Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

IMG_1208This week I have been reminded that many in The United Methodist Church are pushing the envelope.   Many pastors, churches, Boards of Ordained Ministry, Bishops, and entire conferences are reacting strongly to the decisions made at the recent General Conference session in St. Louis.  There are many who are trying to push the envelope regarding the church’s position on homosexuality and the church.  At the same time, there are people pushing the envelope in other ways.  For example, I learned of laity who are publicly administering the sacrament of communion.

Years ago I was asked to fill the pulpit when my pastor was gone one Sunday, so I did.  Before the worship service I saw the communion elements on the altar and so I asked who was administering the sacraments.  The lay people in charge of worship matter-of-factly said, “You are.”  I said, “Well, who is going to bless the sacraments?”  They again replied, “You are.”  That was a problem because I’m not ordained, I’m not a licensed local pastor, I am a lay person.

So what did I do?  I blessed the elements and served communion and no one said a thing.    Ever since, I’ve scratched my head and wondered about that day I broke our church’s protocol.  You see I’m normally a rule-follower.  But in this situation I broke our United Methodist rules, and no harm seemed to come of it.

Recently I was talking with some pastors.  They were saying that if we truly want a multiplication movement to break out in our churches of Indiana, we’ll have to loosen the rules, take risks.  I asked what that would look like.  Both answered by telling stories of laity associated with their churches that served communion in public.

One of the pastors has a layman who is an employee at a Walmart.  Every week he serves communion to twenty of his fellow employees in the back room.  The other pastor has a homeless man who started a bible study in a local McDonalds.  Each week he takes a McDonald’s hamburger and breaks it saying, “Take and eat this, Christ’s body broken for you.”  What do you say to such sincere acts, both done with groups of people who would unlikely darken the doors of a church?

So what do we do with that?  To what degree do we push the envelope of our United Methodist polity?  To what degree do we unleash the laity as we send them into the fields that are ripe for harvest?  Not only are people pushing the envelope in the area of the church’s acceptance of gays and lesbians, people are also pushing the envelope in regards to our church’s polity regarding the sacraments.  Where else may the envelope be pushed as we strive to make disciples of Jesus Christ and transform the world?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

Advertisements

Saturday, February 23, 2019 (St. Louis)

headshots+2-0055Good morning Lord. Well, it’s finally here, the special 2019 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.  Hard to believe.  We knew it was coming shortly after the 2016 General Conference, and it’s been looming out there in our future ever since.  Now that future has come.  We are here, and the conference begins in only two hours.

Lord, the people I’m talking with have come with a sense of solemnity.  I think we all feel the gravity of the moment, the profound impact our decisions here will have for our church.  There isn’t the excitement that I’ve experienced at the other General Conference sessions.  There’s not the joyful coming together.  As someone said, it feels as though we’re coming to a friend’s funeral.  Lord, we all understand the seriousness of this moment. We all are desperately looking to you for guidance and direction—a way forward.  We recognized things are broken.  Our covenant together is fractured and we can’t continue on this path. Help us to find the right path. Open our eyes to the steps that we must take to be faithful and obedient to you and to help our church to be the church you’re calling it to be.  Lord, we are a broken people in need of a guide, a shepherd.  We need you.  Please come and show us the way.

Lord, today we enter into a time of prayer and fasting, an entire day.  We dedicate this day to you.  We pray for openness of our hearts and minds, that our spirits might be attuned to you.  Help us to be quiet and to listen.  Take away the fears that we’ve brought with us to St. Louis—fears of what if’s, fears of the unknown, fears of failure and potential separation.  May you pour your love out upon us in generous amounts. May your love flow deeply into us, filling every part of our beings.  May your love fill our tables, our meeting space, the city of St. Louis to the full. May it spill out to the world beyond St. Louis that is watching and listening and waiting.  May your love cast out all fears and open us to the wonderful future you’re offering us.

Lord, if we must be accept that we have irreconcilable differences regarding our views on human sexuality in the church and must separate, may we do so in love.  May we continue to be friends, brothers and sisters in you.  May we continue to work along side one another though we may be in different church families.   And, Lord, I pray especially for the people in our churches spread across this country and around the world.  I pray that you’ll rid them of any anger, help them work through their grief, and to bring them peace with the decisions that come out of this conference.  Lord, may they focus on you and the mission to which you call your church.  Reassure them that things are going to be alright, that they couldn’t be in better hands, your hands.  And I also pray, Lord, for our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters who find themselves at the center of ongoing debate that our church has been wrestling with for decades.  Lord, may they feel loved by their church.  May we not do harm to them, whatever the outcome.

Lord, again, we’re at a loss as to how to move forward.  We’ve been given some plans, some ideas.  Each one has shortcomings.  Each one will not be easy for everyone to embrace.  Lord, if there’s another plan, one which we’ve not discovered, please bring it to light during this conference.  Surprise us, Lord!  No doubt you can make a way where there seems to be no way.  May we be open to whatever that might be, and give us the courage to pursue it even though no doubt it will not be easy.  May we United Methodists be a faithful people, all for your glory!

Your servant, Ed Fenstermacher

Indiana Conference lay delegate to the 2019 General Conference of The UMC

imageHave you heard of the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica?  It was recently in the news, reported on by USA Today as well as many other media outlets.  The Thwaites Glacier—has lost an estimated 14 billion tons of ice the past three years, leaving a cavity nearly the size of Manhattan Island.  Scientists knew it was melting but they under estimated the enormity of the change.

Recently I was speaking with Rev. Ross Stackhouse, who is starting a new United Methodist faith community south of Indianapolis.  He expressed similar shock and alarm at the growing secularization of residents in his target area.  His efforts are focused on reaching the “nones” and the “dones,” those uninterested in church.  Since arriving to his mission field this past summer, he has connected with hundreds of people outside the church.  Though appreciative of his interest in them, few have shown any interest in attending his outreach events.

Just as the scientists underestimated the enormity of the loss of ice in the Thwaites Glacier, those of us in the church are underestimating the degree to which society is disengaging with organized religion.  On the surface, yes, we’re aware that the trends are in a negative direction, but we are not seeing the whole picture.  It’s much more widespread and accelerating at a faster rate than it appears.

So what do we do with this sobering news?  How about we take another look at the model Jesus gave us in Luke 10, when he sent out the 70.  This model was reclaimed by the Methodist Church in England fifteen years ago.  It’s called Fresh Expressions.  Now 20% of their churches have Fresh Expressions efforts.  Collectively they’re reaching 500,000 people each week and 75% of those reached were the “nones” and “dones”!

Just as Jesus’ model in Luke 10 didn’t require lots of money and resources neither do most Fresh Expressions efforts.  And just as the Luke 10 model simply requires two people to go out in pairs, Fresh Expressions doesn’t require more than a couple people who feel called and are willing to go out.  And finally Fresh Expressions are fun!  Jesus loved to attend parties and dinners as he related to people, and many Fresh Expressions efforts also are based on parties and dinners and living life along side those God places in your path.  They are very organic and relational.

41z0gTAFNjL._AC_US436_QL65_So let’s join Ross and begin to figure out how to reach the growing slice of the population pie that’s written off the church.  Fresh Expressions may be one model that we need to explore.  Below are ways you can do just that.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Book:   Bishop Kenneth Carter and Audrey Warren’s book entitled, Fresh Expressions:  A New Kind of Methodist Church for People Not in the Church.  It’s designed as a Bible study so form a group and read through it together.

Training Opportunities offered by the Indiana Conference this spring…

Fresh Expressions “Vision Day,” March 16, 2019, at Columbia City UMC (near Fort Wayne).  For more information and registration click here.

Fresh Expressions “Vision Day,” May 18, 2019, at St. Paul UMC in Bloomington, IN.  For more information and registration click here.

Dinner Church (a popular form of Fresh Expressions), June 1, 2019, at Lakeview Church in Indianapolis.  More information and registration will be forthcoming.

Fresh Expressions Grants offered by Church Development.  Click here for details.

 

isThe Indiana Conference has a goal that by 2020 100% of our churches and pastors will be engaged in life-giving changes for Jesus Christ in their mission fields.  This is referred to as the Conference’s “wildly important goal” or WIG.

Of course The United Methodist Church’s mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Our WIG would have us do just that, focusing our efforts, however, especially on those outside our church walls.  Did you know that, according to MissionInsite, six out of every ten Hoosiers are unchurched?  That’s nearly 4 million people!  And as you’re probably aware, a growing percentage of these people have no interest in attending church.  In order to reach them, we’ll have to take the church to them!

Fresh-Expressions-LogoSo how do we do that?  The Methodist and Anglican churches in England give us a model called “Fresh Expressions,” which has been found to be highly effective in reaching and discipling such people.  In fact, the Methodist Church in England is reaching 500,000 persons every week through Fresh Expressions of the church, and 75% of those reached are non-church going folk!  If Fresh Expressions has proven so effective in such a secular culture, just think of the potential here in Indiana.

So the Conference’s Church Development Team has entered to a partnership with Fresh Expressions U.S. and they will be working with our districts in launching Fresh Expressions training opportunities to help churches figure out how they might use this missional outreach model as they pursue the WIG. Here are upcoming training dates. Put them on your calendar and bring a team from your church with you!

Together with God, we’re going to do something incredible in Indiana. Don’t miss out.  It’s going to be awesome!  — Ed Fenstermacher, Assoc. Director of Church Development

FX Training Events in 2019

Fresh Expressions “Vision Day”–March 16, 2019, Columbia City UMC, Northeast District  (See below for registration and details.)

Fresh Expressions “Vision Day”–May 18, 2019, St. Paul UMC, Bloomington, Southeast District

Dinner Church(A popular model of Fresh Expressions)–June 1, 2019, Lakeview Church, Indianapolis

Details on the March 16th Fresh Expressions “Vision Day”

Date:  March 16, 2019

Time:  9:30am-3:30pm (Eastern Time)

Location:  Columbia City UMC, 605 Forest Parkway, Columbia City, IN  46725-1255 (Near Fort Wayne)

Description:  Fresh Expressions is a model of outreach especially for churches that are seeking to be more missional.  It is one of the most effective ways for a church to reach and disciple persons who have no interest in attending a church.  It is a model that can be initiated by as few as a single person and it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money.  It is a model that all sizes of churches can do, and in all ministry contexts.  All it requires is a bit of understanding and a heart for those outside the church that Jesus referred to as the lost.

At the Vision Day participants will discover…

  • How fresh expressions of church are renewing the church around the world
  • What it means for your church to be Mission-Shaped
  • How to intentionally engage with the community beyond your church walls
  • Tools for starting fresh expressions of church in your area

To Register:  Click Here

Sponsor:  the Northeast District and Church Development of the Indiana Conference UMC.   Workshop Leadership:  Provided by Fresh Expressions U.S.

Cost:  (includes lunch) Prior to March 11th $25 for Indiana United Methodist laity & clergy, $40 general public.  After March 10th $30 for Indiana United Methodist laity & clergy, $45 general public.

 

 

2017-0031Thanksgiving hasn’t yet arrived but it’s time to begin thinking about how your church will welcome its guests this Christmas season…

In most churches, Christmas Eve is the largest attended worship service. It has more unchurched or dechurched persons who attend that service than any other service of the year including Easter. Christmas Eve provides us with a huge opportunity to connect with these persons.

Think of yourself as a person who has been away from the church or has not been a part of a church for whatever reason. However, as Christmas Eve approaches, you feel a nudge to attend one of the Christmas Eve worship services somewhere. What are your concerns? Hesitancies? Expectations?

It is not easy for those outside the church to decide to attend a Christmas Eve service. They are concerned because they are not sure what to expect. What will the worship service be like? Will they even like it? They may be hesitant and wonder if they will feel welcomed and accepted. What will it be like to walk into a church where you may not be known by anyone? They do come with expectations. Will something happen in that service that will lift their spirits? Will something happen that will give them a nudge in a new direction?

Will your church be ready for these guests when they come Christmas Eve? Below is a checklist for you to review with your hospitality team to make sure you are ready for guests taking a risk to come to your Christmas Eve Service:

  • Will there be people in the parking lot and/or the door to warmly greet the guests? The temptation for greeters is to engage with the people they know the best and say “Hello” to the ones they do not know. Encourage your greeters to reverse that trend. Ask them to engage the people they do not know and say “hello” to others knowing they can engage the people they know later.
  • When they enter the church, will anyone beyond the greeters greet them? This is a good time to have what are often called “Connectors.” These are people who have some hospitality gifts whose task is to watch for people they do not know and engage them in conversation that begins, “Hello, my name is ___________. Have we met before? Find out something about these guests without making them feel uncomfortable. If they have children, take the family to the nursery and introduce them to the nursery worker(s). Show them the way to the sanctuary and introduce them to one of the ushers.
  • Is the responsibility of the ushers just to pass out the programs and take the offering? If so, remind them of the importance of their hospitality. They need to welcome the guests with a smile, a handshake, and welcoming words.
  • Is there an attractive “gift bag” that can be handed to them that has basic information about the church and its ministries? In the gift bag should be some information about the worship services in the new year that would entice the guest to return.
  • Has the congregation been taught to engage with people they do not know who sit within a few rows of them? It really makes a positive impression when a guest has someone setting near them who introduces themselves and welcomes them.
  • Will there be an opportunity for the guests as well as all those attending to record their attendance and provide some basic information? If we do not get some basic information, we cannot follow up after the service to invite them to return.
  • What follow-up will happen with those for whom we have received some contact information? A letter from the pastor acknowledging their attendance is always appreciated. Add them to your communication list so they can receive further information about the church and its ministries. Keep track to see if they return in the next six months.
  • Begin to pray now for those attending to have open hearts and minds. Pray for all those leading in some way in the worship service to do the best they can do in their respective areas.

With good hospitality, you have the potential to connect with guests who are not sure about the church but are willing to take the risk to attend your Christmas Eve worship service. You have the potential to connect these persons not only with you and the church but with Christ. This is the work of the church. Don’t miss this opportunity!

— Jack Hartman, Associate Director of Church Development

Note:  There is an online course from UM Communications on how to help your church become more welcoming.  Click here for details.

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.

IMG_0819Although the church is small in numbers, Faith United Methodist Church in Kendallville, Indiana, is taking big strides in building relationships with its weekday preschool students.  Through its new simple but powerful “Faith Sprouts” outreach effort, a dozen of its preschool children called “sprouts” have been matched with Faith Church members, who are called “gardeners.”

A gardener promises to make a two-year commitment doing the following:

  • Pray regularly for their sprout (student) and family
  • Bi-weekly contact their sprout’s family (in-person, writing, phone or social media)
  • Extend an invitation to church events
  • Sit with family whenever they are in the church building for a preschool or church event
  • Send notes and cards at special times (birthdays, anniversaries, school breaks, etc.)
  • Offer prayer asking, “How can I pray for you?”
  • Share in worship (30-60 seconds) about their child when s/he is “preschooler of the week” (3-4 times a year)

The church, led by Rev. Steve Bahrt, extended an invitation to its primarily older constituents to attend a Faith Sprouts training.  More potential gardeners showed up than were needed!  So twelve of them were assigned to each of the twelve preschoolers who will be returning next fall and all happen to be unchurched.

The church and gardeners then invited all of the preschoolers and their families to attend the church’s Palm Sunday worship service.  The normal attendance of around 50 people in worship tripled that Sunday!  Gardeners sat with their assigned sprouts and their families.  Since then, at least one family has returned.  In fact, the mother served as a greeter last Sunday!

The church’s ultimate objective is to introduce each family to Jesus Christ and His incredible love.  Although Faith Sprouts is only eight weeks old, it’s already changing the lives not only of the sprouts but the gardeners too!  Praise God!

So, does your church have some older members who can love on children?  If so, Faith Sprouts approach may work in your church too.  Give it a grow.  Whoops! I mean go!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development