Archive for November, 2015

UnknownWhy has McNatt United Methodist Church in rural northeast Indiana nearly tripled in size the past two years?  It still has the same part-time pastor, Rev. Bill Van Haften, who’s served the church the past 18 years.  It still is located on the same county road, far from any town.  It still has the same organist and pianist (who’s 85 years old!).  So what happened?  Why is it attracting lots of new people, including families with young children?

Pastor Van Haften says a great deal has to do with the church’s focus.  It is pretty much focused on prayer and serving others, including folk outside the church, and not much else.  This focus on prayer is central to the church.  In fact, the church’s Pastor-Parish Relations Committee leads in this area.  It meets twice a month to pray!  Prayer is central to the Sunday morning worship service.  When someone is in the hospital, the congregation holds their hands toward the direction of the hospital and prays for that person.  And, they always want to know the results!

A retired pastor, Rev. Fred Kellogg, began praying for the church to experience revival twelve years ago.  Pastor Van Haften says that it’s happening.  The church now has a dozen or so who help preach, each time a new ministry is started it explodes with growth, they’ve just hired a young member to serve as youth director, and attendance has risen from 40 to 110 each Sunday.  The pastor says he’s never seen a church so much of one mind–on praying and serving and worshiping God.

Does your church have a clear focus?  Is prayer a part of it?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development





flameEd Stetzer recently wrote a fascinating article in USA Today, about how Americans are becoming even more divided in their faith.  According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, which was just released,  a growing portion of Americans are less religious, while Christians in the U.S. are becoming stronger in the practice of their faith.  There are fewer nominal Christians–you know, those who only show up to church on  Christmas and Easter–but, those who do show up are more committed.

So how are United Methodist’s faith practices doing?  Using the Pew Research Center’s study, Cynthia Astle, in a Nov. 5th “United Methodist Insite” article, shares some very sobering results.  In fact, she writes:

“Methodism’s founder John Wesley would be downright dismayed, if not completely discouraged, by the Religious Landscape Study’s results on the faith practices of American United Methodists. It’s hard for spiritual leaders to understand how 62 percent of respondents could claim feeling “spiritual peace and wellbeing” at least once a week when so few report regular participation in worship, prayer groups or religious study.”  The report indicates the following:

  • 44% of UM’s attend worship weekly, 39% attend once or twice a month or less
  • 62% say they prayer daily, 21% pray weekly
  • 25% attend a small group weekly, 11% monthly

The Indiana Conference’s bishop, Bishop Michael Coyner, asks the question in a recent article, “Are you a functional atheist?”  His point isn’t that most of us United Methodist’s are atheists, but that we behave as though everything is up to us, that too often we don’t rely on God.

No doubt if we United Methodists are to fulfill our mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world, our hearts will need to be on fire for Christ and we’ll need to be committed to a relationship with Christ that is vibrant and growing.  The bottom line:  the above stats will need to change!  It’s not a technical issue–better pastors, better worship, better ministries, better outreach (although such aspirations are sometimes needed)–but a heart issue.

So how are we and our churches doing at changing our own members’ hearts?  Maybe that’s were we need to start.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development


East Chicago Strong Tower-141227aWhen looking for a cross cultural mission opportunity, the teens of Delphi UMC discovered that they did not have to travel far in order to have a meaningful experience.

Though few realized that East Chicago is indeed a part of Indiana, this cityscape and culture proved to be much different from the Indiana they know. The group, led by Micah Hudson, was excited to enter Torre Fuerte, and was warmly welcomed by Pastors Esequiel and Suri Becerra along with many others from the congregation. On Sunday both groups enjoyed the holy moment of sharing in worship together. Though the music began in Spanish, the group from Delphi quickly realized they knew the tune and could sing along in the English version of the worship chorus. Then Pastor Esequiel was kind to lead a bilingual service and expressed his appreciation for the group’s presence. Following the service, the kindness of this Hispanic church plant extended as they provided an authentic lunch for the teens of Delphi.

After lunch the teens were ready to begin the work they had come to do. The Delphi teens wanted to invest in the teens of Torre Fuerte. They did this by raising money to purchase the materials for the drop ceiling in the youth chapel and by installing it themselves. This building experience turned out to be as foreign as the encounter itself, but with some great instruction and lots of ladders, the group was soon hammering, wiring and placing tiles until they looked back at the completed project.

In the meantime, there was another delicious meal shared together, many dodge ball games between the teens of both churches, and personal stories shared amongst all of these new friends. The Delphi UMC teens were blessed to find this meaningful cross cultural experience so close to home and will long remember the passion and kindness of Pastors Esequiel and Suri and the people of Torre Fuerte.

Submitted by Jen Hudson, member of Delphi UMC
Post script…
The teens had such an amazing time there.  I got to go along as well and it was such a privilege to talk to the pastors and get a sense of their heart and passion.  Our group has promised to return by spring and put in the floor for their youth chapel as well.  Another awesome thing that came out of it is that pastor Esequiel was so excited about what we were doing that he mentioned he would like for our two groups to partner for a mission trip together in the future.
It was really a blessing for all of us! — Jen