such fruit in evangelism?”

Pipelines. “We don’t have a lot of church planters chomping at the bit to start new works,” Vogel observed. “Planting and planters are always works in process and that process is what we refer to as a pipeline.” 

MNA defines pipelines as “an intentional system to identify, disciple, and send out leaders in our churches in such a way as to maximize their giftedness.” Pipeline development will be the focus of a Church Planters Summit at RTS-Charlotte Jan. 22-24. The Summit will gather church, presbytery, and church planting network leaders to share ideas and work together on developing leaders for church multiplication. Using a workshop format, MNA intends for participants to learn from one another. “There’s no single pathway to see this growth,’ Vogel said. “Pipelines are like the roots of a tree that are underground. A variety of avenues lead to the ‘trunk’ (our biblical, confessional unity), then branch out into diverse expressions of that unity.” The goal is for more ”roots” to be developed. 

One key to developing more “roots” is creating “local” pipelines. Vogel cited his experience in Wisconsin. “You’re not likely to recruit a planter from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to come to Wausau, Wisconsin, in the winter to plant a church,” he said. So, Wisconsin Presbytery has focused on recruiting church planting leadership locally and training them using a variety of remote learning platforms. “In the past six years, Wisconsin has gone from zero in the pipeline to 45, and in the last 10 years has increased the number of churches in the presbytery from six to 24.”  Ince added that MNA hopes new pipelines will increase diversity in the PCA. “We know the demographic shifts that are taking place on this continent,” he said. “We want to love neighbors across lines of difference in Jesus’ name.”

“We must learn what it means to be on a mission for Christ as a community with limited to no agency in the culture.” – Irwyn Ince

Ince announced that MNA has submitted a proposal for a Lilly Foundation grant under their Thriving Congregations Initiative, which focuses on projects that embrace tradition but engage new ideas. MNA’s proposal concerns their new “Kindred Community Initiative,” developed by a team from MNA’s African American and Hispanic American Ministries. Ince pointed out that though the grant application required a “laser focus” on a limited number of ministries, MNA plans to expand the initiative to help churches reach across all kinds of ethnic and cultural lines. “MNA is committed to pursuing this Kindred Communities Initiative with or without the grant,” he said.   

Partnerships. Such a vision, Ince acknowledged, requires collaboration with other PCA committees and agencies. For example:  

  • The changing demographics in the United States and Canada make learning from Mission to the World’s global experience a necessity.
  • The creation of pipelines requires cooperation with Covenant College, Covenant Seminary, and RUF.
  • Providing churches with practical ministry resources for mission, evangelism, and outreach make engagement with CDM essential. 
  • Healthy churches require healthy pastors. That means Geneva Benefits’ focus on pastoral health and wellbeing is essential.
  • To provide financial resources for ministries and church planting, MNA must be aligned with the PCA Foundation for grant opportunities. 

Lee pointed to several ways that MNA is already collaborating with other Committees and Agencies:

  • MNA and MTW are in conversation about how to better serve refugees and immigrants, about best practices in church planting and church planter assessment, and how to reach the nations among us. 
  • This year’s recipient of the CDM Women’s Ministry Love offering was MNA’s English as a Second Language (ESL) ministry. The money will be used to develop Christ-centered, not culture-driven, ESL curriculum. 
  • MNA and Covenant Theological Seminary are collaborating to identify, recruit, and train, church planting students. 

Additionally, MNA is building greater collaboration with local churches, presbyteries, and church planting networks. It’s one reason MNA is encouraging whole teams to come to the Church Planting Summit. “MNA doesn’t plant a single church,” Ince pointed out. “Presbyteries and Sessions plant churches.” This is one of the primary reasons MNA has called Ruling Elder Mark Casson to serve as ministry engagement director. “MNA is a single organization with a shared vision and purpose across a diversity of ministries,” Ince said. Casson’s role will be to develop collaboration across these ministries and to present them as resources for the health of local congregations. 

He illustrated this in answer to a question raised during the webinar about helping people with mental challenges. “MNA’s Engaging Disabilities With the Gospel is already there to help our churches minister to those with all levels of disability in healthy ways,“ he said. “Casson’s role will be to help the denomination grow in awareness of all the practical ministry resources available to our churches and presbyteries through MNA.”

Vogel noted that each of MNA’s 24 specific ministries are about church vitality, which all three leaders underlined as crucial to the vision. Vogel noted that for every 50 churches the PCA has planted, it has lost 35. About one-third of that number leave the denomination. Of the remaining two-thirds, dissolutions of existing churches comprise half; the other half come from the closure of mission churches. MNA is planning a Church Vitality Summit to learn best practices with the aim of reducing the number of closures. “Our aim is church health, not church growth,” Lee said, “but healthy churches grow.”

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