Ed 09I encourage you to read an article in the Washington Post by  Rev. Tom Berlin, pastor of Floris UMC.  It pretty accurately describes where the UMC is on the whole human sexuality debate as a result of our General Conference action this week.  It’s been a tough, sometimes painful week, but I think most of us delegates believe that God’s spirit broke through in an unexpected way and that we have found a way forward even though the future of the UMC isn’t clear.
I believe this is due to the prayers many of you, along with thousands around the world, as we gathered in Portland.  This is the fifth General Conference I have attended and I don’t recall such a sense of the spirit and good will among delegates, even though we may strongly disagree on the issues of sexuality.  Don’t get me wrong, it certainly was not all bliss.  There were some very low moments where delegates were down right hurtful.  But for the most part I sense there was a more positive spirit.  Again, I attribute this to the spirit of Christ and the prayers of many, many people and churches.  I am deeply grateful to those of you who prayed and thank you for being with us delegates on the journey!
— Ed  Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

IMG_0063There’s a lot of media coverage regarding the debate going on at General Conference over a number of issues, including human sexuality, but you likely haven’t heard the exciting news of our denomination’s church-planting efforts, not only in the U.S. but also overseas.

Our General Conference delegates learned (through our Advanced Daily Christian Advocate materials) that in the prior three years at least 2,300 leaders have been trained and equipped in the U.S. for church plant efforts, and that at least 325 churches have been established.

Furthermore, we have launched 574 new churches outside the U.S. from 2009-2012, exceeding our goal by nearly 200 churches!  Churches are being planted in continents all over the world, but here is a snapshot of our growing presence in Southeast Asia…  Though not an officially registered denomination in Laos or Vietnam, we now have 48 churches and 24 faith communities in Laos and 322 churches in Vietnam.  We have 154 churches in Cambodia and nine churches in Mongolia, as well as two faith communities.  Praise God!

The United Methodist Church is growing significantly worldwide.  Membership has increased dramatically in Africa and the Philippines.  May such growth begin to be experienced here in the United States as well.  Consider how your church is making disciples and multiplying the Kingdom.  Don’t get caught sitting on the sidelines, join the action of what God is doing all over the world!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development and Indiana Conference delegate to the General Conference

IMG_0054Rev. Sergio Reyes, pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Getsemani, was apologetic.  His Fort Wayne United Methodist Church has started a new faith community in another state–Ohio.  He was apologizing to the West Ohio Conference’s superintendent of the Northwest Plains District, the director of new church development, and the pastors of the two United Methodist churches in Hicksville, Ohio, explaining that he hadn’t meant to start a new congregation, it just sort of happened.

A couple from Sergio’s Fort Wayne church lives in Hicksville, Ohio, about a forty-minute drive.  They drive to Fort Wayne because Getsemani offers worship in Spanish, which they prefer.  They asked if Pastor Sergio would lead a bible study in their home this spring on a Saturday night after the workers at the local egg farms were done with work.  “Could we invite some friends and co-workers to the bible study?” they asked.  And the study grew quickly to 12 people, then 30 people, and now around 50 people, including some children!

Sergio explained to the West Ohio United Methodist leaders that the bible study group has run out of space in the house and can’t grow any more unless they find a bigger place in which to meet.  The group of leaders quickly acknowledged that God was truly moving and that one of the two Hicksville UMC buildings surely could be made available.

So pray as this ministry moves from a house to a church.  Pray that the host congregation will welcome the newcomers, nearly all of whom are brand new Christians, with Christ’s love.  Pray that God’s spirit will continue to touch not only the lives of the fledgling Hispanic congregation, but also the host congregation’s members and all the residents of the Hicksville area.

Sergio says that the people are hungry for the word of God, and already attenders to the bible study are asking him to start new bible studies in other parts of northwest Ohio.  Of course, his hands are already more than full with all the church planting going on in Indiana as well as co-pastoring his Fort Wayne church with his wife Rev. Janie Reyes.  But someday, who knows, God may raise up leaders from the Hicksville bible study who will help expand the movement throughout our sister state.  Praise God!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

03EC0C2383AA49DFBD2F9B635F887655_120913-facebookIt isn’t every Sunday that a new church is officially welcomed into our Indiana Conference, so last Sunday at The Branches, in Plainfield, was very special.  The United Methodist church, which was started by Rev. Alex Hershey in 2013, celebrated it’s new status at a chartering service.  This milestone will also be celebrated at Annual Conference in June.

Some in the conference may have the impression that this is the only church plant going on.  This is far from the truth.  The conference actually has twenty or so new faith communities meeting right now that have been launched in the past few years.  It also has another group of them being launched in the coming months.  These projects include Korean, Native American, Burmese, and a number of Hispanic congregations besides Anglo and multi-ethnic congregations.  Some are stand alone congregation, but many are being sponsored by existing United Methodist churches.

In many ways, the Indiana Conference is experiencing the beginnings of a church planting movement.  Perhaps the greatest sign of this is that the conference’s Church Development team is not directly involved in a number of these projects.

Stay tuned for future announcements of some new amazing church plants that are in the works.  God is moving!  And, please consider joining the action by contacting your Church Development staff person.  We’re looking for more sponsoring churches, prospective church planters, planting opportunities, and people to pray.  Why not join in the fun and be apart of what God is doing!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Upward arrow“We’re concerned about quality not quantity.”  “We don’t play the numbers game.”  “We need to focus on growing our people before we focus on reaching those outside our church.”  We have all heard such comments, haven’t we?  Perhaps we’ve made them ourselves at times.

Whether we’re looking at our Sunday school attendance, worship attendance, or, in my case, conference statistics, when the numbers are declining it’s easy to for us to rationalize and dismiss such trends.  Yet, Lovett H. Weems, Jr., in his recent article, “Changing Congregational Trends,” points out that there is a direct correlation between churches that are growing and their level of spiritual vitality.  In other words, if our trends are declining, that may well point to the fact we have a spiritual problem.

Most of our Indiana United Methodist congregations have been experiencing a decline in worship attendance.  Only 26% grew by at least an average of one worshiper from 2013 to 2014!  No doubt this decline reflects our society’s changing behaviors, such as people attending worship less frequently than in the past.  Yet, at the core, in many cases, it reflects the lack of spiritual vitality.  Many of our churches are like the church in Ephesus, described in the Book of Revelation as having forsaken its “first love.”

In working with over two hundred of our congregations through the Fruitful Congregation Journey process, the Church Development team has discovered that most of our churches lack a clear vision and disciple-making process.  But even more significant, they lack members with hearts that are totally in love with Jesus and are fully committed to serving him above all else.

So should we be concerned about our church’s growth trend?  The study cited by Weems suggests yes, we should because it’s a reflection of our spiritual vitality, our heart.  So, what about your church’s trend?  Does it reflect hearts fully in love with Christ, or is there spiritual work that needs to be done?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

UnknownAndy Stanley created quite a stir last week when he said in a sermon that people who prefer attending smaller churches are selfish.  He later acknowledged that such a blanket statement was inappropriate saying, “Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.”

His point, however, was that larger churches are more likely to offer solid children and youth programs, allowing the young people to connect with others their ages.  Thus, they’re less likely than young people attending smaller churches to turn their backs on church participation in the future.

Can it be, however, that smaller churches actually have advantages over larger churches when it comes to discipling young people?  Could it be that, although few in number, young people in smaller churches receive more attention and individual “loving on” by their church members?  When they’re absent, folk notice.  When they have a special accomplishment at school, church members celebrate.  When they sense a call to ministry, the whole church rises up to encourage and support them.

Certainly not all smaller churches treat their young people this way.  Nor do all larger churches fail to treat their young people in this way.  But there may truly be some significant advantages for a young person to grow up in a smaller church too.

What’s your experience been?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

Time for spring cleaning?

Posted: February 29, 2016 by efenster in Ideas
Tags: ,

DSC_CrocusCall it spring cleaning.  I just threw out nearly two file drawers of Church Development files.  Why did it take me ten years to do this?  Unlike my wife, I’m a thrower.  So, why would a “thrower” cling to over ten years of paper files in an electronic age?  Perhaps I’m sentimental.  To read meeting minutes, consultation studies, and workshop notes dealing with ministries that I was personally involved in makes it hard to toss them into the recycling bin.

The Redevelopment Venture Process, a forerunner of the Fruitful Congregation Journey church revitalization process, and Sending of the Saints, which preceded the more recent One Hundred Points of Light outreach effort, involved significant effort and countless hours, involving friends and colleagues in ministry.  The files were the last reminders of those days.  And now they’re gone.

Is your church a saver or a thrower?  Is it time for you and your church to do some spring cleaning too?  What is it that you’re clinging to that has served its purpose and is no longer relevant, but because it’s familiar and there’s emotional attachment, you’re still holding on to it?  Jesus said that we need to put new wine into new wineskins.  For the sake of Jesus’ call and the church’s mission, may we have the courage and gumption to let go of our old wineskins and embrace the new.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development