Rev. Mark Beeson, who just passed away after a 15-month battle with pancreatic cancer, was more than your typical church planter. When I first was living in Fort Wayne, my young adult friends said you’ve got to check out this United Methodist Church. They were talking about Epworth UMC where Mark Beeson was the pastor. His charismatic personality drew people to him. He had an energy that was attractive. More importantly, he was able to share the faith in a way that was attractive, even to young adults.

When I talked to Mark about how he became a church planter, he said that he had a vision for a new church on the growing edge of South Bend/Mishawaka called Granger and that he practically begged the former North Indiana Conference leadership to let him have a shot at planting it. Mark’s apostolic drive wasn’t always appreciated or understood, but his District Superintendent, Don LaSuer, and Bishop Leroy Hodapp, gave him the chance to see what he could do. The result is the mega-church called Granger Community Church (GCC).

Mark, with a volunteer team, launched GCC on June 1, 1986, in a Mishawaka movie theater coincidentally also called GCC (General Cinema Corp.). A total of 221 people were in attendance at its first worship service. Its attendance quickly grew to an average of 348 people in the first year. Eventually the church purchased land nearby and began building its present facility in phases. By 2008 it was averaging over 5,000 people in its weekend services. Eventually it launched another campus in Elkhart and one in LaPorte (which later closed).

I remember visiting GCC when it was still meeting in the movie theater. It is the only church I’ve ever attended where there were hundreds of people waiting in the lobby for the worship service in progress to end, so people could get a seat for the next service. People without seats would sit on the floor or stand against the walls. It was a happening, an event and it reached a significant numbers of baby boomers who were young adults at the time.

Few planters had the vision that Mark had. I remember him showing a group of United Methodist church developers around his facility. He took us to an empty basement under the huge sanctuary and painted a picture of a vibrant children’s ministry happening in that space that was so attractive that children would drag their parents to church. Sure enough a year later I was back, and children were climbing into tubes where they slid down from the sanctuary level into their classrooms below, classrooms which looked like Disney had designed them. He was a visionary and dreamed big!

Attending GCC worship was always an experience. Mark and his team did a great job playing off the popular culture. I remember visiting worship once where there was an actual wrecked plane on the stage. It was a prop for their series playing off of the popular television series “Lost.”

But Mark helped create a church that did more than just worship. It has a strong small-group discipling ministry. It built a mission outpost in South Bend called the Monroe Circle Community Center that serves and equips marginalized, at-risk people. The church has also planted churches in India. And for years GCC staff have shared their expertise by providing training events and conferences. Perhaps one of Mark’s most enduring contributions to the Kingdom is being a leader who raised up and developed other leaders, from middle school youth who attended the Conference’s Camp Adventure to staff who have gone on to be amazing nationally-known leaders and influencers, like Rob Wegner, Tony Morgan, and Tim Stevens.

Mark certainly was not perfect; none of us are. But he certainly has left a mark on those of us who knew him, worked with him, and were touched by him. He will be greatly missed. Prayers go out to GCC, his wife Sheila and family. May God hold you all tightly as you mourn his loss and celebrate his life!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Note: Rev. Mark Beeson officially retired from GCC last year due to his cancer and GCC is now no longer affiliated with the Indiana Conference and the UMC.

The “why” behind discipleship

Posted: December 14, 2020 by efenster in Ideas
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Of course Jesus tells us to make disciples and that’s reason enough for me to strive to be a disciple maker. But for someone who doesn’t follow Jesus, or doesn’t even know Him, why is making disciples still important? Yes, all of us have sinned and are in need of God’s redeeming grace. But if we strip away the religious language and get down to the essence of the “Why?”, what would we find?

Rev. Brian Phipps, founder of Disciples Made, a Kansas City ministry, says that nearly all humans are asking two fundamental questions: “Am I worthy of love?” and “Does my life have meaning?” Thus, the invitation to discipleship will likely begin with these two questions, ultimately leading to transformation. Yet, too often, Phipps says, churches approach discipleship as a process of gaining information. We ask, “What curriculum are we using?” rather than “What outcomes we hope to see in each person?”

So what are the outcomes we hope to see? Character and calling. Help persons grow in character, by focusing on the Fruits of the Spirit, and help them discover their unique calling, by discovering and living out the Gifts of the Spirit. This can happen in small groups–up to twelve persons (similar to what Jesus and Wesley did). Each day participants individually answer two key questions as they read the scriptures : “What is God saying?” and “What will I do as a result?” Then each week they meet together, including spending time in accountability triads. Eventually participants are encouraged to integrate disciplines, habits, into their lives–such as the BLESS rhythms.*

Phipps boils the discipling process down to a simple formula: Character x Calling = Impact. It doesn’t have to be complex. In fact, it should be easy enough that a disciple can help another person grow as a disciple, who in turn helps another person grow as a disciple. Phipps can attest that it works because he started a group of twelve, five or so years ago, and it has multiplied to the point that over 5,000 persons are growing as disciples of Jesus Christ today! But it all begins by addressing the “Why?”, helping people discover that they are worthy of love and that they do have a purpose in life.

So what’s the “Why?” behind your church’s discipling effort?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

*B.L.E.S.S. = 

Begin in prayer—listening prayer

Listen in—missional prayer, listen to the neighborhood

Eat—Share a meal and engage in relationship; teach people how to party

Serve—Connect with friends and the community and look for the persons of peace

Story—Share how Jesus has changed you/us

Playing without the queen

Posted: November 11, 2020 by efenster in Ideas
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When experts of chess are teaching students to learn the game, I’ve been told that they have them play without their queen. Often chess players will rely too much on their queen and as a result their game isn’t as strong as it could be.

Alan Hirsch told an acquaintance of mine that if he really wants his church to thrive, if he really wants to make disciples and transform the world, that he must learn to play with out the proverbial queen of the church–which is the Sunday morning worship experience. The pandemic provides churches the perfect opportunity to carry out the mission without the Sunday morning experience being the focal point. However, many churches have been doubling down and working harder than ever to produce its weekly services despite the incredible challenges due social distancing and the virus.

Let’s imagine what it might look like for a church to “play without the queen,” to give up, at least for a season, making worship and the Sunday morning experience the focal point. If we look at Jesus’ ministry, most of the discipling was done on the fly with a small group of followers. What if we focused our attention there, returning to our denomination’s focus on small groups, “the class meeting”?

The problem is that, in many churches, small groups, including Sunday school classes, have been marginally effective at growing people as Christ’s disciples. Brian Phipps, of Disciples Made, says that the problem is because we focus on curriculum–what we’re studying–and not on the change that we’re longing to see in the participants.

He also believes that we’ve made disciple-making way too complex. He has boiled it down to a formula: CHARACTER x CALLING = IMPACT. When persons grow in their character, which he defines as the Fruits of the Spirit, and they understand their unique callings, including their Gifts of the Spirit, they will automatically have impact–making disciples, transforming their communities, even launching new faith communities.

What might happen if, during this season of Covid, your church spent less of its limited energy producing Sunday morning worship and put more effort into discipling relationships that result in persons growing as disciples that change the world? What if your church decided to play without its queen?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

It’s time to act!

Posted: October 23, 2020 by efenster in Resources
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I know if you’re like most pastors, the pandemic has worn you down.  You are not looking for another thing to put on your plate; you’re simply trying to keep things going.  Yet, I believe this strange time may actually be God’s gift to us to help us retool and rethink how our churches minister, especially to the unchurched.  So, I have an opportunity for you to consider…

Is your church sensing a call to launch a new on-line worshiping community especially for folks outside your church?  The pandemic is showing us that there are unchurched people who are interested in connecting on-line. However, to reach and disciple them effectively means much more than simply streaming your in-person service.  For those of you with such a dream, Church Development wants to help you successfully launch your on-line service.  It also wants to help you reach a new group of people, following the pandemic, through launching a new in-person worship experience.

Cathy Townley

To that end, Church Development will be offering a nine-month worship training cohort (done virtually) in partnership with Townley Coaching called “Ready to Launch.”  To learn more about this opportunity, check out the informational flier or videos and plan to attend one of two free identical info sessions done virtually:  November 17 at 10am (Eastern) or November 23  at 4pm (Eastern).  To attend, please contact Brenda Gross by Nov. 16 at

Church Development will cover half the participation cost for the first ten Indiana UMCs to register for Ready to Launch. So contact Brenda today to sign up for the free info sessions. And may God give you the strength you need and continue to move in beautiful ways through your ministry during these strange times.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Association Director of Church Development

The church I attend, Faith United Methodist in Fort Wayne, is preparing to receive members who have never attended our building. That’s right! They got connected with the church after we had stopped meeting in our building due to the pandemic last spring. So how did they get connected? Through our pastor, Melissa Fisher, and some of our members, and through participating in our on-line worship and ministries that happen outside the building. This has reminded us that the church is not the building at all but the people, the ministry!

Centenary United Methodist Church just announced that it is becoming a virtual church. It has been sharing space at a Disciples of Christ church in New Albany, Indiana. Since the Covid-19 pandemic started back in March, the congregation has been meeting virtually. Its leaders began realizing that the church was functioning fine without a building and that it could invest more money in ministry and mission if it had no building expenses. So at least for now, it has decided to be a church without a building.

The church’s pastor, Rev. Harriett Akins-Banman, says, “Using Zoom for worship, weekly prayer, monthly fellowship gatherings, meetings and studies has made a positive difference.  These people thought they knew each other; now the knowing goes deeper.” In order to make sure church members without computers can be a part of the virtual church, the congregation has bought members laptops with WiFi hot spots.

Despite the pandemic, Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Indianapolis started a Fresh Expression this summer. Its pastor, Rev. Dave Buckner, loves bicycling and so he started a bicycling group this summer and intentionally invited youth from a nearby low-income apartment complex. As a result, each week a number of adults and a dozen or more youth from the apartment complex go on bike rides, hear about Jesus and pray together. Recently they received a grant from Church Development to help them with their effort.

So how is your church doing during this time of social distancing? How might not having a building actually enhance your church’s ministry? How does your church need to make a mind shift in order to thrive during this challenging time?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Could it be that God is moving in Indiana in ways we haven’t seen in many, many years? Could it be that we’re on the cusp of a multiplication movement? Well, there are leaders in the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church that believe so.

Seventy-five leaders gathered last September with Bishop Trimble, Resident Bishop of the Indiana Conference, for a time of intentional prayer. We prayed that the Holy Spirit would spur our churches to pursue our mission “to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” with renewed vigor and that our efforts would result in multiplication happening naturally, from the grassroots. Some of us have been praying that it would happen to such a degree that we couldn’t actually count how many new disciples and leaders were being developed, and new faith communities–Fresh Expressions, micro-churches, new campuses and churches–were being started.

From that prayer meeting, Church Development had fifty pastors join multiplication cohorts that met during this past school year. The consensus was that this experience, which we’re now calling Multiplication Network Track 1, helped them changing their thinking from attractional and addition-focused to missional and multiplication-focused.

Now those church leaders are being invited into a process called Track 2, which will help them create an intentional disciple-making environment in their churches which will naturally lead to multiplication. And we’re inviting a new group of churches to join a new flight of Track 1 this fall. Pastors from both large and small churches with hearts that desire to more effectively carry out the church’s mission will benefit from participating in this eight-month experience.

In Track 1, each month pastors, along with up to four others from their church, will get together with other church teams for a 90-minute session. The sessions, which will be done virtually using ZOOM, will be led by Rev. Tim Johnson, pastor of Pfrimmer’s Chapel UMC in Corydon, Indiana. During the sessions, each church team will meet in smaller cohorts with other church teams where they will discuss the concepts being shared. They will also learn from and encourage each other, and they’ll have the support of a facilitator/coach.

Learn more about this Track 1 opportunity by joining Tim Johnson and Ed Fenstermacher for a one-hour free ZOOM session on July 28th at 10am (ET)/9am (CT).  Contact Ed for the web connection address,, and any other questions you may have.  For a “Fact Sheet” with detailed information about Track 1, go to the Track 1 website.  

You’re also invited to attend another time of prayer with Bishop Trimble called “Hope & Grace: A Concert of Prayer.” It will be held virtually on October 28th, so mark your calendars and plan to attend!

Through on-going prayer and peer nurturing in Tracks 1 & 2, we believe that vision of God creating a multiplication movement in Indiana is going to become a reality. Don’t miss out. Don’t find yourself on the sidelines. Join in and be a part of the miracle! Check out Track 1 and plan on participating in the Concert of Prayer!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

White folk, it’s time we act

Posted: June 3, 2020 by efenster in Ideas
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The sermon title this past Sunday at the church I attend (Faith United Methodist in Fort Wayne) was entitled, “To Breathe or Not to Breathe, that Is the Question.” Our associate pastor, James Williams, was obviously playing off of famous lines from Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet.” He pointed out that Pentecost was a moment when the very breath of God blew into the lungs of those gathered in Jerusalem, filling them with life and power. He also pointed out that George Floyd, though pleading to breathe, was prevented from doing so by a policeman kneeling on his neck. As a result, he tragically lost his life but unleashed a powerful response across our nation and world.

Since Floyd’s death, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and reflecting, as I’m sure many of you have been doing. My church, which is made up of 50% blacks and 50% whites, regularly talks about and studies racism. This spring I was part of my church’s study of the book entitled, How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. What I’ve come to realize–embarrassingly late in my life–is that racism isn’t going to go away until those of us whites, including me, who have the power, speak out and actively pursue both personal and institutional changes.

Just last week (before the protests) our Church Development Committee had a deep conversation regarding the need to make sure we are intentionally working toward greater inclusion of both women and ethnic minorities in our work. I readily admit, that I was not leading the conversation and that I saw the concern as more of a tangential issue. Why is that? Because it just isn’t on my radar. I accept the status quo as normative. Shame on me!

I have two bi-racial nephews in the city of Chicago who have been terrified especially since George Floyd’s death. They are wanting to leave for fear of what might happen to them. I have a bi-racial neighbor who has been like a family member since he was a boy. He was at the front of the protests in Fort Wayne this past weekend. On Sunday he bared his heart with his congregation as to how hard it is to live as a bi-racial person in a racist, divided world. Why is it that I haven’t been as attuned to the fears of my nephews and the inner turmoil of my neighbor until now? Shame on me!

It is easy for us privileged whites to go about our normal lives totally unaware of the reality that our non-white sisters and particularly brothers are going through every moment of every day. We must speak up! We must act!

I watched part of a Fort Wayne suburban church’s worship service this past Sunday and there was hardly any reference to the racial issues going on. Having attended a predominately white suburban church, I find it’s easy in such a setting to write off racial problems as an inner-city issue, a black issue. Shame on me!

I dream for the day when all our churches–suburban, rural, urban, white, black, and ethnically mixed–are hearing sermons confronting the issue. May we not take our breaths, nor the breaths of our neighbors, for granted. May we use the precious air in our lungs, filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit, and speak out boldly! May we join the growing chorus that shouts, “We are sick with a virus and that virus is racism!” Let us all work together for its eradication.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

How are you doing? How is your church doing? I’m hearing all sorts of things from churches and pastors during these days of the pandemic. I’m hearing amazing stories of churches adapting. I’m also hearing that rather than slowing down, life seems to have sped up, and now many of us are feeling ZOOM fatigue.

In the midst of all this, I’m wondering… How are you and your leadership going to take time to catch your breath and reflect? Many times, Jesus would take time away after a hectic day with the crowds and reflect and pray. When will you and your leaders do this?

What have you learned from your church’s experience during this time of social distancing? Many times we discover what we truly value in times of stress. These are our core values. They guide our decision making. What values have become evident the past six weeks? Are they values upon which Christ can build His church? If not, how will you begin to change them?

As you begin to look ahead, what will you want to take with you? What will church life be like? The United Methodist Church’s church-planting arm, called Path 1, encourages churches to view this time as a unique opportunity to relaunch. In fact, it has resources to help a church to do just that.

What if you don’t stop your virtual worship services once you return to your sanctuary? What if you continue to offer an on-line option? During this period, you probably have attracted persons who are unlikely to show up to your church or who live in other communities but have made connections with your church. How will you minister to your virtual congregation as well as your in-person congregation? How can you intentionally connect virtually with and disciple those who have no interest in church?

We may return to our churches in the coming month, but we’ll not be the same church we were, nor will our world be the same. Jesus talked about how we need to put new wine into new wineskins. Folks this is a “new-wineskin” moment! Let’s not miss the opportunity to rethink church! It’s time to consider relaunching! How will you do that?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

So how can your church maintain worship, connectedness, and ministry in this period of social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic? There are a number of high-tech options out there, such as streaming your worship services, but what about smaller churches with fewer resources?

I am a member of one of those churches, Faith United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne. We are worshiping Sundays using ZOOM. ZOOM is a web-based tool that allows folk to connect with one another using their computers or tablets. Someone in the church needs to have a subscription ($14.99 a month), but everyone else can get a ZOOM account at no charge.

The person with the subscription then provides everyone with a special meeting web address (URL) that they put in their web browser at the time of the meeting–e.g. the worship service, Sunday school class, Bible study, Council meeting, etc. Everyone then is able to join the meeting and display a live video stream of themselves to everyone else using their computer or tablet’s built in camera. They also have the option of joining without video using their phone.

So how did this work last Sunday? Our church sent everyone an email explaining that we would worship using ZOOM at our normal time on Sunday morning. They included a web address, which we’ll continue to use for as many Sundays as we have to. Then at 10:15am, people began joining the worship service. We ended up with 31 different households on our screens. Some households had a number of people watching, so we actually were near or normal worship attendance of around 50 people.

It was wonderful being able to see the faces and hear the voices of those I normally see when I’m in our sanctuary. After a time of chit chat and announcements, our worship leader muted our microphones and we began the service. At the appropriate time, our song leader led us in a song accompanied on his guitar from his home, a woman sang a solo a cappella from her living room, another person read scripture and then our pastor preached from her home. We had a period where we were invited to offer our offerings (by mail or electronically) and then sang the doxology. After that we were asked to write down our prayer concerns using a chat tool that’s a part of ZOOM. The person who prayed read each one individually as part of the prayer time. We ended with another song and then received the benediction from our pastor.

Even though we weren’t present physically, it felt as though we truly connected with one another. So if you’re a part of a smaller congregation with not a lot of resources, consider ZOOM-ing your worship service during this pandemic.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

P.S. For a list of other low tech ideas that any-sized congregation can use check out ideas from Rev. Susan Arnold from the Holston Conference in her article entitled, “No Tech, Low Tech.”

I dropped by the store earlier this week for an essential…hairspray. (I am a product of the 80’s after all.) And while there, I saw store shelves being restocked. They were cleaning store shelves as they added frozen food. There were lots of fresh veggies with more in crates to put out, and the milk refrigerators were full.

Even before the last few weeks, I find we often operate in life from a mentality of scarcity. Oddly, I wonder if we do this more than countries that have far less. Yet, the most inspiring (and successful) people, organizations, and ministries seem to be those that operate from an abundance mentality.

The abundance and scarcity picture isn’t to make anyone feel badly. (I am sure I looked like a hoarder getting food for my family which includes a 17-year-old guy.) But, the picture helps to remind me of ways that I can be life giving.

If I am to love my neighbor as myself, what does that look like?

— Jen Hudson, Associate Director of Church Development


Greetings Indiana congregations,

I wanted to let you know that the Center for Congregations is rescheduling all the in-person events on our event calendar through the end of May 2020. In order to continue to provide quality education events, we will move many of these events to a live online format. And we will be offering all our online education events for free (see promotion code below) at least through the end of May 2020. 

You can find out more about this event and register for free using the code FREEONLINE2020 here:

We’ll provide more information about other upcoming free events soon. 

If you have any questions or need anything at all, please reach out to me at this email address. We look forward to seeing you online.


Matt Burke,
Director of Northeast and Education
Center for Congregations