UnknownWhy has McNatt United Methodist Church in rural northeast Indiana nearly tripled in size the past two years?  It still has the same part-time pastor, Rev. Bill Van Haften, who’s served the church the past 18 years.  It still is located on the same county road, far from any town.  It still has the same organist and pianist (who’s 85 years old!).  So what happened?  Why is it attracting lots of new people, including families with young children?

Pastor Van Haften says a great deal has to do with the church’s focus.  It is pretty much focused on prayer and serving others, including folk outside the church, and not much else.  This focus on prayer is central to the church.  In fact, the church’s Pastor-Parish Relations Committee leads in this area.  It meets twice a month to pray!  Prayer is central to the Sunday morning worship service.  When someone is in the hospital, the congregation holds their hands toward the direction of the hospital and prays for that person.  And, they always want to know the results!

A retired pastor, Rev. Fred Kellogg, began praying for the church to experience revival twelve years ago.  Pastor Van Haften says that it’s happening.  The church now has a dozen or so who help preach, each time a new ministry is started it explodes with growth, they’ve just hired a young member to serve as youth director, and attendance has risen from 40 to 110 each Sunday.  The pastor says he’s never seen a church so much of one mind–on praying and serving and worshiping God.

Does your church have a clear focus?  Is prayer a part of it?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development





flameEd Stetzer recently wrote a fascinating article in USA Today, about how Americans are becoming even more divided in their faith.  According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, which was just released,  a growing portion of Americans are less religious, while Christians in the U.S. are becoming stronger in the practice of their faith.  There are fewer nominal Christians–you know, those who only show up to church on  Christmas and Easter–but, those who do show up are more committed.

So how are United Methodist’s faith practices doing?  Using the Pew Research Center’s study, Cynthia Astle, in a Nov. 5th “United Methodist Insite” article, shares some very sobering results.  In fact, she writes:

“Methodism’s founder John Wesley would be downright dismayed, if not completely discouraged, by the Religious Landscape Study’s results on the faith practices of American United Methodists. It’s hard for spiritual leaders to understand how 62 percent of respondents could claim feeling “spiritual peace and wellbeing” at least once a week when so few report regular participation in worship, prayer groups or religious study.”  The report indicates the following:

  • 44% of UM’s attend worship weekly, 39% attend once or twice a month or less
  • 62% say they prayer daily, 21% pray weekly
  • 25% attend a small group weekly, 11% monthly

The Indiana Conference’s bishop, Bishop Michael Coyner, asks the question in a recent article, “Are you a functional atheist?”  His point isn’t that most of us United Methodist’s are atheists, but that we behave as though everything is up to us, that too often we don’t rely on God.

No doubt if we United Methodists are to fulfill our mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world, our hearts will need to be on fire for Christ and we’ll need to be committed to a relationship with Christ that is vibrant and growing.  The bottom line:  the above stats will need to change!  It’s not a technical issue–better pastors, better worship, better ministries, better outreach (although such aspirations are sometimes needed)–but a heart issue.

So how are we and our churches doing at changing our own members’ hearts?  Maybe that’s were we need to start.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development


East Chicago Strong Tower-141227aWhen looking for a cross cultural mission opportunity, the teens of Delphi UMC discovered that they did not have to travel far in order to have a meaningful experience.

Though few realized that East Chicago is indeed a part of Indiana, this cityscape and culture proved to be much different from the Indiana they know. The group, led by Micah Hudson, was excited to enter Torre Fuerte, and was warmly welcomed by Pastors Esequiel and Suri Becerra along with many others from the congregation. On Sunday both groups enjoyed the holy moment of sharing in worship together. Though the music began in Spanish, the group from Delphi quickly realized they knew the tune and could sing along in the English version of the worship chorus. Then Pastor Esequiel was kind to lead a bilingual service and expressed his appreciation for the group’s presence. Following the service, the kindness of this Hispanic church plant extended as they provided an authentic lunch for the teens of Delphi.

After lunch the teens were ready to begin the work they had come to do. The Delphi teens wanted to invest in the teens of Torre Fuerte. They did this by raising money to purchase the materials for the drop ceiling in the youth chapel and by installing it themselves. This building experience turned out to be as foreign as the encounter itself, but with some great instruction and lots of ladders, the group was soon hammering, wiring and placing tiles until they looked back at the completed project.

In the meantime, there was another delicious meal shared together, many dodge ball games between the teens of both churches, and personal stories shared amongst all of these new friends. The Delphi UMC teens were blessed to find this meaningful cross cultural experience so close to home and will long remember the passion and kindness of Pastors Esequiel and Suri and the people of Torre Fuerte.

Submitted by Jen Hudson, member of Delphi UMC
Post script…
The teens had such an amazing time there.  I got to go along as well and it was such a privilege to talk to the pastors and get a sense of their heart and passion.  Our group has promised to return by spring and put in the floor for their youth chapel as well.  Another awesome thing that came out of it is that pastor Esequiel was so excited about what we were doing that he mentioned he would like for our two groups to partner for a mission trip together in the future.
It was really a blessing for all of us! — Jen

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 4.31.57 PM“Take my grandchildren to Sunday school.”  These were the final words I was to hear from my neighbor who died of brain cancer in 2014.  How could I do that?  They lived in Japan at the time.  Their parents, as far as I knew, weren’t into church either.  This didn’t let me off the hook because a year ago the family moved from Japan into my neighbor’s home, and now her grandchildren are right across our driveway.  I see them nearly every day.  And I’ve discovered that Sunday school can happen more than just on Sundays and more than just at my church.  Right now it’s highly unlikely they would go to my church, but guess what, God brought the church to them through me and my wife.

Even though I’m committed to our United Methodist Church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, I don’t always do a good job.  I many times get so involved inside my church, doing church stuff with church folk, that disciple making outside rarely happens in an intentional way.  I don’t know about you, but I need help.

That’s why I’m excited about the launch of regional Missional Peer Learning Groups.  These are designed to help persons like me, and church leaders and teams, with ideas, encouragement, accountability and prayer as we make all make disciples where God places us.  I encourage you to consider trying out one of these groups.  Just contact the person below and they’ll help you get connected.  Or feel free to contact me.

  • Dyer (near Chicago) – Jim Clark  (james.clark@inumc.org)
  • Fort Wayne – Steve Mekaru  (kristoshandsandfeet@gmail.com)
  • Centerville (near Richmond) – Jason  Morris (jason.morris@inumc.org)
  • Brazil – Rick Koch (rick.koch@inumc.org)
  • Indianapolis – Mike Mather (mike.mather@inumc.org)
  • Pfrimmer’s Chapel (near Corydon) – Tim Johnson  (tim.johnson@inumc.org)

Together we’re stronger!  God is doing a new thing.  Let’s not miss out!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development


An unexpected diversion

Posted: October 4, 2015 by efenster in Uncategorized

DSC_0932We were ninety minutes into our flight across the North Atlantic when the flight attendant urgently requested anyone with medical expertise to make themselves known to the flight crew.  For the next 30 minutes people rushed up and down the aisle carrying medical equipment to first class where a gentleman lay unconscious with no pulse.  A heart attack at 38,000 feet.

Thankfully, due to the efforts of strangers, he regained his pulse.  Understandably the plane turned around and returned to Ireland where my wife and I had just finished a two-week vacation.  Two hundred of us got an unexpected “bonus” day on the emerald island–our travel plans, so carefully worked out, got thrown out the window–all for the sake of a one man’s life.

How often Jesus reminds us the value of a single life.  I read in my devotions today “…Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” (Matt. 18:14).  So I ask myself, am I aware of the “pulse” of those around me?  Do I really care about the strangers who have no “pulse”?  Am I willing to sacrifice all my well made plans for the sake of another who’s in trouble, who lacks the knowledge of God’s great news?  What about you?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

P.S.  The last word we had is that the man who had the heart attack was doing okay.  Whew!

Kristo's-131020aSt. Joseph United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has been spearheading a non-attractional church plant on the Fort Wayne’s south side the past few years called Kristo’s Hands and Feet.  Steve Mekura, the effort’s leader, recently reviewed an updated discipling plan with leaders from St. Joseph.  What the leaders discovered was that Kristo’s wasn’t a project that simply flowed from the mature Christians of St. Joseph to the non-believers and new believers in the south part of town.  God turned it around and now the Kristo’s project is actually challenging and shaping how St. Joseph members view disciple making where they live too.  Typically God, huh?

Here are comments from one St. Joseph member…

“The conversation completely changed for me when Steve started describing his formalized discipleship plan.  My heart was not open to the idea.  I thought our mission field is filled with people that often aren’t home, miss events, etc… there is no way we’re going to be able to convince them to stick to such a plan. I was skeptical that the idea of laying it out in such an intentional way, to people who have only begun to walk with or understand Christ, was way too much to ask.

“Then I started thinking about myself, “How would I react if someone from our church leadership asked the same of me?” What if there was something to hold me accountable for areas my personal spiritual growth is struggling and how I could be discipling others – which would both elevate my growth and impact others.  The thought was still terrifying and seemed like a huge undertaking – but the possibility of the growth it could bring began to be exciting.

“Then the conversation turned to responsibility … if I’m spiritually responsible for discipling those around me through the church activities I participate in, how does that change the way I act? What if everyone had that change in mentality, so that we are all discipling each other?  Putting aside the community for a moment, how would that change the culture of Saint Joseph?  What would it look like if instead of saying, “I get to hang out at camp with 27 senior high youth,” the conversation changed to the challenge of discipling them?  What if when we returned from camp, someone held me accountable for each person and asked what conversations I had with them … how I helped them grow for Jesus.  It would change the dynamic completely.  It could change the dynamic of Saint Joseph completely.  If it spread across Fort Wayne, it would change Fort Wayne completely.

“I commented that following Christ was never supposed to be easy, but we tend to make it very easy.  Maybe it’s time to make it more of a challenge.  Steve’s comment about ministry doesn’t end when he crosses Coliseum stuck with me too.  We need to be engaged in ministry at all times.

“The way God is leading us is consistent with what I felt at camp this year as well.  God loved us first, which the speaker turned into a verb: firstlove.  My takeaway from that week was, “Firstlove. Love first.” If we combine a genuine love for everyone with an intentional missionality focused on making true disciples, the possibilities are pretty exciting.

“Now, we do have to be careful not to make ministry a corporate chore. It still needs to flow out of a joy and not a duty … but if God is giving us joy by serving him, it may be important to formally recognize that comes with duty and responsibility as well. – Ryan”

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Do we believe in miracles?

Posted: July 20, 2015 by efenster in Ideas
Tags: , , ,

IMAG0471Do you believe in miracles?  I’m reading a book, entitled Reclaiming the Great Commission, by Bishop Claude Payne and Hamilton Beazley, about an Episcopalian judicatory in Texas that revitalized.  One of its foundational values is a belief in miracles, that God is still in the miracle business.

The past two weeks, Time to Revive has been conducting a city-wide evangelization effort in Fort Wayne, with lively celebration and worship each evening.  This interfaith movement has as one of its foundational values a belief in miracles.  The worship service I attended included testimonies from that day’s evangelistic efforts.  These testimonies included a youth who healed a man’s knee pain, and a man who was in a dumpster when a Revive team found him.  Both witnessed to miraculous transformation as a result of Jesus Christ.

The miraculous even touched a family in the church I attend in Fort Wayne.  One of our members had been praying for 40 years that his brother and sister-in-law would accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, and–as a result of a Revive team–they did this past Saturday.  Praise God!

So why don’t we experience miracles as often as we might?  For me, I think it’s because I’m not really expecting them, expecting them as much as the Texas judicatory and Time to Revive folk do.  What about you?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development