Mennonites attend largest church-planting eventBy Laurie Oswald Robinson For Mennonite World Review
In a sea of 5,000 participants at Exponential 2012 — the largest annual evangelical church-planting conference in North America — about 60 Mennonites shared anchors of commonality in Christ amid differences in perspectives.
As attendees from six area conferences of Mennonite Church USA engaged with their evangelical brothers and sisters April 23-26 in Orlando, Fla., their responses ranged from feeling deeply connected to the wider body of Christ to experiencing some discomfort and reservation.
Participants from Western District, Virginia, New York, Indiana-Michigan, Lancaster and South Central conferences met for supper one evening to compare notes. A sense prevailed that learning from each other brings balance to the discussion of how evangelicals and Anabaptists view church planting.
“Mennonites might be surprised at Exponential’s strong theology of missional church, the absence of church-growth principles, the prominence of disciple-making as becoming like the person of Jesus, an emphasis on creating missional communities of 20 to 70 and the rare use of the word ‘evangelism’,” said Clarence Rempel, conference minister for Western District.
Loren Horst, president of Virginia Mennonite Missions and one of 24 participants from Virginia Mennonite Conference, said, “Exponential is less about church growth as addition than [about] fostering movements that multiply. It is less about the salvation of individuals than about calling disciples who instinctively multiply. It is less about great programs than calling persons into relationships, with God and with others.”
Horst believes Exponential fits well with Mennonite Church USA’s “Purposeful Plan” and its priorities of holistic witness, leadership development and church-to-church relationships.
Conference participant Mauricio Chenlo, MC USA’s denominational minister for church planting, was less sure about how well the Exponential mindset dovetails with the Anabaptist framework.
“Many Mennonites are not comfortable with what I perceived to be a lack of attention paid to issues of class, equality between men and women and racial-ethnic diversity,” he said. “We tend to strive to be inclusive, more organic, more grassroots.”
Mennonites have much to learn when it comes to “marketing” their methods, he said.
“We often hear that evangelicals like our methods, and in some cases adopt them,” he said. “But they don’t often hear about these models from us directly. Evangelicals understand the American culture and thus know how to market their ideas to it … We need to learn from them how to better communicate our message to the outside world.”
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