In the valley of dry bones…

Posted: September 8, 2021 by efenster in Uncategorized

This morning’s scripture for my devotions was God showing the prophet Ezekiel the valley of dry bones. What a sight! I know many church leaders right now feel as though they are in the midst of a dry-bones chapter in their ministries. Just listen to a few comments that pastors shared with Church Development…

o   This time can be compared with the aftershocks after an earthquake.  Covid was the earthquake.  Sometimes the aftershocks can be damaging too.  We are hoping that this isn’t another earthquake.

o   It has been a time to figure out how to keep people hopeful and still recognize when we do fall apart that what we have gone through is like a joined trauma and we need to find some space and find God through the midst of that. 

o   Covid has been a profoundly disruptive experience for us as a nation and it has revealed divisions that are terrifying, scary.  We don’t know yet what this will do to the church. 

o   When I am asked how large my church is I say, “I don’t know”.  This pandemic has altered people’s lifestyles and we don’t know who will come back.

o   Many of us want to be on the “back to Egypt” committee.  It feels like Covid forced us off the ranch and we’ve been wandering and wandering.  For a while we got to see the ranch again and now it is fading into the distance.

I’m sure that if you’re in ministry, you can relate to many of these comments. It is a tough, tough season of ministry.

As I think about the dry bones, I can’t help but think of the significant decline in the vitality of our churches prior to the pandemic. Not only have scores of churches closed since the Indiana Conference was formed in 2010, but 84% of the remaining churches have failed to increase their weekly average worship attendance by a single person over the past ten years. Our bones–and the bones of many, many non-UM churches as well–are dry. They’re tired and weary. Living in a society that is increasingly secular, plus doing ministry during a pandemic, adds to the challenge and discouragement.

But there’s hope! The good news is that God has the power to bring new life into old bones–even in the valley of Covid! In Ezekiel 27:5, God says, “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” These bones can live again, move again, and even thrive!

So what do we need to do? I’m certainly not an expert, but here’s what comes to mind… First, maybe we start by not doing, but by simply being. Acknowledge the state in which we find ourselves and our churches. Allow time for lamenting, working through our grief, crying… Be still and breathe in the breath of God. Let the Holy Spirit renew, empower, and resurrect us.

Second, we need to remember our callings, to remember our marching orders. For me, that’s helping our Conference churches carry out their mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. There are many other wonderful, important and worthwhile issues competing for my attention and our churches’ attention, but if any of them replace our mission, we will find ourselves back in a valley of dry bones. And the possibility of a resurrected army of vital, vibrant churches will likely be fleeting.

Third, we need to learn how to navigate this wilderness in which we find ourselves. In addition to the Bible, I’ve found the following to be helpful: Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Unchartered Territory, by Ted Bolsinger, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in Liminal Season, by Susan Beaumont, and a classic entitled, Managing Transitions, by William Bridges. Next month Doug Anderson, from our Church Development team, will be leading a two-part webinar on the concepts from this book especially tailored for those of us leading during this dry-bones moment.*

So, if you also find yourself in the valley of dry bones, what is your next step? One of the above? Something else? Please share your thoughts, they may be just what someone needs to hear. And whatever your next step, please join me in praying that God will bring us all new life and resurrection!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

*This this the first in a series of webinars that Church Development will be offering under the title “Navigating Our Wilderness.” For details, contact me at or look for publicity from the Indiana Conference.

The official mission of The United Methodist Church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Yet, most Indiana UM churches struggle to make disciples. Many do an excellent job of serving their communities but fall short when it comes to disciple making. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul exhorts Timothy to pass on the Good News that he received from Paul, to others, who will in turn share it with others. This an example of four generations of disciple making–disciples who make disciples who make disciples who make disciples.

Brian Phipps, founder of Disciples Made, has found that once a church has 3rd and 4th-generational disciple making happening, a multiplication movement is ignited in that church. So could such a movement happen in one of our United Methodist Churches in Indiana? We at Church Development believe the answer is “Yes!” In fact, pastors from ten Indiana UM churches this past year have been trained by Brian and Disciples Made in a process our Conference refers to as Multiplication Network Track 2. (Catchy name, right?) It is a grand experiment to see if the Disciple Made’s model can work within our churches. (It’s been very successful in other church settings.)

The initial results are looking promising. For example, one of the ten churches, Fishers UMC pastored by Rev. Mark Ellcessor, launched two disciple-making groups during Track 2. And now he anticipates six more groups launching later this year. The model is designed so that leaders of new groups come out of the disciple-making groups. Next year the six groups will multiply to one to two dozen groups, and by the fourth generation there will be dozens more!

If you’d like to hear more about Track 2 or the disciple-making process from Disciples Made, which is called Followers Made, consider attending one of these free one-hour information sessions.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Track 2 Info Session, either June 24 or July 8, both from 10-11am (Eastern).  ZOOM link:

Followers Made Info Session, June 30 or July 12, both from 7:30-8:30pm  (Eastern).  ZOOM link:

Is your church too white?

Posted: April 16, 2021 by efenster in Ideas, Information
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One of the pillars of Kingian non-violence is the idea of the beloved community. We get a glimpse of that in Chapter 7 of the Book of Revelation, which describes a great multitude of every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and the Lamb, praising God. However, it’s more than just people of different ethnicities coming together to worship. It’s creating a community where all people feel included and have a sense of belonging.

Do you long to see such a community? Does your church reflect that type of community? Unfortunately for many, the answer is no. Churches continue to be one of the most segregated organizations in America. Why is this and how do we change it?

A recent webinar entitled, “Are Multiethnic Churches Succeeding,” by Christianity Today, provides some answers.* First, one of the panelists points out that, for the most part, the church in America was started by white colonizers and slaveowners. This resulted, in large part, in the segregated churches of today.

So, what do we do to change this? Here are some ideas that were discussed…

  1. We need to acknowledge the sin that is inherent in our homogeneous churches and repent.
  2. We need to acknowledge that the problem is systemic and address the sin found in our very systems.
  3. We need to remind ourselves of how diverse the original church was, examine our church’s history, and develop lived experience with multiethnic churches.
  4. We need to engage in literature, theology and scholarship that is not rooted in white Western culture. If we’re not taking seriously the perspectives of oppressed  people and their understanding of God, we must ask ourselves why?
  5. When a racial incident happens (e.g. the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright), pastors must speak out to their constituents and communities and not be silent. Non-whites are looking for white people to say, “I see the suffering, pain and marginalization,” and to empathize. We need to stop protecting our white constituents from being “troubled” over racism; non-whites live with such trouble all the time.
  6. We need give up our desire for efficiency. Multiethnic churches are not efficient, but are slow, confusing and messy.
  7. White supremacy is a macro system that everyone is invested in. We live in a culture where white is best, right, and the norm. People are valued by how well they support this and everyone buys in. It affects how a pastor should dress, how long to preach, what kind of music to use in worship, even what kind of food to serve.  Congregants of color are affected by this bias too.  A pastor of color pays a racial tax, they start with a deficit, and it takes more time for them to gain respect. 
  8. We must be willing to be uncomfortable. When individuals have a choice, they will pick what they’re most comfortable with–birds of feather flock together! Therefore, change will be difficult. 

So, if you too long for beloved community and the church described in Revelation, what are you and your congregation going to do? What is your next step?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

*The webinar’s panel consisted of two sociologists (Black and Asian females), a facilitator (Black female pastor) and two pastors of multiethnic churches (Hispanic and White males). I mention their ethnicities and gender simply to convey the diversity of the group.

Ten keys to a thriving church

Posted: March 25, 2021 by efenster in Ideas
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A pastor recently asked me what the keys are to an effective, thriving church. Here’s my list.

A church…

  1. Is led by the Holy Spirit; leaders must be attuned to the Spirit and have a listening stance–praying!
  2. Is laser-focused on the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world
  3. Values Kingdom over church; when faced with a decision, what’s best for God’s Kingdom trumps what members think might be best for their church
  4. Has an intentional discipling process that leads to 3rd and 4th-generation disciple making
  5. Has a pastor that truly loves the congregation
  6. Has a congregation that truly loves people, all people; whose members are willing to give up their personal preferences in order to make room for people different from themselves
  7. Is focused on empowering people to live out their personal calls to ministry rather than on recruiting church volunteers
  8. Is focused is on sending and releasing “missionaries,” rather than on gathering and conserving attenders
  9. Is outward-focused and engaged with its community, with an intentional desire to reach, love, and disciple those unlikely to come to church; the approach is one of ministry “with,” not “for” or “to”
  10. Communicates well internally and has a simple structure for decision making and leading

What would be on your list?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

One year ago our world changed forever!

Posted: March 11, 2021 by efenster in Ideas
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A year ago last night, March 10, 2020, I was in a restaurant in Nashville, TN. I serve on the board for The United Methodist Church’s Discipleship Ministries agency, and I was eating dinner at a table with other board members–no masks, no social distancing, no real concerns about Covid-19. By the time, we left the table that had totally changed.

A student at our table, who was a senior attending Auburn University, received a text saying that he and his roommate must remove all their belongings from their dorm room by the next Friday. He was stunned. Then the television monitor near our table mentioned that flights to Europe were being suspended. The German medical student next to me freaked out because she was to fly home to Berlin after our meeting and was wondering if she would be stranded in the U.S. Another board member serves as Adam Hamilton’s administrator at Church of the Resurrection. He began checking with Adam and his church’s executive team about what the church would do that coming Sunday. And Kim Simpson, in charge of the committee planning General Conference, also at my table, began wondering if General Conference might need to be postponed. When we got up from that meal, we were entering a totally changed world. Little did we realize what the next twelve months would be like.

Since then, we have seen an explosion of churches adapting to social distancing, moving services online, creatively serving meals and observing communion, and coming up with innovative ways of maintaining congregation care. We’ve also seen a growing weariness, especially among clergy, ZOOM fatigue, and a growing desire to return to pre-pandemic business as usual.

Of course, we know that isn’t going to happen. Some say the church has experienced a decade or more of change within a single year. And neither the church nor the world will ever return to the way things were. Len Sweet, United Methodist author and futurist, says that the entire world will now be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This includes church pastors, laity, you and me! Christian Coon, founder of Urban Village UM Church in Chicago, believes that all churches are now church plants. They will be in a sense starting anew. They will be developing online faith communities as well as continuing their in-person congregations. They will likely have some people not return and yet reach new people who are looking for a faith community.

Jesus said that we need to put new wine into new wineskins. Well, this is definitely a new-wineskin moment! So, what will you do? How will you move forward? No doubt we’ll need to give up some well-loved practices and take on some new ones that are unfamiliar. No doubt we’ll need to help our congregation’s grieve and to inspire them to embrace the better future God has in store. I believe the church’s best days are yet to come; yet, those days will look very different from those of the past. Let’s enter them knowing that we’re not alone, that God is leading the way!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Bishop Ken Carter

As churches prepare to return to worshiping in their buildings, many church leaders are urging pastors and laity not to abandon the online worship services that they have developed during the pandemic. In talking about his book, Fresh Expressions of People Over Property, written with Audrey Warren, Bishop Ken Carter says, “We can’t see virtual worship as less than worshiping in the sanctuary.” It is necessary for all churches, no matter their size, to seriously consider both-and worship, both in person and online.

The reality is that churches will reach some people only virtually. I have heard many pastors marvel at the numbers of persons viewing their online worship services. Yet, I’ve also heard many pastors longing to return solely to in-person worship, thus eliminating the extra work and complexity of offering online worship too. The Indiana Conference wants to provide churches help not only in continuing their online presence but also in improving both their in-person and online experiences. Jason Moore, worship consultant and author, will be offering a “Both/And” workshop for Indiana United Methodist Church leaders March 16th (6:30pm-9pm Eastern) and an identical workshop March 18th (9:30am-12pm). He will also be meeting with participants one month later for a coaching call.

Jason Moore

Jason Moore says, “Now we face one of the most critical moves in the next iteration of the online worship experience. As we move back into our buildings, we mustn’t return to making people at home observers after talking directly to them for so long. They’ll feel that too.  We also can’t take an approach where we treat the in-person crowd as the studio audience, providing the laugh or clap track, for the people watching at home. Neither of these audiences should feel secondary.  If we fail to think about how to create a BOTH/AND scenario as we go back to in-person worship, we will lose so much of what we’ve gained in these last seven plus months.” To register for Jason Moore’s Both/And workshop, click on March 16th or March 18th.

Cathy Townley

Cathy Townley, another worship consult and coach, recently posted to her Ready2Launch Facebook group, “Carey Nieuwhof has predicted that churches that do not embrace online will not endure post pandemic. I tend to buy into that prediction. Do you? Or does it cause you to roll your eyes and say, ‘Here we go again’…” The Indiana Conference has invited Cathy to take churches beyond online worship. Later this spring, she will be offering a two-session webinar on how to develop your online worship service into a full blown online faith community. How do you develop relationships with your viewers? How you disciple them? What’s an Acts 2 church look like online? More information will be coming about this exciting opportunity.

Through the pandemic, God has given us a wonderful opportunity to reach people who are unlikely to come into our buildings. Let’s not miss this chance to take the church to them both in person and online!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Pastors Mark Harmon and Adam Speicher

“If they won’t come to our churches, let’s take church to them!” And that’s exactly what Adam Speicher and Mark Harmon have done. These two pastors of three small churches started a new Fresh Expression called “Bibles, Bikes, Beer, and Bruises.” It’s for persons who like motorcycles and beer and who have experienced bruises in life. It’s for folks who don’t frequent churches for whatever reason, but who are interested in learning about the healing power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in a place that is unconventional, where you don’t have to fear of being judged.

Bibles, Bikes, Beer, and Bruises, which launched on Wednesday, February 3, 2021, meets from 6:00-7:00pm every Wednesday at Polsinelli’s, a bar in Logansport. Adam and Mark shared the idea with the bar owner. She attended worship online but never attended in person, so she saw the value in the idea and offered Wednesday nights as a time the group could meet. (Jesus, in Luke 10, refers to someone like her as a “person of peace,” someone who isn’t necessarily a believe but who is receptive and can open doors to make things happen.)

As they prepared to start this new group, Adam and Mark kept wondering if anyone would show up. Adam says they had been praying that God would send us people, hoping for four or five to attend. To their surprise, eighteen folk joined them! It reminded Adam of how true Ephesians 3:20 is… “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!”

Every Wednesday night, the group has a topic and the topics are printed on a bookmark that each person receives. (Mark and Adam ordered twenty of them not knowing that would be the exact number of persons at the first gathering!) Adam and Mark saw the bookmark in a catalogue. It has “911 Emergency Numbers” at the top and lists thirty topics on each side. For example, one says, “Feeling down and out? – Romans 8:31.” Another says, “Relational advice? – Romans 12.” They cover one topic each Wednesday night, and Mark and Adam base the following Sunday sermon on the same passage. Wednesday nights help them prepare for Sunday!

Most of those who showed up on Wednesday had attended church at some point of their lives, but no longer or rarely attend now. They came Wednesday because they were invited by church members or saw a flier that Adam and Mark distributed. One person who came doesn’t attend church, yet he brought an unchurched friend along with him. Near the end of their time together, Mark and Adam asked if anyone had prayer concerns and three or four responded. And while they prayed together, the noisy bar became quiet. Even those not actually attending the group were touched! Praise God!

Adam and Mark demonstrate that it doesn’t take a large church to launch a Fresh Expression of church. Adam is pastor of Lake Cicott UMC (20 in average worship) and Twelve Mile Bethlehem UMC (40 in average worship), and Mark is a pastor Wolcott UMC (20 in average worship). It just requires hearts that care for a particular group of people, in this case folks that love bikes and beer and have lots of bruises, and finding perhaps a person of peace. So who is God calling you to reach? Who might be your person of peace?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

Note: If you’re church is interested in launching one or more Fresh Expressions and could benefit from ongoing training, coaching and encouragement, check out the Godsend Incubator from our denomination’s Path 1. The first thirty Indiana Conference UM churches to register get a scholarship to cover half the participation fee! Visit Godsend Incubator to register or contact Ed for more information (

Start the year right!

As we begin this new year, let’s keep the main thing the main thing! So what is our main thing? Is it our Sunday worship services? Is it our member care? Is it our Sunday school classes, circles, and small groups? Is it our advocacy for justice, or our missions? For a number of churches, it’s taking care of aging buildings, dealing with financial shortfalls, and dwindling attendance.

So what is our main thing? The United Methodist Church says it’s making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It’s disciple making. As you reflect on your most recent Church Council meeting, your last congregational gathering, as you look at your church’s budget and calendar, would these clearly reflect that making disciples is your church’s number one focus? If not, now is a great time to realign things so that it is. Our years are precious. This year, 2021, is a strategically important year. Get off on the right foot by committing your church to make disciple making its main thing!

So what is disciple making? What did Jesus mean when he said “Therefore go and make disciples…” in the Great Commission? To help others grow into the persons God created them to be? That they might grow in character (i.e., the Fruits of the Spirit) and in God’s love and grace? That they might discover their unique calling, their life purpose, and live it out faithfully? How does your church define disciple making?

The Indiana Conference is offering churches assistance for disciple making. Leadership Development, through the work of R.C. Muhlbaier, is offering an Intentional Discipleship Workshop and a Real Discipleship Survey. Church Development is offering its Multiplication Network Track 2, which helps churches create and launch a discipling process that leads to multiplication–3rd and 4th generation disciple making, and the launch of new faith communities organically.

So if you want to keep the main thing the main thing, make sure your church is focused on making disciples for the transformation of the world. Contact R.C. or me if you need assistance from your conference team. Don’t let 2021 slip away. May it be a strategic year for your church. May it be the year your church intentionally makes disciple making its number one focus!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

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