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.


imagesI was talking with Rev. Tim Helm, pastor of Hanfield United Methodist Church, about his church’s second ministry site that’s located in an inner city setting.  How is it that his church, located in a rural setting, would have members investing in a low-income part of nearby Marion, Indiana?  He said, in part, it had to do with them having a change of heart, of them falling in love with a neighborhood that God seemed to be inviting them to be neighbors to.

So, how does a church help its members’ hearts to change?  Pastor Tim said it happened as members engaged with their new neighbors face-to-face on their turf.  He went on to give this example…  The church was going to hold a carnival in the inner-city neighborhood and so members were going door-to-door, offering free tickets for the children.  When asking one man how many tickets he needed, the members were struck by the fact that he had to think about it, the number varied from week to week.  Eight.  He needed eight tickets because he would have eight children–his own kids plus nieces and nephews–in the house the week of the carnival.  The members began to realize just how hard it must be not only having eight children in one house, but to know that the kids come and go depending upon life circumstances.  And their commitment to and love for reaching this neighborhood grew exponentially!

How is God changing your heart?  Who are the neighbors you have a growing concern for sharing God’s love with?  Is your church being called to leave its comfortable neighborhood to enter a new one for the sake of the Gospel?  What’s your next step?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Christmas and gift giving…

Posted: December 24, 2015 by efenster in Ideas

IMAG0512I don’t know about you, but a big part of celebrating Christmas is giving gifts. We’re bombarded, aren’t we, with messages encouraging us to buy, buy, buy. So how exactly does giving gifts connect to Christmas? Well, in two key ways… One is because Christmas, at its core, is about gift giving. God, giving His son, Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” And Magi, in response, bringing gifts to the Christ child as an act of worship and gratitude. God gave and the Magi responded by giving.

Too often, however, we seem to get this gift giving mixed up don’t we? The focus becomes more about us giving and receiving gifts with one another, and God somehow takes a back seat. So this Christmas, may we follow the lead of the Magi and give generously in response to God’s greatest gift—Jesus Christ!

Here are a few coupons I’m giving you that you can redeem in 2016…

  • Peace on Earth…Good will to all!  Redeem for one month of peace on earth.
  • Fear Not!  Redeem for a day with freedom from all fears.
  • Keeping the Sabbath Holy  Redeem for a day of rest.
  • Do Not Hinder the Little Children  Redeem for a bunch of hugs from children who need some love.
  • Do unto Others as You Would Have Them Do unto You  Redeem for an act of kindness to a person of your choice–even someone you may not particularly like.

Christ is born!  God, in the flesh, dwells among us!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development


UM Faith SharingHow do you describe the process of growing in Christ?  Discipleship?  Today fewer are using this term according to a recent study by the Barna Research Group.  What are people using instead?

  • “becoming more Christ-like”  43%
  • “spiritual growth”  31%
  • “spiritual journey”  28%

Fewer than one in five Christians preferred the term “discipleship.”  Interestingly enough, those who are more active Christians prefer “becoming more Christ-like,” while less active Christians prefer “spiritual journey.”  Only one in four who were polled find the word “discipleship” still relevant.  It isn’t that what it represents isn’t important to them, it’s just the terminology isn’t meaningful.

So, why is any of this important?  Well, we United Methodists frequently refer to Jesus’ Great Commission:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”  (Matthew 28:19).  Why?  Because it is at the core of the UMC’s mission statement:  “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Our denomination even has an agency that’s officially called the General Board of Discipleship, also known as Discipleship Resources.

Furthermore, the Indiana Conference’s Fruitful Congregation Journey, which has involved over 260 UM churches, challenges churches to clarify their “discipleship” pathways, that is the system they use to help people take their next step on their faith journeys.  The Barna study suggests that many in our churches prefer using different language.  What about yours?

My contention is that no matter what language your church may use, the important thing is that it is talking about disciple making, that it’s intentionally focused on helping its members live out the Great Commission.  So how are you and your church doing?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development


Halloween-CandyWaynedale United Methodist Church held its Trunk or Treat this fall and attracted 200 people from the community.  Not only did the church give away candy, but it also offered people the opportunity to submit prayer requests.  Twenty individuals took advantage of this opportunity and two asked for a follow-up contact from the pastor.  All were persons from outside the Waynedale Church.

Why did the church decide to incorporate prayer into this annual fall event?  According to its pastor, Rev. Ted Jansen, it was the result of asking the simple question, “Why are we doing this?”  Or in this case, “Why are we doing the Trunk or Treat?”  Asking such a question leads to important reflection.  It can help a church more intentionally “connect the dots” between an activity and the church’s ultimate purpose of making disciples of Christ and changing lives.

This Advent Season how are you making sure all your church’s activities relate to the church’s mission?  And what are the “bridge” events that you are offering that can help you develop deeper relationships with those God is calling you to reach?  Some churches follow up their Trunk or Treat with a Thanksgiving community meal, or Christmas with Santa, or a special one-day Vacation Bible School during Christmas break.  Offering such bridge events, provides a church the means to develop deeper relationships with those reached, relationships that ultimately can lead to a deepening relationship with with Jesus Christ.

—  Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development



Yes, Christmas is coming…again!

How should your church prepare?  Rev. Brad Kalajainen, pastor of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Caledonia, MI, gives the following tips…


  1. Make sure to have a great worship sermon series.
  2. Incorporate the church’s children in one of the worship experiences.  It will likely draw a larger crowd and guests.
  3. Share during December worship services video “advertisements” for the Christmas Eve services and the new January sermon series, giving attenders a reason to come back.
  4. Get commitments from those who will volunteer for the Christmas Eve services.
  5. Make sure you have a good follow up plan for your guests.
  6. Christmas provides a great opportunity to have a special offering, such as a mission project, that the community will appreciate and participate in.  Make sure to invite the community to participate.
  7. Consider also having part of the Christmas Eve offering fund a project supporting the church’s ministry, such as new toys for the church’s nursery or to kick off a capital fund campaign.
  8. Plan a minimum of effort for the Sunday following Christmas.  Try to give as many of your volunteers a rest as possible.   Maybe encourage children to worship that day with their parents, and only provide child care for children under five years old.

What would you add?

(Shared with Brad’s permission.)