Making new disciples with a small investment

Posted: October 9, 2018 by efenster in Ideas, Stories
Tags: , , , ,

image1The following article shares how a older congregation has intentionally reached out to and is discipling new persons through an interactive worship experience…

For $3,000, Ft. Wayne Calvary UMC, prayed and started a modern Sunday 2nd worship service so that persons who didn’t have a close relationship with Jesus could get to know Him better.

In July 2017, retired Deacon, Heather Olson-Bunnell, was appointed as the church’s senior pastor. That summer she asked part-time staff, small groups and a new prayer group to pray for God’s future vision. All of the groups reached the same vision:  start a new casual worship/learning experience that would reach weekday T-ball, Girl and Boy Scouts, V.B.S., Zumba, Al-Anon, etc. families that didn’t connect with the traditional service. Chris, the part time youth director, heard God’s call. He kept praying on how to re-design a small youth service, that met at the same time as the traditional service, to meet the needs of families in their changing neighborhood.
image2.jpegMore prayer and a gifted young guitar player, David, joined a small leadership team as music director. Chris and Pastor Heather went to Single Council with a $3,000 request for God’s dream to be implemented that fall. With support of District Superintendent Dave Neckers and Church Development Associate Director Ed Fenstermacher, who helped with early planning, and continued prayers, grants were written to Indiana Conference Church Development and the North East District Church Builders. Both offered matching funds of $3,000 to Calvary’s original $3,000 investment for making new disciples. Several other donations totally $1,000 were also given.

The old fellowship hall was updated with new sound, lighting and more comfortable chairs.  These, along with round tables, helped create a coffee-house style worship space, which the church calls the “Lighthouse Center.” The lay-led leadership team, resourced by the pastor, began meeting weekly to pray and design a casual family friendly gathering space and worship themes based on video clips with shared questions around the tables as the learning format (no sermon). When the decision was made to have a weekly lunch as part of the worship experience, the UMW stepped up to offer their support and fall meal preparation. Extra food is sent home with families who have food insecurity.

The “soft opening” in early fall 2017 attracted several single-parent families as well as older adults. When parents were asked what they wanted their children to learn, the response was “basic Bible Stories and Baptism and Communion helps.” A lay person named Ginger received her Certified Lay Minister credential this year and worked with Elaine, the church’s part-time children and youth coordinator to develop a children’s ministry plan that would help children say “yes” to Jesus (and their parents to have resources to teach them).

The core base has grown through word-of-mouth.  They describe the growth as “intentionally organic.” The relaxed format makes guests feel comfortable in sharing at the tables as children and youth fully participate in prayer time and the collection of offering and attendance cards. Discussion usually continues during the meal time where persons share their lives together.

God has truly been on the move in the hearts of both the leadership team and this new Lighthouse worship/learning experience. One-half of the average 40 persons in weekly attendance are children and youth. (Previously Traditional worship only had 1-2 children and youth). This multi-generational, multi-cultural congregation has grown in faith together. The result has been 11 baptisms (7 children, 2 youth and 2 adults) in the past 6 months. Also 3 persons have joined Calvary UMC from this service and more will be joining this fall. New families are helping and providing for the Sunday meal as well as serving on Calvary’s Mission Education, UMW and Lighthouse Ministry Teams. There have also been one baptism and 4 persons join the church from the Traditional service.

An 88-year-old longtime member who died this past year left a financial gift to what he called “The New Calvary.” Four ceiling fans and a keyboard for the praise band were purchased this summer. As the Lighthouse moves into its second year, Chris, the facilitator, is now in the candidacy process for local pastor and mentoring David, the music director, to lead worship when he is on vacation. Rob was hired as lead tech to improve communication for both worship services and create a new website and church e-mail. He trains sound techs for both services.

Prayer continues to be the priority in next step planning as the Lighthouse lives into Calvary’s 3 Cs Vision Statement:

Connecting to the Community

Creating disciples of Jesus Christ

Celebrating with Worship, Prayer and Praise

The above has been shared by Rev. Heather Olson-Bunnell, senior pastor of Calvary UMC, Fort Wayne.

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