Kristo's-131020aSt. Joseph United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has been spearheading a non-attractional church plant on the Fort Wayne’s south side the past few years called Kristo’s Hands and Feet.  Steve Mekura, the effort’s leader, recently reviewed an updated discipling plan with leaders from St. Joseph.  What the leaders discovered was that Kristo’s wasn’t a project that simply flowed from the mature Christians of St. Joseph to the non-believers and new believers in the south part of town.  God turned it around and now the Kristo’s project is actually challenging and shaping how St. Joseph members view disciple making where they live too.  Typically God, huh?

Here are comments from one St. Joseph member…

“The conversation completely changed for me when Steve started describing his formalized discipleship plan.  My heart was not open to the idea.  I thought our mission field is filled with people that often aren’t home, miss events, etc… there is no way we’re going to be able to convince them to stick to such a plan. I was skeptical that the idea of laying it out in such an intentional way, to people who have only begun to walk with or understand Christ, was way too much to ask.

“Then I started thinking about myself, “How would I react if someone from our church leadership asked the same of me?” What if there was something to hold me accountable for areas my personal spiritual growth is struggling and how I could be discipling others – which would both elevate my growth and impact others.  The thought was still terrifying and seemed like a huge undertaking – but the possibility of the growth it could bring began to be exciting.

“Then the conversation turned to responsibility … if I’m spiritually responsible for discipling those around me through the church activities I participate in, how does that change the way I act? What if everyone had that change in mentality, so that we are all discipling each other?  Putting aside the community for a moment, how would that change the culture of Saint Joseph?  What would it look like if instead of saying, “I get to hang out at camp with 27 senior high youth,” the conversation changed to the challenge of discipling them?  What if when we returned from camp, someone held me accountable for each person and asked what conversations I had with them … how I helped them grow for Jesus.  It would change the dynamic completely.  It could change the dynamic of Saint Joseph completely.  If it spread across Fort Wayne, it would change Fort Wayne completely.

“I commented that following Christ was never supposed to be easy, but we tend to make it very easy.  Maybe it’s time to make it more of a challenge.  Steve’s comment about ministry doesn’t end when he crosses Coliseum stuck with me too.  We need to be engaged in ministry at all times.

“The way God is leading us is consistent with what I felt at camp this year as well.  God loved us first, which the speaker turned into a verb: firstlove.  My takeaway from that week was, “Firstlove. Love first.” If we combine a genuine love for everyone with an intentional missionality focused on making true disciples, the possibilities are pretty exciting.

“Now, we do have to be careful not to make ministry a corporate chore. It still needs to flow out of a joy and not a duty … but if God is giving us joy by serving him, it may be important to formally recognize that comes with duty and responsibility as well. – Ryan”

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Do we believe in miracles?

Posted: July 20, 2015 by efenster in Ideas
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IMAG0471Do you believe in miracles?  I’m reading a book, entitled Reclaiming the Great Commission, by Bishop Claude Payne and Hamilton Beazley, about an Episcopalian judicatory in Texas that revitalized.  One of its foundational values is a belief in miracles, that God is still in the miracle business.

The past two weeks, Time to Revive has been conducting a city-wide evangelization effort in Fort Wayne, with lively celebration and worship each evening.  This interfaith movement has as one of its foundational values a belief in miracles.  The worship service I attended included testimonies from that day’s evangelistic efforts.  These testimonies included a youth who healed a man’s knee pain, and a man who was in a dumpster when a Revive team found him.  Both witnessed to miraculous transformation as a result of Jesus Christ.

The miraculous even touched a family in the church I attend in Fort Wayne.  One of our members had been praying for 40 years that his brother and sister-in-law would accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, and–as a result of a Revive team–they did this past Saturday.  Praise God!

So why don’t we experience miracles as often as we might?  For me, I think it’s because I’m not really expecting them, expecting them as much as the Texas judicatory and Time to Revive folk do.  What about you?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

  • The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples can legally marry in all fifty states
  • The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care)
  • The Confederate flag came under withering attack, after the tragic Charleston shootings
  • The U.S. Census Bureau announced that there are now more Millennials than Baby Boomers
  • President Obama announced that the U.S. and Cuban governments were re-establishing embassies

Moments like this happen every decade or so, don’t they?  The falling of the Berlin wall.  The 9/11 terrorist attack. Who would have thought the above would happen, let alone in such a short period of time.  I told my children that they will probably remember the news from the last ten days the rest of their lives.

Unknown-1Not only did these events create a sensation of the surreal for me and my family, a four-day power outage due to a huge rainstorm also contributed.  And in the midst of all of this, representatives of the U.S.’s youngest generation, stood on opposite corners of an intersection in our neighborhood.  Without TV, videos, and other electrical entertainment, one group of children gathered on one corner, another group on the opposite corner, and they held a yelling contest right there in the middle of a summer day.  Back to the most basic entertainment that kids over the centuries have enjoyed.

It got me to thinking about our churches.  How do we respond to the swirling changes that are so often in the news each day?  The rise of the “nones,” the “dones,” and in an article I read just today, the “gones.”  The decline of the mainline Protestant churches.  The United Methodist Church.  Our increasingly secularized culture.  Maybe we need to take a cue from my neighborhood’s children and return to the basics of what it means to be the church.  Maybe we need to let go of our desire to sustain our institution, give up our rummage sales, bazaars, and fish fries, take our eyes off ourselves and what we want, and give ourselves away–loving God and others as passionately as the church of the first century did…and the children in my neighborhood as they were screaming.  Think about it…

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development


Unknown-1Did you know that the word church appears only three times in the Gospels, yet the Kingdom of Heaven appears thirty-one times?  How is it then that we spend so much energy as Christians in the U.S. focusing on the church rather than the Kingdom?  That’s at the heart of a fascinating and challenging book I’m just finishing by Reggie McNeal.  It’s entitled, Kingdom Come:  Why We Must Give Up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church–and What We Should Do Instead.  

McNeal rightly says that “the purpose of the church is to further God’s Kingdom.”  We United Methodist’s are about making disciples for the transformation of the world.  That’s our marching order. It’s not filling pews, growing budgets, and maintaining buildings.  So how is it we’ve gotten so mis-focused?  After reading the book, I’m thinking my title probably should be Associate Director of Kingdom Development, rather than Church Development!

One of the projects I’m working on right now, on behalf of Church Development and with Connectional Ministry staff, is developing a network of churches whose hearts are on building the Kingdom, on each member incarnating the church 24/7 wherever God places them, on partnering with other community groups (even secular ones) in order to help bring God’s Kingdom into fullness, thus transforming our communities and world.  You’ll be hearing more about this effort.  But in the meantime, I encourage you to read McNeal’s book and be challenged too!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church (Kingdom) Development

Twenty years later…

Posted: June 1, 2015 by efenster in Ideas
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Ed 09As hard as is for me to believe, today is my 20th anniversary as a conference church developer.  Little did I realize June 1, 1995, that I would still be at it twenty years later.  The task of church development was quite different back then.  It was primarily focused on church growth, on attracting people to church.  And for the most part it worked, at least initially.

The Church Growth movement had hit its zenith twenty years ago.  Lyle Schaller, a hero of mine, was still writing nearly a book a year and was a well-respected speaker, especially in UM circles.  The Fuller Institute, Directed by Carl George, was a primary provider of Church Growth resources.  Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church, just being published, became a key guide.

In the former North Indiana Conference of the UMC, which I served, the conference had just gone through an intentional multi-year church-growth effort called New Generation.  It was based on the premise that the Baby-Boom generation would return to churches once they began having children.  So it was an effort that encouraged churches to sharpen their hospitality, assimilation of newcomers, worship, and children’s ministries.

The methodology for evangelism was primarily the use of marketing techniques–mass mailings, new-resident mailing lists, and telemarketing.  A key resource was Norm Whan’s “The Phones for You!”  Scores of United Methodist churches in Indiana dialed the phone to invite folk to attend their churches.  The theory was based on the law of large numbers.  If you dial the phone enough times, you will get a predictable number to respond to your invitation.  That number was about 0.5% for existing churches.  That means for every 200 phone invitations, one person would show up to your service.  I remember leading the church I had been working for in dialing 18,000 households.  I dialed 3,000 myself.  We ended up with over 50 first-time, local adult visitors on our target Sunday.  Pretty good for an inner-city church that had been declining.

When I began my work, there was a sense that a new spiritual awakening was happening not only in Indiana but around the world.  The Berlin Wall had fallen creating a global euphoria of hope.  Promise Keepers was filling stadiums around the country.  Emmaus Walks were attracting hundreds of Christians.  The Christian evangelical movement hit its peak, influencing politics as never before.  And here in the North Indiana Conference we continued to experience year-after-year increases in worship attendance.  In fact, we experienced an increase each year from 1995 to 2001 with only one exception.

How things have changed!  The Fuller Institute went bankrupt, Lyle Schaller stopped writing books and recently died, using telemarketing as an evangelic tool now sounds quaint if not ludicrous, and worship attendance declines each year.  True we no longer have resources such as Schaller’s “Parish Paper,” Herb Miller’s “Net Results,” or Win Arns “Growth Report.”  But we do have so much more to help us–unlimited articles, studies, and podcasts available through the internet, MissionInsite with a wealth of data on every community in Indiana, and dozens of training opportunities, coaches, experts, etc.  You’d think with all these resources we’d be experiencing significant growth…but we’re not.

So twenty years later, why are we where we are?  Could it be that God has brought us into a new era, a post-institutional era, where our focus must be on incarnating Christianity rather than simply marketing it?  Can it be that God has knocked the wind out of our church-growth sails so that we might focus our efforts on a more biblically-based objective–being the church wherever God places us every day?  I believe we’re entering one of the most exciting chapters of Christianity and feel privileged to have the chance to be a part of it.  God is clearly doing a new thing!  And, as Alan Hirsch says, we are the map makers.  We are the pioneers that get to discover God’s “new wineskins.”

Yes, it’s in ways disorienting and even frightening to see such changes in our churches and denomination, yet God is inviting us to be the church in a new way that will help us make disciples and transform the world as never before.  So, like Caleb, as he stood with the Israelites at the bank of the Jordan River before crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land, may we have strength and courage.  May we trust in God as never before and be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  The best is yet to come!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development



Not the typical candidate

Posted: May 26, 2015 by efenster in Uncategorized

On May 13, I was driving from Indianapolis when I noticed a billboard on I-65, just south of the Columbus exit. It featured the face of a hopeful, young African American woman and words so large they only took seconds to read, “The best candidate is not always the typical candidate.” I was surprised to see the ad, especially since there was no identifiable brand or logo to go along with it. I didn’t notice any product, but I got the message (loud and clear).

I was just leaving a meeting in which Church Development (CD) staff announced and celebrated with conference committee members their endorsement of a new church start with predominant focus on reaching an African American (and multi-ethnic) population in Indianapolis, naming me (not your typical church planter in Indiana) as the new church start pastor. To my delight, having served on CD staff since 2009 among many of those in that room, there was no surprise, rather a great deal of excitement about the news; and upon noticing this signboard it struck me. We made history!

Since establishing Madison Ebenezer (1867), the first black United Methodist Church in Indiana, there has always been a need to empower ministry that addresses the Black experience in America. And in the Crossroads of America, namely Indianapolis-Marion County where 3-in-10 residents are African American, our conference acknowledges the opportunities that exist today. Ebenezer may have been a beginning, but the traditional church has followed suit – whether Muncie Trinity (in its heyday) or Indianapolis Barnes today.

Likewise, this new church will be passed the baton to continue a legacy that appreciates the contributions of the historical black church, but engages a new model of church to address the concerns of increasing numbers of African Americans and an African American community that is far more diverse in its theological influences – that is redefining and refashioning with greater texture shared experiences that speak to their emergent worldviews and the complexities of social realities like mixed race families, black immigrants and a growing underclass.

A partnership to establish a new church with the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis provides this unique opportunity for the Indiana Conference to “pour new wine into new wineskins” and reclaim our missional DNA as a church planting church. This new faith community, seeing the YMCA and its members as our mission field, and I get the privilege of being actively involved in supporting the Y, its programs and mission so that we reach the community for Christ.

Stay tuned for more info…

by: Sharon Washington

DSC_0184What percentage of people are unchurched–not having attended church in the past six months?  Well, according to a recent Barna Research study it’s not as  high, perhaps, as you think.  Throughout Indiana the figure ranges from 27-33% of the population being unchurched.  (See the prior blog for details.)

Ken Camp, managing editor of the Baptist Standard, mentions in a recent article that scholars from Baylor University’s Institute of Studies of Religion have found that Millennials may be more religious than we think, that the rise of the “nones” and the “in-your-face confrontational” atheism may not be as significant as the media has portrayed.

Camp’s article goes on with the following quote:  “People have been predicting the end of religion for more than three centuries,” said Rodney Stark, distinguished professor of social sciences at Baylor and co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion.

“Worldwide, eight in 10 people belong to one of the major organized faiths, and about three-fourths say religion has an impact on their daily lives,” he said.

Some specific positive signs in other parts of the world include:

  • Worship attendance in Latin American going from 10-20% to 60% over the past century
  • Sub-Saharan African has 10,000 independent, indigenous Christian movements
  • The number of Christians in China has grown from 10 million to an estimated 73 million since 1980

The article even points to positive signs in Europe.

The good news, then, is that the picture isn’t as bleak as it’s been portrayed.  Yet, the reality is that the church will have to continue to adapt and change, and to become even more focused on its mission going forward–and not itself.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development