Archive for June, 2013

Radical hospitality…or not!

Posted: June 21, 2013 by efenster in Ideas, Uncategorized
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Peerless Cleaner's billboardA new billboard went up in town this week.  The business’s message says, “If we’re not near you…  Move!”   Hmmm.  I read it again.  Yes, it did say what it said!  Basically, “We’re here.  We won’t attempt to make it more convenient for you.  You (customer) have to come to us on our terms, or too bad!”

I began thinking about the messages our churches send out to the public.  I have heard numerous times churches making comments like, “Our worship times are posted on the sign outside our church and our doors are open, so if people want to come, they can come.”  Not exactly radical hospitality!

On the other hand, I was just at a United Methodist church this week, Robinson Chapel, that had a big sign out in front saying, “Soccer Families Welcome!”  The church lets the city parks department use its large grassy yard five nights a week for soccer, football and other sports for young children.  The church, led by its pastor, Rev. Jill Wright, goes one step further.  It provides free popcorn and bottled water for the hundreds who pass through each week.

Now that is radical hospitality!  What about your church?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Visiting house to house

Posted: June 14, 2013 by efenster in Ideas, Stories
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One of the historic questions of John Wesley that is asked of candidates being ordained as elders in The United Methodist Church is “Will you visit from house to house?”

Neigbhorhood shotThat’s just what I spent this past Tuesday afternoon doing.  I joined Steve Mekaru, who is one of the leaders developing a new congregation in my neighborhood.  Steve works for St. Joseph United Methodist Church, which has a dream of planting three new United Methodist churches within a ten-year period.  This suburban church has been in a relationship with a local public elementary school in urban Fort Wayne the past couple of years.  Out of its relationship with the school, the church is developing a new congregation in the school’s neighborhood.

So I joined Steve to go from house to house, praying as we walked the neighborhood.  We prayed that God’s spirit would guide our prayers, our steps, and our interactions with those we met.   We found ourselves in conversation with a family on their front porch where we learned about an unexpected death of a father in Mexico.  We enjoyed sitting in the shade of an umbrella with a neighbor, talking about the neighborhood’s children.  We prayed with an elderly woman who had just gotten out of the hospital and was likely going to have to leave her longtime home to live with family.  We talked with a tattooed biker chaplain who was being kicked out his apartment.

After each encounter, Steve would enter their names, addresses, and notes into his cell phone, so that he could keep track of his newfound friends and could guide those apart of the effort in how they could pray for each person.  And that is how we spent two hours that afternoon.  We went from street to street, porch to porch, house to house.  Led by God’s spirit.  Open to unexpected serendipities.

What about you this summer?  Bishop Michael Coyner, at our recent Annual Conference, asked our newly ordained elders if they would visit from house to house.  The elders all said that they would.  How about you?  Put on your walking shoes, get out of your office this summer, and walk your neighbor.  See who God puts in your path.  There are people who are relying on you to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ, and in some cases you’ll have to go house to house in order for them to hear.  So, what are you waiting for?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

IMAG0045Our church’s mission is to make disciples and yet most churches lack an intentional strategy.  Furthermore, those churches focused on making disciples  primarily focus on discipling those already attending the church.  They have an attraction mindset:  “We hope people will wake up on a Sunday morning and decide to attend our church services.”  The reality, however, is that fewer and fewer Americans are waking up with church on their minds.  Over the past five years the “none’s”–those claiming no religious affiliation–have increased from 15% of the American population to 20%.

So how does the church disciple the growing slice of the population pie that has no real interest in organized religion?  It is actually quite simple.  It doesn’t require our members to attend workshops on reaching the unchurched.  It doesn’t even require them to take more time out of their busy schedules.  It simply requires each member to look at their lives and how they relate to the growing number of non-religious folk all around them in a new way.

Members must begin to see the church not as that place where we go and worship, but rather, those moments when we extend God’s love and grace to the persons we are with.  We are the church 24/7 in our neighborhoods, our schools and work places, and our communities.

In addition to this new mindset, however, we also begin to intentionally relate to those non-religious persons God is bringing into our lives in those places.  We don’t connect with them by knocking on doors and asking where they will go if they die tonight, but rather we engage them in normal ways as we go about doing what we normally do.  Here’s a way in which we can intentionally do that…

  1. Do what you normally do—what you love to do—where you rub shoulders with others, in your circles of influence (e.g. walking your dog in your neighborhood)
  2. Pray that God would give you opportunities for “normal” conversations with the people you encounter
  3. Be open to responding, especially to spiritual questions or life concerns (e.g. tell them you’ll pray for them; better yet, pray for them right then and there–if that’s normal for you)
  4. Invite persons you encounter over for a meal
  5. Ask them to join you in doing an act of service for someone else or the community (e.g. joining in a neighborhood cleanup)
  6. Pray for these persons
  7. Repeat 1-6 and continue developing your relationship with a handful of persons God has connected you with
  8. Consider hosting a conversation about faith questions with them  (e.g. using Q Place questions)
  9. Invite them to join you in an activity at your church (Bible study, Sunday school class, worship, social or service activity, etc.), and share in normal ways how Jesus Christ is making a difference in your life.

Don’t view these people as “projects” but as brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow travelers.

If nine steps are too many, let’s simplify it even more…

  1. Once a month gather for a time of just having food and fun
  2. Once a month gather to serve.  Repeat.

In both cases, offer a prayer (such as over the meal) but initially keep the interaction non-religious, “normal.”  Challenge one another to invite a non-religious friend or two to join you.  And have fun!

I’ve been trying to intentionally do this this year and it’s been fascinating to see what God is doing!  Won’t you join me?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development