Failure to Launch: OKUMC’s history of church planting

It is an oft-stated fact that since the merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church in America has had a decrease in membership every year.  There is this sobering, yet hopeful video that probably many of you have seen that can share that information better than I can, and there are many reasons for our steady decline, but let me talk about one of them here: our failure to plant churches.

More Facts: In Oklahoma since 1968, 24 churches have been chartered and 3 more are in the process of being planted.  So, less than 1 a year.  The population in Oklahoma in 1970 was 2,559,463, while the population in Oklahoma in 2010 is 3,751,351.  So for the 1.2 million new people in Oklahoma, we have 27 new United Methodist churches[1] for them.[2] These 22 charted churches (2 have since folded) include 7 of the 25 largest churches in the conference and represent an average worship attendance of 6300.  Even the great success of our new church starts has not created a UM church planting movement in Oklahoma.

Church planting should not just be to places that have received population growth (though that is incredibly important and more on that later), but it should be about going to where unchurched people are and being a church for them.  In my church setting, a church that averages about 100 located between 2 bedroom communities of Fort Smith, there are about 8000 people in a five mile radius, about 2000 of them are currently unchurched and about 1000 of those people identify themselves as Methodists. Is our church reaching these people?  Yes, we are a growing church, and I believe we have a lot to offer them, but I look at a non-denominatonal church plant in one of the communities that is 3 years old and averages well over 300 people, and I wonder could a Methodist church plant have reached them as well?  Since 1968 in Oklahoma, the Ardmore, Lawton, McAlester, Muskogee, and Stillwater districts have not had a new church successfully charter and continue existing.  The Bartlesville, Clinton, Enid, Lawton, and Woodward districts have each had 1 church successfully charter.  9 of our 12 districts have basically been non-existent in planting churches in the last 43 years![3]  Only the Tulsa District and the North and South Oklahoma City districts have planted multiple churches since 1968.

There are many towns in Oklahoma that are growing significantly.  Here is the list of Oklahoma communities with more than 3000 people who have grown 20% or more since 2000 and the respective increase of the worship attendance at the United Methodist Church in their community[4] in that time.[5]

  • Blanchard 172.4% town growth, 25% church increase
  • Jenks 77.1% town growth, -46% church decrease
  • Piedmont UMC 56.8% town growth, 57.38% church increase
  • Bixby 56.6% town growth, 3% church decrease
  • Owasso 56.3% town growth, 27.49% church increase
  • Hinton 46.9% town growth, -50% church decrease
  • Mannford 46.8% town growth, -46% church decrease
  • Newcastle 41.4% town growth, -11.3% decrease
  • Tuttle 40.2% town growth, -12% church decrease
  • Coweta 39.3% town growth, -34% church decrease
  • Hominy 38.0% town growth, -32% church decrease
  • Collinsville 27.5% town growth, 12.75% church increase
  • Skiatook 37.1% town growth, 8.33% church increase
  • Moore 33.9% town growth, 9% church increase
  • Glenpool 33.1% town growth, no Methodist Church,
  • Mustang 32.2% town growth, 5% church increase
  • Broken Arrow 32% town growth 15% church increase
  • Catoosa 31.2% town growth 30% church increase

I am not trying to be critical of any particular church or pastor.[6]  Only trying to show that even in our fast growing communities, our United Methodist churches are for the most part not keeping up with the growth in our communities.  Can churches do better to meet the needs of their growing communities? Sure they can.  However, our connectional nature should help us see that each particular church is not called to reach every person or people group in a community. And if the existing church is not willing to do what is needed to reach the new people in their community, then they should partner with the Conference to help plant a church in their own community.

At the risk of boring you with more facts, here is another list I have compiled.  These are the cities in Oklahoma with over 15,000 people and the number of Methodist churches for the people in the communities and the people per church number to help identify what communities could use a new United Methodist Church.[7]

  • Oklahoma City-38 churches for 579,999 people= 1 church for 15,263 people
  • Tulsa- 28 churches for 391,906=  1 church for every 13,996 people
  • Norman-4 churches for 110,925= 1 church for every 27,732 people
  • Broken Arrow 4 churches for 98,850= 1 church for every24,712 people
  • Lawton-8 churches for 96,867= 1 church for every 12,108 people
  • Edmond-6 churches for 81,405= 1 church for every 13,567 people
  • Moore-3 churches for 55,081= 1 church for every 18,360 people
  • Midwest City-3 churches for 54,371= 1 church for every 18123 people
  • Enid-6 churches for 49,379= 1 church for every 8229 people
  • Stillwater-3 churches for 45,688= 1 church for every 15,229 people
  • Muskogee- 6 churches for 39,223= 1 church for every 6537 people
  • Bartlesville- 4 churches for 35,750= 1 church for every 8937 people
  • Shawnee- 5 churches for 29,857= 1 church for every 5871 people
  • Owasso-1 church for 28,915
  • Ponca City-4 churches for 25,387= 1 church for every 6346 people
  • Ardmore-3 churches for 24,283= 1 church for every 8094 people
  • Duncan-4 churches for 23,432= 1 church for every 5858 people
  • Yukon- 2 churches for 22,709= 1 church for every 11354 people
  • Del City-2 churches for 21,332= 1 church for every 10,666 people
  • Bixby-1 church for 20,884
  • Sapulpa-1 church for 20,544
  • Altus-3 churches for 19,051= 1 church for every 6350 people
  • Bethany-1 church for 19,051
  • Sand Springs-1 church for 18,906
  • Claremore-1 church for 18,581
  • McAlester-2 churches for 18,383= 1 church for every 9191 people
  • Mustang-1 church for 17,395
  • Jenks-1 church for 16,924
  • Ada-2 churches for 16,810= 1 church for every 8405 people
  • El Reno-2 churches for 16,749= 1 church for every 8374 people
  • Chickasha-1 church for 16,036
  • Durant-1 church for 15,856
  • Tahlequah-1 church for 15,753

Just by looking at this list, I see many, many places where the Methodist church could go to where the people are especially Norman, Broken Arrow, Moore[8], Midwest City, Owasso[9], Bixby, and Sapulpa whose Methodist churches have just 1 church for over 20,000 people.  In addition, these are the largest communities with no United Methodist Church: Glenpool 10,808, Slaughterville 4137, and Park Hill 3909.  So, there are 10 possible places where churches could be planted, but there are more.

What do I recommend? One, every D.S. should identify two potential communities in their district that could be best served by a new church start. Currently, we have the funding to plant one church a year in the conference that should be increased to at least two churches a year. We need to continue to identify potential church planters and train them to plant churches. In communities where we are not quite ready to plant a new church, congregations should look at starting a worship service that will reach a different demographic than what they are currently reaching. Most importantly, existing churches need to not fear the competition of a new church in their community, but instead embrace the enhancement of the Kingdom of God through new churches.


[1] While this includes the alternate language churches that have chartered, it does not include our redemption (uncharted churches that we have started 4 of them since 1999) or other alternate languages fellowships that are meeting, or mergers or renaming/re-locations.

[2] Of course, existing churches can and should reach new people as well, but the purpose of to speak of the need of new places, not to ignite fires in existing places.  I especially am grateful to churches that our reaching new people through new worship services, which can often reach a new people group.

[3] There have been fellowships, relocations, unsuccessful starts, and mergers in those districts.

[4] Only Broken Arrow and Moore have more than one UM Church in this list.  This list does not take into consideration how metro communities can blend together and folks may drive just a few miles out of “town” to worship in another nearby church.

[5] All information is found here at this census website: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/census/profile/OK

[6] Worship attendance is just an indicator of growth.  Many of these churches, I’m sure, on active in discipleship and service and being the hands and feet of God in their community.  Again my critique is not on existing churches, but on our failure to plant new churches.

[7] There are many, many other factors in where to plant a church, but this should at least be a starting place.

[8] The number of churches includes CrossTimbers, which has not officially chartered yet.

[9] Full disclosure, my dad is the Pastor of this church, and I know they are in the beginning of discussions about helping start a new church in the Owasso community.

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11 Comments

Filed under Church Plant, Rants, Thoughts on Life with God, United Methodism

11 responses to “Failure to Launch: OKUMC’s history of church planting

  1. I know of a new church in the Ardmore district which had over 700 in worship on Easter 2011. It wasn’t a United Methodist Church. It’s about five years old.

  2. Good information — some of your numbers could be tweaked a little bit but it doesn’t change your overall point. El Reno has only two churches within city limits, but Mt. Zion UMC is just north and draws people from the community as well as those outside the city limits. Yukon, Mustang and Piedmont’s boundaries are a crazy-quilt; though Good Shepherd is in Yukon city limits it’s geographically closer to Mustang population centers. But even if you combined those three communities and averaged the numbers among all their churches you would still come out with large populations “covered” by each church.

    We had a similar discussion among some campus ministers a few years ago: You could make a case that OU and OSU are both small-city sized (between 23,000 and 25,000 students) but are served by only one full-time elder apiece.

    Definitely on board with your suggestions, and would add that we should start taking advantage of and supporting the gifts of our local pastors in areas that they can serve, in order to increase our pool of ministers and thus increase the pool of potential planters.

  3. aarontiger

    2 of the largest churches in Sequoyah County are non-denominational churches that are 3 and 11 years old respectively.

  4. aarontiger

    @Brett Thanks for your words. I had thought about including St. Andrews in Moore’s number, but then I realized if I opened that door, it could continue for a long time in the metro areas. I had not thought of campus ministry as small cities, but that is a good thought. One of the great things that Arkansas is doing is utilizing Local Pastor’s for church plantings, because they are the ones that have the gifts. They could also have pre-exegeted the community that is so vital.

  5. Great post Aaron. I hope the information in this post and the passion behind it will be heard by those who are responsible for making these decisions. I hope it can then lead to resources being allocated for carrying out a vigorous church planting movement in our conference.

  6. I was really glad Jeremy Smith posted the link to this blog. I’m on CF&A and was a part of the decision to increase funding for new church starts to its current level. Agree that it should be more. Since our funding base is declining, that means cuts somewhere else. Any suggestions?

  7. Ed Trimmer

    Doesn’t Oklahoma have one of the worst percentage of congregants actually in worship on a Sunday morning in the entire UM church system? Anotherwords nobody is actually attending all these wonderful UM Churches in Oklahoma. Perhaps that is a better focus, to actually get the members of the churches to come to worship

  8. Good post! It started me thinking about our own Conference’s situation, Illinois Great Rivers Conf. While I was appointed to Danville Evangelical and Farmers Chapel UMCs, 1988-1991, Evan had structural damage and received an offer from Walgreens. They decided to accept the offer, and close. Most of them transferred to Farmers Chapel, which had been its mother church in the 1880s. I wrote a book on the history of Evan which was published and given to the members of the congregation. One interesting thing was at 1900 there were 11 churches in the area. Current to 1990, there were over 80 churches in the area, about 9 of which were UMC. Time passes and people change, yet the Church of Jesus Christ keeps moving forward! I certainly hope we will continue to listen and respond to the changing needs of the populations we hope to serve! ~Rev. Kathy McCafferty Rudolph, Illinois Great Rivers Conf., and 4 year resident in Tulsa!

  9. aarontiger

    @Scott & @Matt Thanks friends.
    @Charla Always helps to have Jeremy publicize one’s work. That is a great question. I only took a brief glance and approved the numbers at Conference, so I could not say for certain what to do, but my approach would be to look at the budget missionally. What are our priorities and focus, and then work from there. I’m sure this is being done already, but if we can agree as a conference that church planting is priority number 1 for the next 4 years, then it should be budgeted as such.
    @Ed while we do have a large, large number of members who are not in worship. We still have a very significant number of worshipers in our churches. My only critique on this particular blog on the existing churches is that we are relying on them way too much.
    @Kathy fascinating how God moves in churches and your particular context as well. One of our greatest failures in Methodism is moving to where there is the building instead of where there are the people.

  10. What underlying assumptions are you making about what it means to be the church?

    What does it mean to be a Christian in a community that is not growing?

    What does it mean to be a Christian?

    What will happen if you share this vision?

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