Archive for September, 2011

Time to get going!

Posted: September 28, 2011 by efenster in Ideas

Yes, you’re busy.  I’m busy too.  But are we busy doing the right thing?  This was recently discussed at a Fruitful Congregation Journey(FCJ) session that Rev. Chris Danielson attended.  Chris pastors the First United Methodist Church in LaGrange.  His church is one of about fifty UMCs in the state that are participating in an eight-session leadership development training that’s part of FCJ.  

Chris (not pictured here) agreed to share some reflections from this first session.  He said that when he quotes Rev. Mark Gough–who facilitated his FCJ session–that he was paraphrasing what Gough said…

            “Pastors should spend about 40% of their time interacting with people outside the church to build connections that can result in bringing new people to Christ.”

            The statement stunned me. 40%?

            But it was only the first in a series of challenging statements offered by the Rev. Mark Gough.  Gough is training ministers in the Indiana Conference of the Methodist Church in a yearlong process called the “Fruitful Congregations Journey”.  Leaders in our church are receiving similar training.

            Gough continued. “In early Methodism, our church looked like the New Testament church.  Evangelists went out to unchurched territories.  In our case, it was the circuit-riding preachers on horseback heading west into the frontier.

            “The circuit rider found an unchurched area and dismounted.  Planted a church.  Trained leaders to run things.  Promised to check in on them quarterly and offer them Communion at that time.  Then he jumped back on his horse in search of new, unchurched territories.”

            “So,” Gough said, “who did the work of the church?  The people, just like the New Testament says they should.  The people prayed for the sick.  The people raised necessary funds.  The people taught Sunday schools and Bible studies.  And the Methodist Church thrived for a century!

            “And then in the 1850’s, the Methodist church began to take their circuit riders off horses and installed them as pastors in local churches.

            “Well, you start paying a guy to stay in one place… what’s he gonna do to look useful?  The ‘work of the church’.  In other words, the well-meaning pastor stole the work of the church back from the church members:  he began to do the praying, teaching, visiting, and providing for the poor.

            “Pretty soon, the pastor was in-charge of everything, the professional Christian.  Pretty soon, the prayers of others didn’t matter as much as ‘when the pastor prayed for us’.  Pretty soon the God-given ministries of the church members dwindled away as they assumed the pastor could do it all better anyway.

            “And guess what?  Church members let him rob them blind of their gifts.  They were glad to sit back and let the special ‘anointed’ pastor do their work, relieved to be off the front lines.

            “And guess what else?  Statistically, the Methodist church has been in decline in America ever since.

            “So why bring all this up?  The role of pastors needs to change from their status as the blessed professional Christian do-it-all mentality to training leaders in their churches for ministry.  Not to train leaders to do the pastors’ work, but to do the work God has given them to do.

            “And congregations need to change.  Congregations need to be unruly with their pastors.  Not unruly about demanding their pastors spend more hours sitting in at the office, or mediating their little spats, or spending their time perfecting the running of the institution.

“Congregations need to demand their share of the joyous work of ministry in the Body of Christ.  They need to demand to have their gifts developed and put to use.  They need to demand that pastors train and empower them instead of stealing their God-given gifts and doing it all for them.”

It’s been two weeks since that training session and my head is still spinning.

However, I know that Gough is right.  Methodist pastors, myself included, spend excessive amounts of time being “in charge”:  perfecting administrative procedures, obsessing about how smoothly things are running, soothing nerves of disgruntled sheep, and other non-Kingdom building activities.

Pastors also gladly have taken on and taken away ministries from laypersons that God has gifted to do vital and life-changing work in the church.  We spend very little time training leaders to do their God-given work.  And we enjoy the status of the “anointed” professional Christian way too much.

I know Gough is right about congregations too.  They are dying instead of thriving.  Congregations are not reminded of their God-given gifts nor mobilized for ministry the way they could and should be.  And when congregations are challenged and presented with the rigors and joys of their God-given work, they are often very willing to let pastors let them off the hook.  (Congregations trust that their well-meaning pastors will always plug the holes in the ministry anyway.  That’s what they are paid to do, right?)

I cannot speak for you, but I’m ready to do a “new thing” at our church that is really the oldest New Testament thing:  function as a Body of Christ.  It will challenge all of us to step outside our comfort zones but in the process we will all discover God’s leading and blessings in the process.

Are we ready?  If we say “yes”, we’d better mean it.

What are you reading?

Posted: September 16, 2011 by efenster in Ideas, Resources

What are you reading these days?  One attribute of a leader is that they’re constantly learning, and I find reading is one way I can do that.  As someone who is constantly around leaders–mostly UM pastors–I have a constant stream of excellent suggestions for helpful books.

Thanks to the fact that I’m in my car a lot traveling to visit churches and pastors, and thanks to a plethera of audio books and a Kindle e-book that can read to me as a drive, I have been able to read a lot of books.  In fact, being the somewhat compulsive person that I am, I keep track in a log of everything I read.  So far this year (2011), I’ve read 28 books, about half of them are non-work related.  Of those that relate to my work in the area of Church Development, here’s what I’ve read this year so far…

American Saint:  Francis Asbury and the Methodists, by John Wigger.  I really knew very little about our early history.  Wow!  We’re dealing with a lot of the same tensions today that Asbury and the early Methodists were dealing with.  Did you know that Francis Asbury was the most recognized American in our country during his lifetime, more recognized that our U.S. Presidents!

American Grace:  How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by Robert Putnam and David Campbell.  One of the best books to give us a snapshot of the American religious scene.  Did you know that whether a person prays at meals or not is the best indicator of their level of discipleship?  Did you know that attendance in worship peaked around 1980 in the U.S.?  The evangelical movement has been waning since around 1990?  Fascinating stuff!

Simple Church, by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger.  My second time through.  I missed a lot the first time.  Excellent book!

Good to Great, by Jim Collins.  I had read his Built to Last and heard the Bishop and Cabinet were reading this more recent Collins’ book.  Some very practical and profoundly helpful concepts for any leader!

The Five Dysfunctions of  a Team, Patrick Lencioni.  An easy read that gets at what it takes to have an effective team.

When the Well Runs Dry, by Thomas H. Green.  Want to take your prayer life deeper.  Wow!  Read this.  The best book I’ve read recently on my personal spirituality.  Don’t swim but float in God’s river of life! 

Taking Your Church to the Next Level, by Gary McIntosh.  Another good book from Gary that gives a very practical understanding of what a church must do in order to be more effective–act like a church that’s one-level larger.

When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  As mission chair of my local church, I say this is a must read for any church seeking to do missions in a healthy way.  Gold!

Assaulting the Gates:  Aiming All God’s People at the Mission Field, by Paul D. Borden.  This book lays out in detail the Fruitful Congregation Journey that our conference is using to help churches become more vital and effective at carrying out our mission.

Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church:  Mandate, Commitments, and Practices of a Diverse Congregation, by Mark DeYmaz.  DeYmaz is the founding pastor of the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, a highly diverse church.  Helpful, but I’m still looking for a book about multi-ethnic churches that thrive in a community that’s not connected with a military base or college campus.

The Forgotten Ways, by Alan Hirsch.  I’ve been with Hirsch several times the past couple years.  He’s onto something very important regarding the church’s future.  It still isn’t clear what that something will end up looking like.  Read this book and start thinking about what how we can pass on the faith to new generations in a post-modern, post-Christian society.  It’s both scary and exciting!  God give us courage and boldness and guidance!

Renovate or Die:  Ten Ways to Focus Your Church on Mission, by Bob Farr.   This book is written by the person from the Missouri Conference who has been helping our church development team launch the Fruitful Congregation Journey.  Farr’s book is excellent–it received a 3 on my five-point scale (o = waste of time to 4 = one of the best books in the world).  Great for any congregation to read!

Confronting the Controversies, by Adam Hamilton.  One of our pastors encouraged me to read this as I head to the General Conference this coming spring.  It helped me think about some very difficult issues that we deal with in the church, including homosexuality.  (Thanks, Bob!)

Winning on Purpose:  How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission, by John E. Kaiser.  This is the best book I’ve ever read on healthy church structure and organization and all of it can be applied in a United Methodist church!  Typically we have the wrong structure, or we  use the structure we have incorrectly.  This can be your church’s handbook!   It will also help your church hold its leaders accountable in a very healthy way and as a result you’ll see more results!  Read it!  Now!

Well, that’s the list so far in 2011.  What have you been reading?  I always keep a list of books I want to read next, so give me your suggestion!  — Ed Fenstermacher

The Indiana Conference is helping churches become Vital Congregations through the Fruitful Congregation Journey (FCJ), a process offered by the conference’s Church Development Team, with the support of the Bishop and District Superintendents. 

What is FCJ?  It is a three-step process that initially involves a church’s pastor and up to eight laity in a Shared Learning Experience that is focused on developing themselves as leaders. These pastor-lay teams meet with other churches in the process over the course of eight monthly sessions for sharing, learning, and networking.

 Step 2 then assesses the church using a variety of tools, including visits from a series of unchurched mystery worshippers, a self-study, and a demographic study.  It culminates in an on-site assessment by a team of outside consultants.  All of this results in a report that gives the church a list of its greatest strengths, areas of concerns, and prescriptions to address those concerns. 

If the church decides to pursue all its prescriptions, it enters Step 3.  In this step the church implements the prescriptions with the help of a coach.  So far, approximately fifty Indiana UMC’s have completed Step 1.  Two dozen of them have signed up to continue with Step 2, the church assessment phase.  Beginning this fall, those churches that decide to implement their prescriptions will begin Step 3.  Additionally, nearly fifty new churches are beginning Step 1 this fall.

What is FCJ’s objective?  Its primary objective is to help United Methodist churches in Indiana more effectively carry out their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Because most churches have become very inward focused over time, FCJ particularly focuses on how to help churches re-engage with their communities for the sake of Christ. 

What are the results?  Now in 22 different annual conferences, FCJ is resulting in more fruitful churches.  For example, the Missouri Conference, which has been using this process for over five years, has experienced the following results:

  • 50% of its participating churches experienced a 5% or more worship attendance increase after 12 months (compared to only 10% of all churches in the U.S.)
  • 30% are growing in baptism, professions of faith and generosity
  • 10% haven’t made a statistical difference yet.

Where did it come from?  The FCJ process is based on work done years ago in the American Baptist denomination by Paul Borden.  Borden describes the process in detail in his book entitled, Assaulting the Gates:  Aiming All God’s People at the Mission Field. 

Why does it seem to work?  Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development for the Indiana Conference, believes the process works for the following reasons:

1. It’s just that, a process.  Unlike one-time workshops, seminars, or consultations, which rarely result in lasting change, FCJ is able to because it’s carried out over a period of about two and a half years.

2. It focuses on developing leaders.  Leaders are the key to any church revitalization effort.  A church can try everything, but without strong leaders–pastor and laity–such efforts will be in vain.

3. It provides a church with direction.  Most churches just don’t know what they should do next, where they should devote their limited time and energy.  Step 2 of the process helps churches determine which areas to focus, areas that will make the greatest difference.

4. It helps churches set specific measurable goals.  Without clear, measurable goals a church will rarely achieve the results it’s looking for.

5. It provides a coach to walk alongside the church.  The coach provides assistance, encouragement, and accountability.  Without accountability, goals seldom are implemented.

It is these five powerful elements, working together, that provide FCJ with its transformative effect. 

How’s it relate to the Vital Congregation effort?  FCJ provides churches with help in developing and implementing the goals that are a part of the Bishop and General Church’s Vital Congregation initiative.  Both build on the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.

Where can churches find more information?  An overview of FCJ and its three steps can be found at the Indiana Conference’s website.  Churches are also encourage to contact the Church Development staff person that serves their district.  They can be reached by calling the Conference Center at 877 781-6706 or via their email addresses.  These staff include the following:

Doug Anderson ( – staffing the 15 largest UMCs, and working with FCJ at the national level

Steve Clouse ( – staffing the Northwest and East districts, and coordinating FCJ Step 2

Ed Fenstermacher ( – staffing the North and Northeast districts, and coordinating FCJ Step 1

Mark Gough ( – staffing the North Central, Central, and Southeast districts, and directing the whole FCJ process

Dave Neckers ( – staffing the East District, and coordinating the FCJ coaching

Sharon Washington ( – staffing the South and Southwest districts, and coordinating the small-church FCJ process

Developing leaders key to church vitality

Posted: September 7, 2011 by efenster in Ideas, Resources
What helps a congregation make the adaptive changes necessary in order for it to more effectively carry out its mission?  The United Methodist Council of Bishops created a task force to help answer this question.  The results have been published in a Call to Action Report
According to Dr. Jeff Stiggins, Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence for the Florida Annual Conference, of the 16 vitality indicators which the Call to Action Report identified, the following five give the most leverage to pastors and congregations:
·        Effective pastors focus on developing, coaching and mentoring to enable laity leadership to improve their performance.
·        Effective pastors propel the local church to set and achieve significant goals.
·        Effective pastors influence the actions and behaviors of others to accomplish changes in the local church.                                               
·        Effective pastors inspire the congregation through preaching.                          
·        When the appointment is working out, effective pastors tend to stay longer – a minimum of 5 or more years in vital congregations. 
The Indiana Conference’s Fruitful Congregation Journey (FCJ) goes a long way in helping pastors and laity work on the first four.  Nearly 100 Indiana United Methodist Churches have participated, or will be participating, in this church revitalization process.  For more information contact the Indiana Conference Center at 877 781-6706.