Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

unknownDoes your church struggle with reaching the younger generation?  Has it given up on them?  It seems an ever-increasing number of reports indicate that this generation isn’t interested in our churches, so the idea of giving up has no doubt crossed the minds of some in the church.   But wait, not so fast, there’s hope!  With God there’s always hope!

I recently attended Church of the Resurrection‘s Leadership Institute in Leawood, Kansas, and had the opportunity to hear Haydn Shaw, who is a leading expert on generations and has written the book entitled, Generational I.Q.:  Christianity Isn’t Dying, Millennials Aren’t the Problem, and the Future Is Bright.  Shaw said that much of the dire statistics related to the younger generation are overstating and misconstruing what is really happening in our culture.  Church participation and the religious beliefs of the younger generation haven’t changed all that much over the years.  However, the god they believe in looks less and less like that of orthodox Christianity.  And that is a problem.

He said that the best way to reach those of the younger generation is through the Boomers.  They have the opportunity to connect well with that generation.  Studies show that seven out of ten young people will drop out of church.  However, if an adult sends a young adult that they know in their church a text twice a month, there’s a 60% likelihood that they’ll never leave!  Wow!  So let’s start texting today!

He also said that a study done by researcher Christian Smith (Oxford University Press) indicates that the best way to strengthen the institutional church is babies!  Young people having babies makes them more likely to regularly participate in church.  So there you go!  Text your young people and encourage them to have babies!

P.S. Not for the sake of saving our churches, but rather saving and growing our young people as Christ’s disciples!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

 

ncj20161-300x176It’s the second Monday of the month.  That means it’s a special day of prayer and fasting for those of us on the North Central Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee.  The committee goes into action this week as delegates to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in Peoria, IL, elect four new bishops.  Following the last election, the Episcopacy Committee will assign all nine NCJ bishops–including the four newly elected ones–to the nine Episcopal Areas in the NCJ (Midwest).  As Bishop Mike Coyner is retiring, the Indiana Conference will be receiving a new bishop, something that has happened only once in the last 24 years!

So, I invite you, on my day of prayer and fasting, to join me this week in praying for the Jurisdictional Conference, not only ours in the Midwest, but the other four in the U.S., which will be meeting at the same time.  Together we’ll be electing a number of new United Methodist bishops.  Pray for the candidates.  Pray for us delegates who will be discerning which candidates to elect.  Pray for the twenty-two of us on the Episcopacy Committee who will be determining where to assign the nine NCJ bishops.  Pray, above all, that the Holy Spirit guides the entire process and that God’s will is done.

Prayer makes such a huge difference!  I had a greater sense of prayer support at the recent General Conference in Portland than any of the previous General Conferences I’ve attended.  I sensed God’s spirit on the floor of the conference.  And I believe we experienced a Kairos moment when we adopted the bishop’s proposal to create a commission to bring a plan dealing with human sexuality issues.  Never before had General Conference delegates asked the bishops to lead in this way.  I believe God’s movement in Portland among those of us there was a result of the prayers of many, many people and churches around the world.  If you were one of them, thank you so much!

With the election and assignment of bishops, the Jurisdictional Conference, I believe, will likely impact your church and mine, and our conference, more than any action taken at General Conference.  So don’t stop praying.  This week let’s lift our church and this special process to God and may the results be a real blessing to our churches, conference, and the world!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Ed 09I encourage you to read an article in the Washington Post by  Rev. Tom Berlin, pastor of Floris UMC.  It pretty accurately describes where the UMC is on the whole human sexuality debate as a result of our General Conference action this week.  It’s been a tough, sometimes painful week, but I think most of us delegates believe that God’s spirit broke through in an unexpected way and that we have found a way forward even though the future of the UMC isn’t clear.
I believe this is due to the prayers many of you, along with thousands around the world, as we gathered in Portland.  This is the fifth General Conference I have attended and I don’t recall such a sense of the spirit and good will among delegates, even though we may strongly disagree on the issues of sexuality.  Don’t get me wrong, it certainly was not all bliss.  There were some very low moments where delegates were down right hurtful.  But for the most part I sense there was a more positive spirit.  Again, I attribute this to the spirit of Christ and the prayers of many, many people and churches.  I am deeply grateful to those of you who prayed and thank you for being with us delegates on the journey!
— Ed  Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Upward arrow“We’re concerned about quality not quantity.”  “We don’t play the numbers game.”  “We need to focus on growing our people before we focus on reaching those outside our church.”  We have all heard such comments, haven’t we?  Perhaps we’ve made them ourselves at times.

Whether we’re looking at our Sunday school attendance, worship attendance, or, in my case, conference statistics, when the numbers are declining it’s easy to for us to rationalize and dismiss such trends.  Yet, Lovett H. Weems, Jr., in his recent article, “Changing Congregational Trends,” points out that there is a direct correlation between churches that are growing and their level of spiritual vitality.  In other words, if our trends are declining, that may well point to the fact we have a spiritual problem.

Most of our Indiana United Methodist congregations have been experiencing a decline in worship attendance.  Only 26% grew by at least an average of one worshiper from 2013 to 2014!  No doubt this decline reflects our society’s changing behaviors, such as people attending worship less frequently than in the past.  Yet, at the core, in many cases, it reflects the lack of spiritual vitality.  Many of our churches are like the church in Ephesus, described in the Book of Revelation as having forsaken its “first love.”

In working with over two hundred of our congregations through the Fruitful Congregation Journey process, the Church Development team has discovered that most of our churches lack a clear vision and disciple-making process.  But even more significant, they lack members with hearts that are totally in love with Jesus and are fully committed to serving him above all else.

So should we be concerned about our church’s growth trend?  The study cited by Weems suggests yes, we should because it’s a reflection of our spiritual vitality, our heart.  So, what about your church’s trend?  Does it reflect hearts fully in love with Christ, or is there spiritual work that needs to be done?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

UnknownAndy Stanley created quite a stir last week when he said in a sermon that people who prefer attending smaller churches are selfish.  He later acknowledged that such a blanket statement was inappropriate saying, “Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.”

His point, however, was that larger churches are more likely to offer solid children and youth programs, allowing the young people to connect with others their ages.  Thus, they’re less likely than young people attending smaller churches to turn their backs on church participation in the future.

Can it be, however, that smaller churches actually have advantages over larger churches when it comes to discipling young people?  Could it be that, although few in number, young people in smaller churches receive more attention and individual “loving on” by their church members?  When they’re absent, folk notice.  When they have a special accomplishment at school, church members celebrate.  When they sense a call to ministry, the whole church rises up to encourage and support them.

Certainly not all smaller churches treat their young people this way.  Nor do all larger churches fail to treat their young people in this way.  But there may truly be some significant advantages for a young person to grow up in a smaller church too.

What’s your experience been?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

Time for spring cleaning?

Posted: February 29, 2016 by efenster in Ideas
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DSC_CrocusCall it spring cleaning.  I just threw out nearly two file drawers of Church Development files.  Why did it take me ten years to do this?  Unlike my wife, I’m a thrower.  So, why would a “thrower” cling to over ten years of paper files in an electronic age?  Perhaps I’m sentimental.  To read meeting minutes, consultation studies, and workshop notes dealing with ministries that I was personally involved in makes it hard to toss them into the recycling bin.

The Redevelopment Venture Process, a forerunner of the Fruitful Congregation Journey church revitalization process, and Sending of the Saints, which preceded the more recent One Hundred Points of Light outreach effort, involved significant effort and countless hours, involving friends and colleagues in ministry.  The files were the last reminders of those days.  And now they’re gone.

Is your church a saver or a thrower?  Is it time for you and your church to do some spring cleaning too?  What is it that you’re clinging to that has served its purpose and is no longer relevant, but because it’s familiar and there’s emotional attachment, you’re still holding on to it?  Jesus said that we need to put new wine into new wineskins.  For the sake of Jesus’ call and the church’s mission, may we have the courage and gumption to let go of our old wineskins and embrace the new.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

 

More than just names…

Posted: February 5, 2016 by efenster in Ideas
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36449_10150216514260268_5853402_nTim and Tera.  Two people who became more than just names for me this morning.

The past thirteen years I’ve volunteered for a Fort Wayne ministry called Inasmuch, that serves our city’s poor.  After sitting with countless numbers of people over the years, hearing their stories, and praying with them, it would be easy to become cynical, hard-hearted, and judgmental.  But for me, each person has a name, they have a unique story, and this helps me to treat each one as special, precious children of God.

So this morning Tim and Tera became more than just another couple poor persons needing help, they became real people struggling with the challenges of life.  Tim lives in a tent down by a nearby river.  He’s homeless.  It was 20 degrees this morning and he likely spent the night outside.  Tera is a young single mom who’s expecting her second child this summer.  She is looking for a job and needed help with her past due rent.

I don’t know how they ended up in the situations that they’re in.  And I don’t have any easy answers or quick solutions to give them.  Even if Tim and Tera get on their feet and become financially self sufficient, they’ll be other people with different names who will find themselves struggling with the challenges of life too.

Yet, the encounters that we have with people facing challenges offer us a chance to remind them, as well as ourselves, that we have a loving creator who knows our names, that we worship a God of second chances.  And as a result, we all can be people who are a little more hopeful and encouraged.  For we each have a name and a story and are special in God’s eyes, all of us including Tim and Tera.  Knowing that, no doubt, will help us as we face new challenges yet to come.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development