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


logoWe know there is a growing percentage of our population nationwide that is unchurched–those who haven’t attended church in the past six months.  How does Indiana’s population compare with other parts of the country?

Well, Barna Research just released the results of a ten-year study that indicates that four media areas in Indiana have a significant percentage of unchurched persons.  The study shows that 33% of the people living in the Fort Wayne media area are unchurched, 31% in the Indianapolis area, 28% in the South Bend-Elkhart area, and 27% in the Evansville area.

In comparison, New York City is 48% unchurched, Chicago is 39%, and Nashville, TN, is 20%.  Of the 117 media areas studied, the San Francisco Bay area has the highest percentage of unchurched at 61%, and the Augusta, GA, Aiken, SC area had the lowest at 13%.

So you may be thinking, “Indiana’s percentages aren’t that bad.”  Yet,  for most of the country, including right here in Indiana, Jesus words that the “fields are ripe unto the harvest” still apply whether the percentage is 27% or 33%.  Our response will likely be that we’re going to have to join them where they are, incarnating the  Good News rather than expecting them to first show up at our churches.

It’s all about us churched folk intentionally building relationships with them.  One way we can do that is by “blessing” them…

Be present

Listen and ask questions

Eat and drink with them

Say prayers for them

Share the Good News when the opportunities arise

So what would happen if all us churched folk took our churches into our neighborhoods, schools, and places of work and began blessing those God regularly puts in our paths.  We might just ultimately see those percentages mentioned above go down.

The Indiana Conference also plans to launch 30+ churches by the year 2020 to better reach the unchurched.  Perhaps you and your church will be involved in one of these starts.  I hope so!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Are you all in?

Posted: April 3, 2015 by efenster in Ideas
Tags: , , , , ,

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