Archive for December, 2012

FCJ bears fruit

Posted: December 17, 2012 by efenster in Information, Resources

LOGO-FCJAs mentioned earlier, the conference’s Church Development team is convinced that we can’t plant our way out of our decline, that it will require us both to plant churches and revitalize our existing ones.  To help revitalize our existing congregations, Church Development is using a process called the Fruitful Congregation Journey.   This three-step process helps a church more effectively carry out its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

The first step is a Shared Learning Experience, where teams from each participating church meet together for training sessions.  In Step 2, churches undergo a complete assessment.  This assessment identifies each church’s strengths, concerns, and then prescribes next-steps to address each of the concerns.  Larger churches will have five prescriptions, smaller churches three.  Each church then votes on whether or not to implement these next steps.  Those who vote “yes” then move on to Step 3 where they implement the prescriptions with the help of a coach.

In 2010, FCJ began with large churches, churches averaging over 100 in weekly worship.  In 2012, a second track was added for churches averaging between 50 and 100.  So far, 168 Indiana United Methodist churches have participated in the process, over 40% of the churches averaging 100 or more!  Two new Step 1 groups are forming in 2013–one for small churches and one for larger churches.  Contact your district superintendent immediately if you’d like your church to be considered.

Although it is still early to know what impact this process is having on our churches, we do have some initial data.  Fourteen of the twenty churches that went on to Step 3 experienced an increase in their worship attendance, and eight of these had been in decline prior to FCJ.

Again, Church Development anticipates that once enough of our Indiana United Methodist churches go through FCJ, we will begin to see more effective and fruitful congregations.  Don’t miss out!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

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Are the days of the institutional church numbered?

Posted: December 11, 2012 by efenster in Ideas

TitanicAre the days of the institutional church numbered?  This is a question that I’m keenly interested in because I’ve given much of my life serving the institutional church–eleven years at an inner-city church in Fort Wayne and now 17 years for the conference.  That inner city church is likely living out its final years.  Are our conference’s years numbered as well?

I readily admit that I tend to be an optimist; that’s one reason why I’ve been doing this so long.  I keep coming back to scriptures of dry bones coming back to life, of an apostle who says that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, and Christ who says that he will build his church and those who have faith in him will do even greater things.  How can I not be an optimist?

Yet, the numbers strongly suggest that we hit an iceberg years ago and that our ship is seriously listing.  Not just our ship either; the whole flotilla–other denominations and independent churches alike–is sinking.  Sure there are some bright spots here and there, but studies suggest that 80% of churches in America are standing still or in trouble.

One major reason is that our churches and conference are primarily focused on themselves.  We’ve lost sight of our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Or we’ve redefined our mission in a way that makes us feel okay.  We say we need to focus on strengthening the level of discipleship in our own members before we consider reaching those outside our walls.  We say we’ll do fundraisers and give the money to those groups who will take care of transforming the world for us.  Perhaps we’ve got to reclaim our mission, get directly involved, and accept Jesus’ admonition that new wine must be put in new wine skins, that doing “church” the same way just isn’t going to cut it.

So in light of all of this, what are we at the Indiana Conference  Church Development team doing?  Rather than standing on the deck playing “Nearer My God to Thee,” we have all hands on deck–seven of us on the Church Development staff, plus over two dozen others who have been trained as facilitators, mentors, coaches, and consultants–and we’re helping churches transform through the Fruitful Congregation Journey revitalization process, which helps churches fulfill the mission more effectively.   So far, nearly 170 churches are in the three-step process and more are being invited to join them.*  We, on the Church Development team, truly believe that once enough of our churches  get through the process, we will experience a tipping point and the ship, our conference,  will begin to right itself and once again move forward.  Is it easy?  No, ask any of the churches and they’ll tell you it’s hard work.  But is it worth it?  Absolutely!  So, it’s going to take all of us working together.  How about you and your church?  Will you join us?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

*Let your District Superintendent know if your church is interested.

Can we plant ourselves out of our decline?

Posted: December 6, 2012 by efenster in Ideas

GoughMark_SRWBM22EMark Gough, Director of Church Development for the Indiana Conference, asked the question, “Can we plant ourselves out of our decline?”  The “we” he was referring to was the Indiana Conference.  You see since we formed a few years ago, our churches overall have had more years of worship attendance decline than gain and the number of  members has continued to decrease.

So when did Indiana Methodism experience its greatest growth?  Back in the 1800’s when we were planting new churches.  Although there is a direct correlation between the number of churches being planted and the growth of a denomination, can we start enough United Methodist churches in Indiana to turn our growth trend around?

Mark Gough has come to the conclusion, “No.”  According to Lyle Schaller’s formula, the Indiana Conference would have to plant 36 new churches every year to grow again.  (Lyle is a retired UM clergy person who has written nearly 50 books on church growth.)  Mark recognizes that we just don’t have the capacity to start that number of churches right now.

So what do we do?  He’s convinced that it will require a combination of church planting and the revitalization of our nearly 1,200 UM churches.  Indiana’s population has shifted since the 1800’s–to urban centers–but our churches haven’t moved.  Thus, there’s a tremendous need to start new churches in our urban centers and to help some of our churches relocate to where the people have moved.

Indiana’s population also is much more ethnically diverse than it was in the 1800’s.  The students at my kid’s high school, in Fort Wayne, for example, speak over two dozen different languages!  Our churches no longer reflect the ethnic mix of the state’s population and so new efforts need to be made in that area too.

So if we aren’t going to plant our way out of this decline, not only relocating churches and reaching ethnic minorities will be important, but revitalizing our existing churches will be as well.  Read more about how Church Development is focusing on this in our next article.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development