03EC0C2383AA49DFBD2F9B635F887655_120913-facebookIt isn’t every Sunday that a new church is officially welcomed into our Indiana Conference, so last Sunday at The Branches, in Plainfield, was very special.  The United Methodist church, which was started by Rev. Alex Hershey in 2013, celebrated it’s new status at a chartering service.  This milestone will also be celebrated at Annual Conference in June.

Some in the conference may have the impression that this is the only church plant going on.  This is far from the truth.  The conference actually has twenty or so new faith communities meeting right now that have been launched in the past few years.  It also has another group of them being launched in the coming months.  These projects include Korean, Native American, Burmese, and a number of Hispanic congregations besides Anglo and multi-ethnic congregations.  Some are stand alone congregation, but many are being sponsored by existing United Methodist churches.

In many ways, the Indiana Conference is experiencing the beginnings of a church planting movement.  Perhaps the greatest sign of this is that the conference’s Church Development team is not directly involved in a number of these projects.

Stay tuned for future announcements of some new amazing church plants that are in the works.  God is moving!  And, please consider joining the action by contacting your Church Development staff person.  We’re looking for more sponsoring churches, prospective church planters, planting opportunities, and people to pray.  Why not join in the fun and be apart of what God is doing!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Upward arrow“We’re concerned about quality not quantity.”  “We don’t play the numbers game.”  “We need to focus on growing our people before we focus on reaching those outside our church.”  We have all heard such comments, haven’t we?  Perhaps we’ve made them ourselves at times.

Whether we’re looking at our Sunday school attendance, worship attendance, or, in my case, conference statistics, when the numbers are declining it’s easy to for us to rationalize and dismiss such trends.  Yet, Lovett H. Weems, Jr., in his recent article, “Changing Congregational Trends,” points out that there is a direct correlation between churches that are growing and their level of spiritual vitality.  In other words, if our trends are declining, that may well point to the fact we have a spiritual problem.

Most of our Indiana United Methodist congregations have been experiencing a decline in worship attendance.  Only 26% grew by at least an average of one worshiper from 2013 to 2014!  No doubt this decline reflects our society’s changing behaviors, such as people attending worship less frequently than in the past.  Yet, at the core, in many cases, it reflects the lack of spiritual vitality.  Many of our churches are like the church in Ephesus, described in the Book of Revelation as having forsaken its “first love.”

In working with over two hundred of our congregations through the Fruitful Congregation Journey process, the Church Development team has discovered that most of our churches lack a clear vision and disciple-making process.  But even more significant, they lack members with hearts that are totally in love with Jesus and are fully committed to serving him above all else.

So should we be concerned about our church’s growth trend?  The study cited by Weems suggests yes, we should because it’s a reflection of our spiritual vitality, our heart.  So, what about your church’s trend?  Does it reflect hearts fully in love with Christ, or is there spiritual work that needs to be done?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

UnknownAndy Stanley created quite a stir last week when he said in a sermon that people who prefer attending smaller churches are selfish.  He later acknowledged that such a blanket statement was inappropriate saying, “Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.”

His point, however, was that larger churches are more likely to offer solid children and youth programs, allowing the young people to connect with others their ages.  Thus, they’re less likely than young people attending smaller churches to turn their backs on church participation in the future.

Can it be, however, that smaller churches actually have advantages over larger churches when it comes to discipling young people?  Could it be that, although few in number, young people in smaller churches receive more attention and individual “loving on” by their church members?  When they’re absent, folk notice.  When they have a special accomplishment at school, church members celebrate.  When they sense a call to ministry, the whole church rises up to encourage and support them.

Certainly not all smaller churches treat their young people this way.  Nor do all larger churches fail to treat their young people in this way.  But there may truly be some significant advantages for a young person to grow up in a smaller church too.

What’s your experience been?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

Time for spring cleaning?

Posted: February 29, 2016 by efenster in Ideas
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DSC_CrocusCall it spring cleaning.  I just threw out nearly two file drawers of Church Development files.  Why did it take me ten years to do this?  Unlike my wife, I’m a thrower.  So, why would a “thrower” cling to over ten years of paper files in an electronic age?  Perhaps I’m sentimental.  To read meeting minutes, consultation studies, and workshop notes dealing with ministries that I was personally involved in makes it hard to toss them into the recycling bin.

The Redevelopment Venture Process, a forerunner of the Fruitful Congregation Journey church revitalization process, and Sending of the Saints, which preceded the more recent One Hundred Points of Light outreach effort, involved significant effort and countless hours, involving friends and colleagues in ministry.  The files were the last reminders of those days.  And now they’re gone.

Is your church a saver or a thrower?  Is it time for you and your church to do some spring cleaning too?  What is it that you’re clinging to that has served its purpose and is no longer relevant, but because it’s familiar and there’s emotional attachment, you’re still holding on to it?  Jesus said that we need to put new wine into new wineskins.  For the sake of Jesus’ call and the church’s mission, may we have the courage and gumption to let go of our old wineskins and embrace the new.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

 

Jesus spoke of the power of giving a person a cup of cold water, a seemly insignificant act of kindness.  With the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the gift of clean water is anything but insignificant.  Although the government and other agencies are providing water for residents, an I.D. is required in most cases.  This requirement, in particular, has meant that many residents without I.D.s haven’t been able to get help.

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Thanks to Christians who take Jesus’ words about giving the gift of water literally, truckloads of bottled water are being distributed by churches to anyone in Flint; no I.D. is required.  Recently  one of the Indiana Conference’s new church plants, Torre Fuerte (Strong Tower), led by Esequiel and Suri Becerra, joined forces with a nearby Chicago-area church and delivered a truckload of donated bottled water.

James says, “Faith without deeds is dead.”  Clearly the Torre Fuerte congregation and many others take this seriously.  What about your congregation?  How is it putting its faith in action?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

More than just names…

Posted: February 5, 2016 by efenster in Ideas
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36449_10150216514260268_5853402_nTim and Tera.  Two people who became more than just names for me this morning.

The past thirteen years I’ve volunteered for a Fort Wayne ministry called Inasmuch, that serves our city’s poor.  After sitting with countless numbers of people over the years, hearing their stories, and praying with them, it would be easy to become cynical, hard-hearted, and judgmental.  But for me, each person has a name, they have a unique story, and this helps me to treat each one as special, precious children of God.

So this morning Tim and Tera became more than just another couple poor persons needing help, they became real people struggling with the challenges of life.  Tim lives in a tent down by a nearby river.  He’s homeless.  It was 20 degrees this morning and he likely spent the night outside.  Tera is a young single mom who’s expecting her second child this summer.  She is looking for a job and needed help with her past due rent.

I don’t know how they ended up in the situations that they’re in.  And I don’t have any easy answers or quick solutions to give them.  Even if Tim and Tera get on their feet and become financially self sufficient, they’ll be other people with different names who will find themselves struggling with the challenges of life too.

Yet, the encounters that we have with people facing challenges offer us a chance to remind them, as well as ourselves, that we have a loving creator who knows our names, that we worship a God of second chances.  And as a result, we all can be people who are a little more hopeful and encouraged.  For we each have a name and a story and are special in God’s eyes, all of us including Tim and Tera.  Knowing that, no doubt, will help us as we face new challenges yet to come.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

FCJ Logo-600dpiDoes your church seem stuck?  Has it been declining or plateaued the past few years?  Does it seem like it’s simply treading water?  If so, maybe it’s time to ask the question, “What’s our church’s next step?

George Bullard, president of the Columbia Partnership, wrote in a recent article that the “transformation of a congregation is most likely to occur among congregations who are in movement rather than at rest.”  He refers to an earlier comment by Kennon Callahan, who wrote:  “You can correct everything wrong with a congregation and bring it right up to neutral.”  The challenge then is how to help your congregation move beyond neutral, to get some forward movement so that revitalization is more likely to be possible.

Among Indiana United Methodists, over 260 congregations have turned to a multi-year process called the Fruitful Congregation Journey (FCJ).  It is designed to help churches move out of neutral and to begin to get some forward momentum.  FCJ is not a magic fix that can guarantee that a church will move off its plateau or reverse its decline.  It does, however, give a church hope and direction and a strategic plan for moving forward.  Many times those three things–hope, direction, and a strategic plan–can be just what the church needs to get unstuck.

The Indiana Conference is in the process of extending invitations to churches averaging over 70 in weekly worship attendance to participate in Step 1 of the three-step process, which will begin this fall.  This will be the final year that the “classic” FCJ process is offered.  In the future, FCJ Next, a modified enhanced version, will be offered.  So for churches that have been considering participating in the past, this is the year to say “Yes!”  Let your district superintendent or Church Development staff person know if you’d like your church to receive an invitation and take a step to get your church going forward for the sake of Christ and His mission.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

P.S. Churches averaging under 70 will have the opportunity to participate in FCJ Impact, especially designed for smaller churches.  A pilot group is going through it in the Kokomo area and new groups will be launched in other areas this fall.