January marks the two-year anniversary of ECO. We launched in January 2012, accepted our first congregation in May 2012, and now have over 108 member churches and two new churches in the process of being planted. Praise God for the ongoing story of ECO! A few weeks ago in the ECO newsletter, I shared five focus areas for ECO as we grow into 2014. In case you missed it, I wanted to share it again here to keep us focused as we live into our mission in the new year.
1. New Presbyteries: We are in the process of multiplying from two into nine presbyteries. ECO began with the Presbytery of the East and Presbytery of the West, but our growth necessitates more differentiation - and we pray it also results in more connectionalism for congregations. We are devoting energy this month to helping the new presbyteries launch well and equipping leaders to navigate challenges that emerge.
2. Church Planting: Church planting is a core initiative of ECO. Since most churches didn't come into ECO with an aggressive church-planting DNA, we have to work hard to help them embrace and invest in it, as well as build up a pipeline of church planters. It has been fun to partner with congregations and see their imagination for church planting grow.
3. Congregational Vision: We are committed to helping congregations determine "what is next" after they enter ECO. Going through discernment and dismissal can be an arduous, emotionally taxing process. Leaders of these churches need to balance helping their congregations heal from the process, while also leading them into a new context. I have been doing retreats and gatherings to help churches live into the reality of ECO. Other churches are engaging with our Missional Leader and Coach Training process or finding value in a Mission Affinity Group. Still others are engaging strategic consultants or investing in the Elder Leadership Institute. We want to expand opportunities for training, both inside ECO and The Fellowship of Presbyterians, as well as outside our tribe.
4. International Missions: I am so thankful for the ministry of Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (led by Bill Young, an ECO Pastor), as well as The Outreach Foundation and The Antioch Partners, who are collectively functioning as the international mission arm of ECO. They are very proficient at training missionaries and finding spots where people can serve and use their gifts. They are helping us identify 2-4 international projects for ECO as a whole to focus on. We don't want to take away from what a church is already doing just to join an ECO project; however, if a church is looking for ways to begin or deepen involvement in foreign mission, we'd love to work together. You can read my recent blog in which I shared a vision for this process and about my trip to the Middle East. These three partner organizations are also available to work with your church individually and be a resource for those considering the mission field.
5. Churches in Transition: We continue to work with congregations discerning their future denominational relationship. More than 120 more churches have declared they plan to join ECO once dismissed, and many others are still deciding whether or not to affiliate with ECO. Our goal is never to persuade people to join ECO, but to faithfully communicate who we are and help their leadership discern if ECO is a good fit. While I lead a fair amount of these types of meetings with churches, I am thankful for the increasing number of volunteers who can represent ECO well.
There is a lot ahead of us in this new year! I pray for all of us in the ECO movement. As we launch ahead, I'm eager both to share updates and hear stories of the great things God is doing in your churches!