Archive for March, 2014

Connecting the dots

Posted: March 28, 2014 by efenster in Ideas
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imagesThe rural United Methodist church had seen its attendance drop from a high of 110 five years ago to around 50 today.  Even though the church is off the beaten path, it has a lot going for it.  It’s had the same pastor for over 20 years.  Its members have invested in their facility, adding a family life center not long ago.  The congregation has a good representation of all ages.  The Sunday worship service is led by an excellent praise band.  The church has a healthy family feel, attractive to those looking for a smaller church.

The church is known in its community for two primary reasons–its Vacation Bible School which attracts 35 children each summer, and monthly community dinners that attract hundreds of people.  They do food well!

“What do we need to do to grow?” the Staff-Parish Relations Committee chair asked me.  I replied, “You’re doing so much right.  All you need to do is to connect the dots.”  This church is like so many.  They have done an excellent job creating connecting points with their community, but they haven’t done so well at building relationships with those God brings to them.  They haven’t connected the points, the dots.

Doing so isn’t so difficult.  It doesn’t require adding more programs, ministries, or staff.  It doesn’t require much additional time either.  For this church, it is simply making sure that they identify those unchurch persons God is bringing them, getting their names and contact information.  This can easily happen through cards filled out for registration at VBS and for door prizes provided at each community meal.

Once it has their names and connect information, the church needs to invite them to its next special event–next month’s community meal, the mid-week kids club that’s starting at the end of summer, Trunk-or-Treat, etc.  They also assign each unchurched family to a family in the church that agrees to contact them each month, offering to pray for them.

The initial contact might sound like this, “We’re so glad you attended our dinner last Saturday.  We hope you enjoyed it.  We noticed on your door-prize card that you don’t have a church home.  Well, know that we’d love to have you visit us this Sunday.  Also, we’re a church that believes in prayer.  How can we pray for you and your family this month?”

Next month’s follow-up call might go like this, “We’ve been praying for you and your family this past month.  How are things going with the prayer concern that you shared?  How can we pray for you and your family this coming month?”  If you have another community meal or other special event invite them to join you.

If a church does these simple things, the dots will be connected and many of the unchurched people God has brought to your church will eventually consider your church as their church–even if they don’t regularly attend Sunday mornings.

So, what does your church need to do to connect the dots?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

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UM Faith SharingHow are you intentionally inviting and welcoming guests to your church?  We live at a time when fewer and fewer people are “shopping” for a church.  Rev. Jim Ozier, Church Development Officer for the North Texas Annual Conference, pointed out when he spoke at the Indiana Annual Conference in 2012, that when a church does have first-time guests, there must be a very good reason why they showed up.  Usually there is some special need in their lives that has caused them to seek a church.

I remember years ago working at an inner-city United Methodist church in Fort Wayne.  My job was to help the church  reach those outside its walls and to welcome and celebrate those who visited our worship services.

We would light a votive candle to represent each first-time, local adult guest who visited our church’s services the prior weekend.  We also would always have one unlit candle to represent the fact there were still others God was counting on us to reach.  At the beginning of each service, the worship leader would remind the congregation of the symbolism of these candles.

I remember one weekend we lit over fifty candles celebrating newcomers who attended a special Community Day we held during the prior weekend’s services.  We had encouraged our members to invite their unchurched friends to join us.  We also sent invitations and made phone calls to those who had shown an interest in our church, such as those unchurched families who attended our Vacation Bible School.  We would do three such outreach efforts a year because we found that our members were more likely to invite others if they were given a special reason.  The other two times were Christmas Eve and Easter.

Inviting is only part of our act of hospitality.  Welcoming our guests once they show up is just as important.  Jim Ozzier had a number of great things to say about this during his teaching at the 2012 Indiana Annual Conference.  Here are some of the highlights…

Churches need a cultural change when it comes to how they think of their guests.  First, they typically have more first-time guests than they realize.  And second, when a new person attends worship, does the congregation see a “guest” or a “visitor”?  It’s more than different words; it’s a different mindset.   A visitor is unexpected.  We ask, “Who are those people and what do they want?”  A guest, however, is someone you are anticipating.  You’ve prepared for their visit, and you can’t wait for them to arrive.

The stakes are sky high.  Research indicates that when people look for a church, they are likely to devote six visits to a church or churches.  If they don’t connect, they will likely be unchurched the rest of their lives.  We must not underestimate what’s at stake!

To help raise a congregation’s effectiveness, a church shouldn’t hold just a one-time hospitality seminar for a small group of official greeters.  Instead its leaders should teach on welcoming guests at least annually during the worship services.

5-10-Link Card:  Jim teaches a 5-10-Link methodology.

5 =  (TIME) The five minutes before and after worship service intentionally greet people you don’t know.

10 =  (SPACE) Greet those guests within ten feet of you.

Link = Try to link them together with persons with similar interests.

Names are the reason we hesitate to do this.  We can’t remember names.  It isn’t a sin to forget names.  The sin is letting not-remembering-names be an excuse for not making connections.  Don’t let not-remembering-names stop you from making connections.  Say, “Hi, I’m [your name].  Glad to meet you.”  If they don’t give you their name when they respond, say, “I’m so glad to see you.”  Not giving you their name is their way of saying they really aren’t ready to connect with people, so don’t pressure them.  If they do give their names, however, they are interested in making connections, so follow through.

You never need to ask, “Is this your first time here?”  or, “Golly, I can’t remember your name.”  When you can’t remember someone’s name, you just say, “Help me with your name.”  It won’t offend people, because everyone wants to help.  Typically, if we’ve forgotten a person’s name, we will try to avoid them rather than face the embarrassment.   However, we must not avoid them but to simply ask them to “Help me with your name.”  When you link two people and you’ve forgotten both their names, simply say “Have you two met?”  They’ll likely introduce themselves to each other.

I have heard it said more than once, that a newcomer to worship is not as interested in whether or not a church is friendly as much as if it is a place where they can make friends.  Helping them deepen their relationship with Christ many times begins with you helping them connect with others and to make new friends.  Doing so will increase the likelihood that they’ll continue to attend your church, and, better yet, grow in their relationship with Christ.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

“I believe we can change the world in ten years.”  This statement was made byhs_bias_timothy_04-533x800 Tim Bias, the new General Secretary (chief executive) of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church, at his installation service held in Herndon, Virginia, last week.  I was sitting in the congregation, and when he said those words, I sat up.  He had me on the edge of my seat.  You see I long to change the world too.  I’m guessing that you do as well.  In the Gospel Jesus paints a picture of a changed world and invites us to be world changers.  Could it be that God could change the world through us–in ten years?

Bias says that “we’re the instruments that God uses to redeem the world.”   Even though he acknowledges that he’s now a “church bureaucrat,” he says, “I don’t care about saving the church, but saving the world.”  Once again, I’m nodding my head vigorously.  How about you?  “If we just pray, we can change the world.”  Do you believe that?  Do you believe we can change the world in ten years?

I invite you to pray about this.  Pray for Tim Bias, our General Board of Discipleship, and the whole church.  Every second Monday of each month there are leaders throughout the Midwest who are fasting and praying for our church.  Please consider joining us.  God has been changing the world and will continue to change the world.  Let’s not miss out and be left on the sidelines…

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development