Don’t ever forget we are an Easter people!

Posted: April 20, 2014 by efenster in Uncategorized

CCI LogoHere is a part of the prayer I prayed during my morning devotions this Easter morning, and I want to share it with you…

Lord, I thank you for the empty tomb. I thank you that you conquered death–that you ultimately triumph over everything. Nothing can keep your will from happening, nothing can keep your Kingdom from advancing into its fullness. Lord, help us Christians never forget this.

So often, when we’re gathered in shrinking numbers, among an aging congregation, in a world that seems to becoming more secular every day, we forget that you win! We forget that you are all powerful and that you are the King of kings and the Lord of lords. When we hear reports of wars, injustice and tyranny, we forget that you are a God who is just, that you’re the Prince of Peace! Lord, when we are struggling, when we feel absolutely alone and hopeless, may we remember that you are our Good Shepherd, our Redeemer, our Hope. Lord, may we celebrate you as Easter people! May we shout “Hallelujahs!”

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

imagesGod loves you and…there is nothing you can do about it!” is a phrase used by a United Methodist church every Sunday in its worship service.  The church goes on to say, “And we love you too!”  If there’s one gift that every church can give its guests and members, it’s God’s love!  You don’t have to be a growing church, a wealthy church, or a church with a great facility.  Your church always can freely and generously share God’s love.

So how are we doing?  Rarely do I meet a church that doesn’t think it is the friendliest church around.  Yet, there’s a difference between generously sharing God’s love and being “friendly.”  I read some place years ago that newcomers aren’t looking so much for a friendly church as a church where they can make friends.  There’s a difference isn’t there?  Is your church a place that intentionally helps its guests make friends?  Is it a place where folks respond by saying, “this place oozes love”?  (An actual quote!)

Members of a church I visited recently on a weeknight were cold as ice.  They didn’t acknowledge me when I entered the room but continued conversations with their neighbors.  When I introduced myself to them, they never gave me their names.  In fact, what they did do was to stand up and move to seats farther away from me.  Surely they don’t do this to worship guests on Sunday mornings!

Two churches, one that “oozes love” and the one cold as ice.  Which best describes your church?  What step could your church take to be more loving?

One simple way that Faith United Methodist Church in Kendallville does this is to shower its shut-in’s, college students, and community (e.g. firefighters, street department, nearby elementary school faculty) with “Notes of Caring.”  Each week during worship, members write notes of encouragement.  Then the cards are delivered later that week.  Already this year the church has delivered nearly 1,000 Notes of Caring throughout its community!

So what step will your church take?

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development


worshipMichael Coyner, Bishop of the United Methodist churches in Indiana, has a dream of churches launching 100 new opportunities for worship this coming year.  Why?  Because new worship services are more likely to reach new people than existing ones.  He envisions these new opportunities as being started both inside church buildings but also in community venues as well.  He sees them being started not only by a church’s pastor but by its laity.  He envisions them taking on a variety of forms, tailored to their target populations.

Too often I have witnessed eager, well intentioned churches doing just that, launching a new worship service, only to see them fail.  First, if we aren’t willing to risk failure and to learn from the experience, then we shouldn’t attempt new ministry efforts.  Second, if you’re going to launch a new service, wouldn’t you want to do all you can for it to succeed?  To that end, wouldn’t it be great if you could learn from other churches’ attempts, both their successes and failures?  Well, here you go.  What follows will provide you and your church such a guide.  Follow its advice, and you’re likely to see your new worship service succeed–transforming lives, bringing new people into Christ’s presence.

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development


Launching a New Worship Service

In order to effectively launch a new service, I suggest you consider these following steps:

A. PRAYER. I can’t overstate how important it is to have the church intentionally praying for this effort. If you don’t already have groups and/or individuals praying specifically for this effort, I encourage you to do that right away.

B. IDENTIFY TARGET GROUP. Before you make any decisions (e.g. when and where the service is to be held, its style and format, even its name), it is important to know who you sense God is wanting you to especially reach. Of course, the service will be open to anyone; however, the reality is that it will be especially inviting and inspiring for a certain type of person. The more you clearly you can describe that person, the easier it will be to design a service for them, and as a result, you’ll be more likely to reach them.

  1. A church will typically attract is people like themselves. You may want to describe the type of people First UMC naturally attracts. If you sense God is calling you to reach a different group of people, you will probably have to take extra care in designing the service (when, where, its style, how the invitations are shared, etc.).
  2. The target group could be determined by matching those God already is bringing to your church (e.g. Sunday morning newcomers, those you reach through the week, during VBS, etc.).
  3. The target group also could be identified using the community’s demographics. Keep in mind that you do not need to target the largest demographic lifestyle groups in your community.
  4. Whichever way you determine your target group, I encourage you to write down a description of that group (e.g. where they’re at on their spiritual journey, their mindset, their unique needs, their music preferences, etc.).

C. BUILD YOUR LAUNCH TEAM. The launch team will help answer the questions regarding when and where the service will meet, determine when it will be launched, the design of the service, how to get invitations out, setting a budget, dealing with logistical issues such as child care, parking, set-up, technology needs, etc. Set a goal to have at least half your launch team reflect your target group.

D. DEFINE WHAT A “WIN” LOOKS LIKE. In order for everyone to have a clear understanding of what the church hopes to establish, the launch team needs to describe how the church will know if its new service is successful. What are the metrics that will determine whether or not the service should be continued or not? This needs to be clearly defined before the service is ever launched, that way the expectation is clear to everyone and it will be easier to determine the service’s viability.

E. DETERMINE YOUR LAUNCH STRATEGY. There are two basic approaches you can use to launch the service. One is to focus on developing relationships with your target group (e.g. one-to-one conversations, listening sessions, small groups, etc.) before you start the service. This can take as much as six months to two years to do. The second is to rely primarily on word-of-mouth and marketing to launch the service and then to develop relationships once they attend.

The advantage of the first approach is that it provides a more solid congregation when you launch. The downside is that it takes more time (six month to two years). Your launch team needs to decide which approach it will take.

F. ESTABLISH TASK FORCE TEAMS. The next step is for the launch team to identify all the tasks that will need to be done. They might fall into the following areas: a) prayer support, b) worship design, c) logistics (parking, technology, set-up), d) child care, e) publicity/invitations, f) hospitality/discipleship of newcomers, and h) finances. Identify who will head up each of these areas and have them establish an implementation timeline. (See below for an example of a timeline for an effort to launch an off-site worship service.)  To track your progress in recruitment, create a leadership matrix organized by task area.  Write in each name as individuals are recruited.  Your goal should be to fill 90% of your leader/helper slots for each task area by the public launch of the new service.

G. SUNDAY MORNING SCHEDULE. If the launch team (or church’s worship team) determines that the new service should be held at the church on a Sunday morning, make sure adequate parking is available. If you need to adjust the present worship times to fit the new service into the schedule, it is advised not to move the present times more than 30 minutes either direction.  Make sure those having to accommodate the new schedule clearly understand why the change is important and provide them with ongoing updates as to the positive results due to the change (e.g. short videos of the new service being shown at the original service/s).

H. CRITICAL MASS. As I said, it is extremely important to have your worship meeting space always at 50% or more of the room’s capacity. Otherwise, it will feel as though there is a lack of energy and the service won’t be as attractive to newcomers. This means that you won’t want to launch the service until you know you’ll be able to consistently fill half (or more) of the seats.

I. LAUNCHING YOUR SERVICE.  It is recommended that you do a soft launch of your service to work out the bugs before doing your public “official” launch.  During this time, which could be as many as three months, you can begin your marketing effort for your public launch.  Word of mouth is by far the best way to reach people.  Encourage core attenders to the soft launch services to identify three people they know who would like the new service, have them pray for them, then set a date each month that they are encouraged to intentionally invite them to attend with them.  Have attenders to the soft launch provide feedback on the various components of the service and make ongoing adjustments to improve the experience.

J. FOLLOWING YOUR LAUNCH.  Make sure to implement your system to welcome and involve new attenders.  Invite the newcomers to fill the remaining 10% of the leader/helper slots in your matrix.  Continue to engage newcomers by inviting them into missional and discipleship opportunities as well.  At some predetermined point/s (e.g. 6 months, 12 months), evaluate the new service, referring back to your description of what a “win” would look like (D above).  Make adjustments as needed.

Sample Launch Timeline

Month 1

1. Clarify your vision for the new service.  Who is God calling you to reach?

2. Establish a pray team (at least 3 persons) to pray.

Month 2

1. Put together a design team (5-12 people), at least half of whom represent the target group.

2. Identify all the potential prospects that are in the target group (e.g. preschool families, VBS participants, scout families, etc.).  Invite them to a focus group.

Month 3

1. Hold focus groups with your prospects testing your vision for the new service.  Help them determine when and where the service should be held and its style, whether it should be designed to include children and food.  Ask the focus group for others who might be interested in the service and hold a focus group with them.  Add all of them to your prospect list.

2. Refine your vision accordingly.  Define what a “win” will look like.

Month 4

1.  Further refine your worship design and establish needed task teams using a leadership matrix.  Begin recruiting the needed leaders from your prospect list.

2. Begin internal communication in the church about the service and the leadership and volunteer needs.

Month 5

1. Finalize the budget and develop the marketing/outreach plan.

2. Continue to fill the leadership/volunteer matrix.

Month 6

1. Hold a pre-launch worship service and evaluate.

2. Begin to implement the marketing/outreach plan.  Get children’s ministry and hospitality plans finalized.  Develop a newcomer follow-up/assimilation plan that includes getting them involved in discipling opportunities.

Month 7

1.  Hold another pre-launch worship service and evaluate.  Include the hospitality and children’s ministry components.

2.  Lead the church in a special prayer effort for the new service.  Collect prospects’ contact information and share with the marketing/outreach team.

Month 8

1. Hold a final pre-launch worship service with all components in place and evaluate.

2. Continue to implement the marketing/outreach plan and finalize the follow-up/ assimilation process for newcomers.

3.  The leadership matrix should be 90% filled.

Month 9

1.  Publically launch the worship service.  Evaluate and celebrate.

2.  Implement the follow-up/implementation process for newcomers.

Month 10

1.  Begin inviting newcomers to fill vacancies on the leadership matrix and to serve.

2.  Continue evaluating all components of the service, continue the marketing/ outreach.

3. Begin inviting participants into discipleship opportunities.

At a predetermined date (e.g. 6 months or 12 months after launch)

Evaluate the service against the definition set in month 3 of a “win.”  Decide whether to continue the service.

Connecting the dots

Posted: March 28, 2014 by efenster in Ideas
Tags: , , ,

imagesThe rural United Methodist church had seen its attendance drop from a high of 110 five years ago to around 50 today.  Even though the church is off the beaten path, it has a lot going for it.  It’s had the same pastor for over 20 years.  Its members have invested in their facility, adding a family life center not long ago.  The congregation has a good representation of all ages.  The Sunday worship service is led by an excellent praise band.  The church has a healthy family feel, attractive to those looking for a smaller church.

The church is known in its community for two primary reasons–its Vacation Bible School which attracts 35 children each summer, and monthly community dinners that attract hundreds of people.  They do food well!

“What do we need to do to grow?” the Staff-Parish Relations Committee chair asked me.  I replied, “You’re doing so much right.  All you need to do is to connect the dots.”  This church is like so many.  They have done an excellent job creating connecting points with their community, but they haven’t done so well at building relationships with those God brings to them.  They haven’t connected the points, the dots.

Doing so isn’t so difficult.  It doesn’t require adding more programs, ministries, or staff.  It doesn’t require much additional time either.  For this church, it is simply making sure that they identify those unchurch persons God is bringing them, getting their names and contact information.  This can easily happen through cards filled out for registration at VBS and for door prizes provided at each community meal.

Once it has their names and connect information, the church needs to invite them to its next special event–next month’s community meal, the mid-week kids club that’s starting at the end of summer, Trunk-or-Treat, etc.  They also assign each unchurched family to a family in the church that agrees to contact them each month, offering to pray for them.

The initial contact might sound like this, “We’re so glad you attended our dinner last Saturday.  We hope you enjoyed it.  We noticed on your door-prize card that you don’t have a church home.  Well, know that we’d love to have you visit us this Sunday.  Also, we’re a church that believes in prayer.  How can we pray for you and your family this month?”

Next month’s follow-up call might go like this, “We’ve been praying for you and your family this past month.  How are things going with the prayer concern that you shared?  How can we pray for you and your family this coming month?”  If you have another community meal or other special event invite them to join you.

If a church does these simple things, the dots will be connected and many of the unchurched people God has brought to your church will eventually consider your church as their church–even if they don’t regularly attend Sunday mornings.

So, what does your church need to do to connect the dots?

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

UM Faith SharingHow are you intentionally inviting and welcoming guests to your church?  We live at a time when fewer and fewer people are “shopping” for a church.  Rev. Jim Ozier, Church Development Officer for the North Texas Annual Conference, pointed out when he spoke at the Indiana Annual Conference in 2012, that when a church does have first-time guests, there must be a very good reason why they showed up.  Usually there is some special need in their lives that has caused them to seek a church.

I remember years ago working at an inner-city United Methodist church in Fort Wayne.  My job was to help the church  reach those outside its walls and to welcome and celebrate those who visited our worship services.

We would light a votive candle to represent each first-time, local adult guest who visited our church’s services the prior weekend.  We also would always have one unlit candle to represent the fact there were still others God was counting on us to reach.  At the beginning of each service, the worship leader would remind the congregation of the symbolism of these candles.

I remember one weekend we lit over fifty candles celebrating newcomers who attended a special Community Day we held during the prior weekend’s services.  We had encouraged our members to invite their unchurched friends to join us.  We also sent invitations and made phone calls to those who had shown an interest in our church, such as those unchurched families who attended our Vacation Bible School.  We would do three such outreach efforts a year because we found that our members were more likely to invite others if they were given a special reason.  The other two times were Christmas Eve and Easter.

Inviting is only part of our act of hospitality.  Welcoming our guests once they show up is just as important.  Jim Ozzier had a number of great things to say about this during his teaching at the 2012 Indiana Annual Conference.  Here are some of the highlights…

Churches need a cultural change when it comes to how they think of their guests.  First, they typically have more first-time guests than they realize.  And second, when a new person attends worship, does the congregation see a “guest” or a “visitor”?  It’s more than different words; it’s a different mindset.   A visitor is unexpected.  We ask, “Who are those people and what do they want?”  A guest, however, is someone you are anticipating.  You’ve prepared for their visit, and you can’t wait for them to arrive.

The stakes are sky high.  Research indicates that when people look for a church, they are likely to devote six visits to a church or churches.  If they don’t connect, they will likely be unchurched the rest of their lives.  We must not underestimate what’s at stake!

To help raise a congregation’s effectiveness, a church shouldn’t hold just a one-time hospitality seminar for a small group of official greeters.  Instead its leaders should teach on welcoming guests at least annually during the worship services.

5-10-Link Card:  Jim teaches a 5-10-Link methodology.

5 =  (TIME) The five minutes before and after worship service intentionally greet people you don’t know.

10 =  (SPACE) Greet those guests within ten feet of you.

Link = Try to link them together with persons with similar interests.

Names are the reason we hesitate to do this.  We can’t remember names.  It isn’t a sin to forget names.  The sin is letting not-remembering-names be an excuse for not making connections.  Don’t let not-remembering-names stop you from making connections.  Say, “Hi, I’m [your name].  Glad to meet you.”  If they don’t give you their name when they respond, say, “I’m so glad to see you.”  Not giving you their name is their way of saying they really aren’t ready to connect with people, so don’t pressure them.  If they do give their names, however, they are interested in making connections, so follow through.

You never need to ask, “Is this your first time here?”  or, “Golly, I can’t remember your name.”  When you can’t remember someone’s name, you just say, “Help me with your name.”  It won’t offend people, because everyone wants to help.  Typically, if we’ve forgotten a person’s name, we will try to avoid them rather than face the embarrassment.   However, we must not avoid them but to simply ask them to “Help me with your name.”  When you link two people and you’ve forgotten both their names, simply say “Have you two met?”  They’ll likely introduce themselves to each other.

I have heard it said more than once, that a newcomer to worship is not as interested in whether or not a church is friendly as much as if it is a place where they can make friends.  Helping them deepen their relationship with Christ many times begins with you helping them connect with others and to make new friends.  Doing so will increase the likelihood that they’ll continue to attend your church, and, better yet, grow in their relationship with Christ.

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

“I believe we can change the world in ten years.”  This statement was made byhs_bias_timothy_04-533x800 Tim Bias, the new General Secretary (chief executive) of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church, at his installation service held in Herndon, Virginia, last week.  I was sitting in the congregation, and when he said those words, I sat up.  He had me on the edge of my seat.  You see I long to change the world too.  I’m guessing that you do as well.  In the Gospel Jesus paints a picture of a changed world and invites us to be world changers.  Could it be that God could change the world through us–in ten years?

Bias says that “we’re the instruments that God uses to redeem the world.”   Even though he acknowledges that he’s now a “church bureaucrat,” he says, “I don’t care about saving the church, but saving the world.”  Once again, I’m nodding my head vigorously.  How about you?  “If we just pray, we can change the world.”  Do you believe that?  Do you believe we can change the world in ten years?

I invite you to pray about this.  Pray for Tim Bias, our General Board of Discipleship, and the whole church.  Every second Monday of each month there are leaders throughout the Midwest who are fasting and praying for our church.  Please consider joining us.  God has been changing the world and will continue to change the world.  Let’s not miss out and be left on the sidelines…

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

imagesHow does a church deal with those toxic, poisonous people who block a healthy church from moving forward?  A Sunday school teacher who refuses to attend worship because she doesn’t like the pastor.  A parishioner who threatens to take the equipment he donated to his church because he doesn’t like that it’s being used to reach people outside the church.  The anonymous person who sends a string of threatening notes.

Years ago, church growth expert, Carl George, referred to these persons as E.G.R.’s, “Extra Grace Required” people.  Mike Slaughter, author and pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC, refers to them as “demons that need to be exorcized” not placated.  Too often, church members tiptoe around these folks and cede them control in order to keep the peace.  But the peace is only superficial because everyone knows that they’re there, proverbial “elephants in the room.”

So what happens to that Sunday school teacher who doesn’t attend worship?  One pastor had all leaders, including Sunday school teachers, sign a covenant that included regular weekly worship attendance.  The teacher ended up quitting rather than sign the covenant.  The covenant culled out the unhealthy leader.

How about the person that wanted to take back the items he had purchased for the church?  His pastor actually announced in a worship service that the church would have a “Take back from God” meeting.  Anyone who didn’t want items they had purchased for the church to be used for ministry were to attend the meeting, claim their items, and they would be returned to them.  Well, it ended up that the pastor, his church’s lay leader, and trustee chair were the only ones who showed up.  After that, no one has raised the issue of how their items are used for ministry!

And what about the anonymous notes?  When this happened to me, my pastor talked about it openly with the congregation making it very clear that it was unethical and that we would be talking with the U.S. postal service if we found out who was behind them.  He also made a point that any unsigned messages would not be read but thrown away, and that the Staff-Parish Relations Committee didn’t deal with secondhand complaints.  People needed to talk face-to-face with persons they had gripes with and not triangulate by sending their messages through a third party.  Thankfully, the notes stopped.

What if, after efforts like the above have been made, the toxic person still is harming the church’s ministry and its leadership?  In that case, it’s time for intervention where the leaders of the church, in consultation with their district superintendent, remove that person from ministry.  Obviously this is a last resort, but it took such action in at least one church I know.

The above such practices, though difficult at the time, promote healthy communication and behavior, and ultimately result in a healthy church–free of  pachyderms!

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development