Can small rural churches really make a difference? Well, three United Methodist churches in the West District of the Indiana Conference are doing just that. Shelburn, Ebenezer, and Farmersburg UM churches are changing the lives of young people in their area through JAM, Jesus and Me. Although the churches collectively average around 100 people in weekly worship, they are reaching fifty children through their JAM ministry!

Bonnie Greene, a part-time school bus driver and one of the JAM leaders, says that the primary objective of the ministry is that every child knows God and how to pray.

Most of those being reached don’t attend traditional Sunday morning church. Bonnie says that they used to refer to the youth as unchurched until they realized that they were churched, that JAM was their church. And now she has a dream to reach their parents too.

A couple years ago, she was challenged by her church’s Conference Superintendent, Rev. John Groves, when he closed a Charge Conference with a prayer that included the phrase: “May the Holy Spirit come upon you and disturb you until you fall on your knees and He fills you with His power.”

Bonnie says that she kept thinking about that prayer, and as a result the Lord gave her a vision of reaching the JAM youth’s parents by offering them dinner at an off-site location. Bonnie says God even provided the name for it, The Table. To begin working on it, she and another person from the ministry recently attended Dinner Church training the Conference provided and are working on making that vision a reality!

So just think of how God can use your church!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

To hear more about this amazing story, watch this video of Bonnie sharing about the JAM ministry.

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As a delegate to the 2019 General Conference, I waited for years for the conference to arrive. I read nearly 900 individual emails from pastors and laity concerned about our church and its impending decision regarding homosexuality. I met with other delegates, read thousands of pages of reports, opinions and perspectives, and above all prayed and reflected.

That long anticipated General Conference (GC) came and went. Nearly everyone on both sides of the issue left with a sense of brokenness, loss and pain. Initially I felt as though the 2019 GC was a wasted effort. We just did what we’ve done the past forty years, kicked the can down the road. Now that months have passed, I believe that, ugly and painful though it was, it was necessary for our church to go through the 2019 GC session.

So many people have been praying: God lead us! Holy Spirit guide our steps! Who’s to say that our prayers haven’t been answered and that’s exactly what God is doing? In a book I’m reading, Calling: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy, the author mentions that the Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine, who was awarded the Nobel prize, says that “friction is a fundamental property of nature and nothing grows without it.” The author goes on to say: “We must therefore be willing to get shaken up, to summit ourselves to the dark blossoming of chaos, in order to reap the blessings of growth.”

Well, I would say the 2019 GC and its aftermath has done a great job of doing just that! Some are anticipating a repeat of the 2019 GC at next year’s GC session. By electing more from the other side, we will legislate our way through this mess–again. Others are anticipating the breakup of our denomination. Could it be that God is going to surprise us? Could it just be that we have to slog through this “dark chaos” (that definitely has “blossomed!) in order to get to where we need to go?

So what do we do? Continue to pray. Pray for our newly elected delegates. Pray for openness of heart and mind to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and open our ears that we might listen well. And as we go through these days, may we strive to do no harm. May we passionately pursue the mission to which we’ve been called. For me that means continuing to join God in the multiplication movement that is moving across the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church. Pedal to the metal is my mantra these days! What’s yours?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Have you already been to Fresh Expressions training? Are you ready for additional help? Or, are you new to this biblical-based outreach approach and you want to know more about it? In either case, you will find attending Fresh Expressions “Round Table” training, June 29th, helpful.

A Round Table is a three-hour session focused on helping a church design and develop a Fresh Expressions outreach effort in its community.

The Indiana Conference is holding two Round Tables, on June 29th.  One will be held at Covenant UMC in Fort Wayne from 8:30-11:30am (Eastern) and one will be held at Fishers UMC in Fishers from 2:00-5:00pm (Eastern).

This training will be ideal for a team from a church to attend together. Both sessions will cover the same material.   The cost to attend is $15 per person.  Sessions will be led by experienced practitioners from Fresh Expressions U.S.  To register for either event, click here.

The Fresh Expressions model has been shown to be a highly effective way to reach and disciple unchurched persons, especially those uninterested ever attending a church.  With nearly 4 million unchurched folk in Indiana, Church Development has a dream of having at least 150 Fresh Expressions meeting throughout the state by 2025.  We hope your church will have launched one or more of these!  Let’s keep this effort in our prayers.  All for God’s glory!

—Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

What if… What if our 1,100 United Methodist Churches in Indiana were each reaching outside their walls, sharing Christ’s love on a regular basis with persons uninterested in attending church?  That’s exactly what the Fresh Expressions model helps a church do.  Church Development  has set a goal of helping our conference churches establish 150 Fresh Expressions around the state by 2025.

Take your next step and explore this possibility by registering for one of the following training opportunities…

May 18th, Vision Day, sponsored by the SE District, held at Bloomington St. Paul UMC, 9:30am-3:30pm (Eastern). EARLY-BIRD PRICE DEADLINE IS MAY 11TH  Registration link.

June 1st, Dinner Church.  One of the most popular forms of Fresh Expressions (FX); sponsored by our Conference Church Development (CD) and the Indiana Assembly of God, held at Lakeview Church in Indianapolis, 9am-4pm (Eastern).  Registration link.

June 29th, FX Roundtables.  Vision Day follow-up training, especially for churches that already know the basics; sponsored by CD, held at Fort Wayne Covenant UMC, 8:30-11:30am (Eastern), and Fishers UMC, 2:00-5:00pm (Eastern).

August 10Messy Church.  Another popular form of FX; sponsored by Michigan City First UMC and Messy Church USA, held at Michigan City First, 9am-3:30pm (Central).  Registration link.

August 17, Vision Day, sponsored by the NW District, held at Wabash First, 9:30am-3:30pm (Eastern).  Registration link.

Also, consider attending on May 17th “Re-Missioning the Church from the Outside In,” a live-stream webinar led by UMC pastors Jorge Acevedo and Michael Beck, author of Deep Roots, Wild Branches.  Registration link.

God is doing a new thing in Indiana.  Don’t miss out!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

AIMLogo-Impact-color-600x267Two United Methodist Conferences recently met with the Indiana Conference Church Development team to learn how to bring IMPACT to churches in the areas they serve.  Since 2016 Indiana has been using IMPACT to help revitalize and bring hope to small-membership churches, and other Conferences are noticing. Randy Anderson, Associate Director of Church Development, stated, “Small churches make up 70% of the church nationwide. Focus tends to be given to programs for medium and large churches, and the smaller churches are either overlooked or given a watered-down version of what worked at the large churches. When other Conferences hear that Indiana has created a process which entirely focuses on the revitalization of the small church, it is something they want to use.”

Since IMPACT is contextualized for small churches, it can be used in other regions and geographical areas. As other regions experience IMPACT, we pray there will be more stories of local congregations experiencing renewed hope for the mission and their vision.

To learn more about IMPACT within our Indiana Conference, visit IMPACT or visit the Church Development booth at Annual Conference for further conversation.

— Jennifer Hudson & Randy Anderson, Associate Directors of Church Development

IMG_1208This week I have been reminded that many in The United Methodist Church are pushing the envelope.   Many pastors, churches, Boards of Ordained Ministry, Bishops, and entire conferences are reacting strongly to the decisions made at the recent General Conference session in St. Louis.  There are many who are trying to push the envelope regarding the church’s position on homosexuality and the church.  At the same time, there are people pushing the envelope in other ways.  For example, I learned of laity who are publicly administering the sacrament of communion.

Years ago I was asked to fill the pulpit when my pastor was gone one Sunday, so I did.  Before the worship service I saw the communion elements on the altar and so I asked who was administering the sacraments.  The lay people in charge of worship matter-of-factly said, “You are.”  I said, “Well, who is going to bless the sacraments?”  They again replied, “You are.”  That was a problem because I’m not ordained, I’m not a licensed local pastor, I am a lay person.

So what did I do?  I blessed the elements and served communion and no one said a thing.    Ever since, I’ve scratched my head and wondered about that day I broke our church’s protocol.  You see I’m normally a rule-follower.  But in this situation I broke our United Methodist rules, and no harm seemed to come of it.

Recently I was talking with some pastors.  They were saying that if we truly want a multiplication movement to break out in our churches of Indiana, we’ll have to loosen the rules, take risks.  I asked what that would look like.  Both answered by telling stories of laity associated with their churches that served communion in public.

One of the pastors has a layman who is an employee at a Walmart.  Every week he serves communion to twenty of his fellow employees in the back room.  The other pastor has a homeless man who started a bible study in a local McDonalds.  Each week he takes a McDonald’s hamburger and breaks it saying, “Take and eat this, Christ’s body broken for you.”  What do you say to such sincere acts, both done with groups of people who would unlikely darken the doors of a church?

So what do we do with that?  To what degree do we push the envelope of our United Methodist polity?  To what degree do we unleash the laity as we send them into the fields that are ripe for harvest?  Not only are people pushing the envelope in the area of the church’s acceptance of gays and lesbians, people are also pushing the envelope in regards to our church’s polity regarding the sacraments.  Where else may the envelope be pushed as we strive to make disciples of Jesus Christ and transform the world?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

Fresh-Expressions-LogoJesus reminds us how important each person is when he tells the story of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to search for the one lost sheep.  So how important is that one lost sheep to you and your church?  If your answer is “really important,” then you’ll want to attend the Fresh Expressions “Vision Day” coming Saturday, March 16th, at Columbia City United Methodist Church near Fort Wayne.  For more information and to register click here.  Act now because the early-bird rate ends March 10th!

Fresh Expressions is a model of outreach especially for churches that are seeking to be more missional.  It is one of the most effective ways for a church to reach and disciple persons who have no interest in attending a church.  It is a model that can be initiated by as few as a single person and it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money.  It is a model that all sizes of churches can do, and in all ministry contexts.  All it requires is a bit of understanding and a heart for those outside the church that Jesus referred to as the lost.

Emily Reece, Director of Church Development, and I had the privilege of visiting Wildwood United Methodist Church in Wildwood, Florida.  Even though only 110 people attended the church’s worship services, the church has over a dozen Fresh Expression groups meeting every week.  We visited the church’s Higher Power Hour (yoga) and Bibles and Burritos, which meets at a Moe’s Southwest Grill.  They also have Fresh Expressions in a tattoo parlor, hair salon, and dog park.  They have groups that are for people who like to run, and people who like art.  The church has a culture of going out into the community to build relationships and disciple their friends and neighbors, and Fresh Expressions is how they mainly do it!

The church’s pastor, Michael Beck, will be one of the two people leading the Vision Day training on March 16th, so don’t miss out!   Sign up today.  That little lost sheep is counting on you and your church!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development