Archive for January, 2013

How can we foster vital congregations?

Posted: January 24, 2013 by efenster in Ideas

Bishops crookA group I am a part of was meeting with the North Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops earlier this week and the topic of vital congregations came up.  Of course, this is a topic I’m especially concerned about given that I work in the area of church development and have a passion for it.  Our Bishops are equally concerned and are working hard at how they can provide even stronger leadership to help our thousands of congregations thrive, especially in the Midwest.

One bishop asked the question, “What are our leverage points as a College of Bishops?”  One answer was through influencing, in a very positive way, our denomination’s Council of Bishops, which helped develop the Vital Church initiative this past quadrennium.  Many of the NCJ bishops are also in key leadership positions, such as president of the Connectional Table, where intense discussion regarding church vitality is taking place.

Then a person at our meeting suggested an additional point of leverage, “What if we leaders–lay, clergy, and bishops alike–begin collectively praying and fasting for our churches and their vital witness.”  Energy (God’s spirit?) went through the room.  Although the bishops and many of us already are praying for our churches, what might happen if we intentionally did this together in a coordinated way?  And what would happen if we invited other church leaders–clergy and laity–to join us?  What might happen?

Let’s see!  I invite you to join the group of leaders I was with and begin fasting and praying the second Sunday of each month.  Pray that God might continue to show us how we might more effectively make disciples of Jesus Christ.  Pray that God will help each one of us discover our part in our fostering vital congregations for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom.  Pray that God will continue to transform us as we help transform the world.

Sure, prayer and fasting is not a silver bullet that will magically make our church vital and alive, yet it may be a critically important component that is too often taken for granted.  So join me, won’t you?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

The reaching the next generation

Posted: January 15, 2013 by efenster in Ideas

Ed 09There’s the saying that the Christian faith is only one generation away from extinction.  Over the past couple thousands years, most new Christians have received the faith from seasoned Christians and their churches.   It is now our turn.  Will we, and our churches, successfully pass the faith on to our younger generations?

National Public Radio has been airing conversations this week with young people who have left the faith.  In the past five years, the percentage of Americans claiming no faith–the “nones”–has risen dramatically from 15 to 20% of the population.  It is very clear that when Christ talked about the need to put new wine into new wine skins, he was speaking as much to us today as those from his day.  Although the Good News doesn’t change, we must learn how to adapt it for today’s world.

Last night I was meeting with a small group of young people from a church in our conference.  Their church is participating in the Fruitful Congregation Journey process and I was interviewing them as a part of their church’s assessment.  All nine of the people were  very committed to their church and regularly participate.  When asked what the best thing was about their church, they said its people.  However, when asked what one thing they would change, they immediately said their worship service.  They described their present service as not being engaging, of it lacking the “Wow!” factor that the church’s Sunday evening youth service has.  In fact, they said they hesitate inviting their friends to attend because they’re never quite sure what the service will be like.  It is a hodgepodge of styles, and as a result, it doesn’t seem to be serving anyone well.

It would be easy for this church to dismiss these comments from their younger members.  Yet, if this church is going to pass the faith on, it best begin listening to the concerns of its younger people.  So, what about you and your church?  Are you listening to your church’s young voices? Are you listening to the young people of your community?  If not, why not start today, and let’s make sure the faith gets passed on during our watch.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Resolution for this new year: Don’t get too comfortable

Posted: January 10, 2013 by efenster in Ideas

God's wayHave you noticed how just when we’re feeling like we’ve got our act together, we’ve got things under control, we’re comfortable, God calls us to make a change that forces us out of our comfort zone, requires us to rely on God’s leading, and takes us to a place we never dreamed of going?

I was reading Genesis 12 this morning, the call of Abram.  I began reading, however, at the end of the prior chapter where it says that Abram’s father, Terah, took his son Abram, his grandson Lot and Abram’s wife Sarai and “set out with them from Ur of the Chaldees for the land of Canaan.  But when they got as far as Haran, they settled down there.”   In the next chapter the story picks up where God calls Abram to leave his country, his people and father’s household and complete the trip that Terah failed to finish.

I’ve read this passage numerous times but today was the first time it hit me that Abram’s father had actually been going to Canaan.  For some unexplained reason, however, he didn’t make it.  He ended up going only part of the way.  I wonder why?  Did their car–I mean donkey–break down in Haran and then they sort of just stayed?  Did Terah have friends or family there and so he decided to stay in a place that was familiar and welcoming?  Whatever the reason, he had the opportunity to enter the Promised Land and he  missed it.  It is his son, Abram, who completes the journey, and to do that he must leave his country, people, and his home.

How is life going for you?  Have you sort of settled in?  Are you pretty comfortable?  Well, listen to the voice of God, sense the prodding of the Spirit, follow the Master and you’re likely to end up in another place this year.  Yes, it might be scary at least at first, unfamiliar, and may even seem crazy, but you’ll end up in a much better place!

So why am I writing about this on a Church Development blog?  Because this applies equally well to our churches, doesn’t  it?  Reread the above but replace we and  you with our church.  Think about it!

So, don’t settle for Haran this year, leave your comfort zone and follow Christ no matter where He may lead you.  And, just as Abram was, you and your church will be truly blessed as a result!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

The power of two simple words…

Posted: January 2, 2013 by efenster in Ideas

Bearing FruitDo you want your church in 2013 to be more effective and more fruitful?  If so, consider two simple words–“so that.”  According to Lovett Weems and Tom Berlin in their book entitled, Bearing Fruit:  Ministry with Real Results, these are the two most powerful words for leadership.  Why?  Because they can help leaders and their churches make sure that what they are doing connects with their ultimate objective, their mission.  

Your church’s mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Using the words “so that” will help your church keep focused on this mission throughout 2013.  So, how’s it work?  Use them for any activity your church is either presently doing or is considering doing–such as holding a Vacation Bible school (VBS) this coming summer.  Complete the statement, “We are holding this event so that…”  “We are holding a Vacation Bible school this summer so that…”  Make sure that the end of the statement connects with your church’s mission to make disciples and transform the world.

Using “so that” helps us move beyond simply holding an event, such as a VBS, by reminding us why we are doing it.  It pushes us to make sure our reason for providing the event  will help us fulfill our mission.  It’s easy for us to quickly see that “so that” will help us question why we are doing our annual fish and tenderloin supper for the community.   But it will also cause us to realize that simply holding a worthy event, such as a VBS, is not enough.  It will help us be clear as to why we’re doing the event, and it will help us be more intentional in making sure the event’s outcomes will further our mission.

In the case of VBS, simply holding the annual event won’t be enough.  We will become very concerned about not only how children will be discipled during the week of VBS but in the weeks that follow, especially for those who come from unchurched families.  We begin to ask questions such as:  Which families are unchurched?  How do we build ongoing relationships with them?  How can we pray for them? and What’s going to be our next step after VBS ends?

So at the next meeting of your church’s leadership, challenge them to begin using these two simple words in 2013.  By using them, your church will both more effectively carry out its mission and, as a result, bear more fruit for Jesus and His Kingdom!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development