Are you all in?

Posted: April 3, 2015 by efenster in Ideas
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cross-collage-1409273-mAs I approach Easter, I have this recurring question, “Am I all in?”  Am I sold out completely for Jesus and the sake of His mission?  I ask this not only for myself, but also for my three sons who are young adults.  Who will they live for?  They are such gifted young men.  Yes, they attend church.  But will they devote their lives to Jesus and the mission, living that out in whatever vocation they pursue?

I ask this also for our churches.  Will our churches be totally sold out to Jesus and His mission?  Will they really mean it when they pray, “Thy will be done?”  Or will they hang on to their sacred cows and personal preferences?  I think of the church of Laodice, which is described in the book of Revelation as being neither “hot nor cold.”   Such lukewarm churches are spit out!

We live in a society that preaches that it is all about us and what we want.  Our personal preferences trump everything else.  Following Jesus turns this upside down.  It’s not about us and what we want at all.  It’s all about Jesus and His mission.

So as we read the scriptures about Jesus and His disciples who abandoned him when he needed them most, who couldn’t even stay awake while he prayed, what about us?  Are we too like them, or are we totally sold out to Jesus and His mission–not lukewarm, but blazingly hot, willing to sacrifice all to the one who sacrificed it all for us.  May we be all in this Easter!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

6a00d8341bf73153ef0105359fa532970c-800wiThe last blog article described South Whitley United Methodist Church‘s bold goal of 100 first-time commitments to Christ during 2015.  This church, led by Rev. Chris Stahlman, also has set a goal of dramatically increasing the number of tithing members by giving them this bold offer:  “Try tithing for six months.  If you’re not satisfied, we’ll refund your money.”

The church has struggled to meet its annual budget.  It has tried using a “step-up” stewardship campaign, challenging members to increase their giving a percent of their income each year until they reach a tithe.  This year, however, leaders of stewardship decided to take a very different approach.

After researching how other churches raised the level of their members’ financial stewardship, the leadership decided to encourage South Whitley members to practice a 10-10-10-70 spending plan.  Save 10%, spend 10% on debt reduction, give 10% to God (tithe), and live on the remaining 70%.  To that end, the church challenged its members to practice tithing for the first six months of 2015.  If not satisfied with the results, the church will refund their money in full.

The result:  thirty families took up the challenge, joining twenty other families who were already tithing.  Initial results are astounding.  The level of generosity at the Church has more than doubled this past month, despite having lower attendance due to the winter conditions!  How have they done this?  In part by following up with those who have taking the challenge.  The Stewardship Team follows up with the families participating in the 10-10-10-70 challenge with encouragement, tools for success, accountability, and words of thanks.

These leaders not only have stepped out in faith by offering this unique challenge, but they also shared with the congregation how the anticipated surplus money will be spent.  They stepped out in faith and, as a result, thirty other families stepped out in faith too–and are being blessed!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

imagesOne hundred people finding salvation!  That’s the goal of the South Whitley United Methodist Church, located in a town of 1,700 people in northeast Indiana.  This church, which averages fewer than 200 in worship, takes its vision “to passionately pursue those seeking God” seriously, so seriously that it set this lofty goal.

The church’s pastor, Rev. Chris Stahlman, says that the church arrived at the goal after some laity researched the matter.  They found that the average vital church in America averages 12 first-time commitments to Christ for every 100 in worship.  Rather that set a goal of 24, however, church leaders set a goal of 100 for 2015.  (I guess they see themselves as above average, which, of course, they are!)

The past few years, the church has been participating in the Fruitful Congregation Journey, a three-year revitalization process offered through the Indiana Conference.  As a part of the process, the church developed an intentional system for making disciples, including helping people respond to the invitation to follow Christ.

They track first-time commitments on the “connection card” used in worship.  Each preaching series provides an invitation to make a commitment to follow Christ.  Every small group, including Sunday school classes and Bible studies, are encouraged to provide a similar invitation at least once every three months.  Invitations are also being incorporated into special events, like Vacation Bible School and summer church camps.

Once a person indicates on his/her connection card that they’ve made a commitment to Christ, the church follows up with contact from the pastor, focusing on the person’s commitment to God.  They give them a book one month later that is a 60-day study about their commitment to Christ, and then three months later the pastor meets with them about making a commitment to the Kingdom and the church.  Of course, during this time the person will hopefully be worshiping, attending a small group, and be welcomed into the church family.

So, how has the church done so far toward its goal in the first two months of the year?  Pastor Chris acknowledges that it’s had fewer than ten people so far, but that the church will be really gearing up later this year.  Yet, think about it, had the church not set the goal perhaps they wouldn’t have extended any invitations to Christ and, as a result, they wouldn’t have had anyone who had made a first-time commitment to Christ.  What about your church?  What’s its expectations?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Upward arrowHas your church worked hard on developing a vision only to have it forgotten?  According to George Bullard, a key sign of a declining or plateaued church is that it has no clear vision.  On the other hand, growing churches nearly always have a clearly defined vision that drives its ministries.

So what happened when your church developed a vision, yet didn’t experience growth?  Here are four possible reasons:

1. Your vision was a brief, memorable statement, which could really apply to any church.  In other words, the more defined your vision is the more likely it will guide and direct your church in a positive way.  The vision must reflect how your church will carry out its mission in its unique context.  What’s its unique niche?  Who is God calling it specifically to reach?  The clearer the answers, the more likely your vision will bring growth.

2. You failed to take the vision to the next step, which is setting specific, measurable goals that will help your church fulfill its vision.  For one church it is targeting a specific apartment complex, another is partnering with its elementary school and providing after school ministry, a third is striving to get 80% of its constituents into small groups.  What specific steps does your church need to take?

3. Your church didn’t align its calendar, budget, staff, and ministries with the vision.  Vision alignment accelerates the fulfillment of the vision, brings unity within the body, and maximizes the stewardship of the church’s limited resources.  The Church Development staff has a number of tools available to help a church analyze its existing ministries and set fruitful ministry goals aligned with the vision.

4. The vision wasn’t kept before the people.  As Andy Stanley says, “vision leaks!”  A church’s pastor must remind the congregation at least monthly of God’s direction for the church, its vision.  The pastor must also make sure all those in charge of ministry areas are clear about the vision and are aligning their work accordingly.  And finally the pastor must make sure the leaders are sharing the stories of how the vision is being accomplished.  Michael Coyner, bishop of the Indiana Area, refers to these as glory sightings.  How is your church sharing its glory sightings?

Correcting these four problems will dramatically increase the effectiveness of your vision.  It will begin driving your church’s ministries, attracting needed resources, and creating increased excitement over what God is doing!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

New wineskins needed!

Posted: February 6, 2015 by efenster in Ideas
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Vital SignsThe sign of a healthy, vital church is reflected in its ability to adapt to its changing context.  I recently was with a church that had older members bemoaning the fact that their church has been slowly  declining the past thirty years because their children no longer stay in the community after graduation.  Of course, churches throughout the U.S. have been experiencing this for at least the past forty years!  Most  have recognized that they can’t rely on simply maintaining their churches through biological growth but that they have to focus on inviting and welcoming those new to their communities, those who are unchurched, those who are looking for a church.

Well, things have changed again and churches can no longer simply be a welcoming church.  They must be a “going” church.  Effective churches realize that they must adapt once again and take the church to the streets.  Rather than worship being the primary doorway into the life of the church, members developing relationships with the unchurched through everyday life experiences will be a key entry point.  Discipling will more likely happen in our homes, neighborhoods, and favorite haunts before it happens in our churches, especially for those who presently have no interest in our churches.  How are our churches equipping its members to do this?

I’m writing this for myself as much as you.  I’m co-chair of my church’s Mission & Outreach Team and we’re wrestling with how we can help our church do this.  And I’m wrestling with how I personally am doing this as a Christian in the 21st Century.  Pray for me, and I’ll pray for you!

Jesus talks about how we need to put new wine into new wineskins.  Although the Gospel message is unchanging, the way we convey it to the next generation must change.    Thankfully, if we’re open, God will show us those new wineskins.  May we be open to them even if they’re radically different from what we’re used to.  And may we be willing to adapt and change as needed!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development


coynerMike Coyner, bishop of the Indiana Area (Conference), recently shared in the Hoosier United Methodist Together newspaper (Jan./Feb. 2015) that his tenure will be ending as of the end of August 2016.  In The United Methodist Church, bishops have four-year assignments and Bishop Coyner’s will be ending at that time.  He will be retiring, so a different bishop will be assigned to lead the Indiana Conference beginning September 2016.

Please keep him in your prayers as he completes his ministry leading the Indiana United Methodist churches.  He certainly doesn’t plan to coast to retirement but has specific goals he’s focused on reaching.  (See the article.)  Also keep the Indiana Area Committee on Episcopacy, and a new transition team that’s been formed, in your prayers as they begin preparing for this transition in leadership.

Because at least three of the nine active bishops serving in the Midwest (North Central Jurisdiction) will be retiring and because of the common practice of having bishops serve two consecutive 4-year terms in the same Area, it is very possible Indiana will be receiving a newly-elected bishop, something that hasn’t happened before.  So please keep those “running” for bishop and those electing the new bishops in your prayers.  Those electing will be the delegates to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference, held in Peoria, IL, July 13-16.  This delegation will include 16 laity and 16 clergy from Indiana who will be chosen at this May’s Annual Conference in Indianapolis.

Finally, pray for the NCJ Committee on Episcopacy, which is the group that will recommend to the Jurisdictional delegates as to which Area each of the nine bishops will serve, including who will lead the Indiana Area (Conference).  Each Annual Conference has one clergy and one lay person serving on this committee.  For Indiana its Rev. Frank Beard and myself, Ed Fenstermacher.  Know that we covet your prayers.

We have been blessed these past 12 years with Bishop Coyner’s leadership.  May we be equally blessed by the leadership of our next episcopal leader.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

copy-logo“Living Into It and Through It – Missional Church”

What:       Learn from a church that is living out the missional-church concepts introduced at the “Putting the Movement Back into Indiana Methodism” event featuring Alan Hirsch.  Those churches especially interested in reaching the growing slice of our population that isn’t interested in the institutional church are especially encouraged to participate.  Become a part of a network of missional churches!

When:  February 21, 10am-3pm (Eastern Time)

Where:  Saint Joseph United Methodist Church, 6004 Reed Rd., Fort Wayne, IN 46835-2215

Registration Deadline:  Walk-in’s are welcome.  For lunch, you must register by Feb. 16th.

To Register click here.  

Cost:  $10 for lunch.  None refundable.

Invitation from Rev. Russ Abel…  Join us at Saint Joseph UMC, Fort Wayne, February 21st, 10:00am-3:00pm (Eastern Time),  as we share how we have worked to become a missional church.  Over the past five years we have intentionally worked to develop and claim a missional identity among ourselves; and a missional presence beyond ourselves.  Our team is excited to share what God has been up to.  Here are a few of the things we will share:

  • Visioning: How we began at the Church council level to develop a different understanding of church.
  • Hits and Misses: We will hare some of the things that have worked for us and some of the things that did not.
  • Kristos Hands and Feet: Pastor Steve Mekaru and his team will share about our “New Faith Community” which is fully relational and making new disciples.
  • We will also share how we still believe God is calling us to push forward, challenge boundaries and take risks for the sake of the Gospel.

We are encouraging everyone to come in teams, if possible.  We look forward to seeing you and sharing a little about what God is doing here at Saint Joseph.

For more information contact:  Ed Fenstermacher at or contact Saint Joseph UMC at (260) 485-9681.

Co-sponsored with Saint Joseph UMC by the Indiana Conference Church Development Team.