Posts Tagged ‘discipleship’

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

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Fresh-Expressions-LogoNearly four million people in the State of Indiana have no affiliation with any organized religion according to MissionInsite.org.  Think about it.  That’s more than every other household!  They are our neighbors, co-workers, fellow students and teammates, the people in the checkout lanes and doctors’ offices.  When Jesus said, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest (John 4:35),” he was talking about Indiana in 2018!  So how do we reach them?  It will likely require “fresh expressions” of the church.

41z0gTAFNjL._AC_US436_QL65_A model of missional outreach called Fresh Expressions was developed in the mid 1990’s by the Church of England and the Methodist Church of England.  And this model has developed into a movement that now is in America.  In the book Fresh Expressions, United Methodist authors, Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., and Audrey Warren, define the Fresh Expressions movement as “a bold attempt to plant the gospel organically in the networks inhabited by the unchurched and dechurched, the ‘nones,’ and the ‘dones,’ and the ‘spiritual but not religious.'”

The model is based on Christians using their natural circles of influence, which the book refers to as “networks,” and places where people naturally hang out, called “third places,” and to intentionally develop relationships using these that ultimately lead to disciple making opportunities through community.

The Indiana Conference’s Church Development team recently co-sponsored a Fresh Expressions workshop with the North District.  At that event, which attracted over 50 people, participants heard two examples of Fresh Expressions-like outreach efforts.  One was a layman who developed a running group that eventually helped start Wakarusa UMC’s contemporary service.  The other was of how two laywomen used their love of clowning and magic to connect with children.  That ministry has blossomed into a weekly, year round ministry of Lagrange UMC that offers children and their parents the love of Christ in a rural mobile home community.

Unknown-2On Sunday, March 11, from 4pm-7pm (Eastern Time), at Mt. Comfort UMC (just east of Indianapolis), Church Development will be offering a special Fresh Expressions workshop featuring Rev. Barry Sloan.  Barry is a Methodist pastor from Northern Ireland who is serving as Director of Evangelism for the German United Methodist Church.  He and his wife, Gillian, have helped launch a fresh expression of the church called “Inspire” in Chemnitz, Germany.  The evening will include a dinner and workshop on how you can start a Fresh Expressions ministry in your church’s community.  To register go to Fresh Expressions:  A Model for Missional Outreach.  March 4th is the registration deadline.

Finally, Church Development is offering a new grant to Indiana UMCs for up to $1,000 to help them start a Fresh Expressions effort.  These grants are limited in number and only those churches who have had persons attend a Fresh Expressions workshop are eligible to apply.  For more information about the workshops or grants, just contact one of the Church Development’s multiplication team–Emily Reece, Sergio Reyes, or myself.

It is highly unlikely that we will reach the growing slice of the population pie that is not interested in the institutional church by simply doing what we’ve done in the past.  It will  most likely require us to launch Fresh Expressions of the church.  Jesus said that we need to put new wine in new wineskins.  Fresh Expressions may be the new wineskins we need to use in order to accomplish our mission in today’s world.  So let’s go for it!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

18010760_1380122238677676_4717157016528137471_nHave you ever looked at a problem and upon looking at it from a different perspective, and being open to God, something beautiful results?  That’s what happened at a small United Methodist church in Scipio, Indiana, a tiny community between Columbus and North Vernon.  Pastor Dereck Fields’s wife, Angela, was looking out her kitchen window at the church’s garage.  A large tree had fallen on it and it was beyond repair.

At that moment she had a thought, what if rather than replacing the structure, the church built a larger structure designed for ministry.  What if rather than a structure used for storage, the church built one used for connecting and growing people in relationship with Jesus Christ.

And that is exactly what the church has decided to do.  This spring the church has been constructing a shelter house on its property near busy Highway 7.  And on June first, after much prayer and planning, the church is launching a new Thursday night worship service designed to reach those who aren’t connected with a church.  The hope is that using a shelter-house setting, rather than a traditional sanctuary, and using food, bands, and speakers on various practical life issues, the church will be able to provide people in its area with a Christ-centered community and connect them to Christ.

The church recently was awarded a $25,000 Church Development grant to help launch this project, the cost of which is estimated at over $85,000 for the next four years.  In its grant application, Rev. Dereck Fields wrote:  “In 1 Corinthians 9:19 the Apostle Paul reminds us, ‘Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people.’  In the spirit of these words, we have decided to put together a worship service designed to better meet the needs of our community.”

The Indiana Conference’s Church Development Committee jumped at the opportunity to partner with this congregation because it already had a track record of intentional outreach to its community.  Its annual Easter Egg Hunt attracts 150-200 each 17990579_1377429712280262_6606864339592548734_oyear, its annual Halloween Trick-or-Treating 200-300 people, its annual Vacation Bible School 75-120, its weekly Mommy & Me Class 15-30 people, its monthly Thursday meal for the community 150-200 people, and the list goes on!  The town of Scipio, incidentally only has 124 people!

These outreach efforts are viewed by the church as ways to begin developing relationships with people in need of God’s love and good news.  As a result, lives have been changed, and the church’s worship attendance has doubled in size to around 60.

So, what problem are you facing?  Could it be that God has a plan to take the brokenness resulting from the problem and do something incredibly beautiful through it?  God, through Scipio UMC, has demonstrated just that!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

 

UM Faith SharingHow do you describe the process of growing in Christ?  Discipleship?  Today fewer are using this term according to a recent study by the Barna Research Group.  What are people using instead?

  • “becoming more Christ-like”  43%
  • “spiritual growth”  31%
  • “spiritual journey”  28%

Fewer than one in five Christians preferred the term “discipleship.”  Interestingly enough, those who are more active Christians prefer “becoming more Christ-like,” while less active Christians prefer “spiritual journey.”  Only one in four who were polled find the word “discipleship” still relevant.  It isn’t that what it represents isn’t important to them, it’s just the terminology isn’t meaningful.

So, why is any of this important?  Well, we United Methodists frequently refer to Jesus’ Great Commission:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”  (Matthew 28:19).  Why?  Because it is at the core of the UMC’s mission statement:  “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Our denomination even has an agency that’s officially called the General Board of Discipleship, also known as Discipleship Resources.

Furthermore, the Indiana Conference’s Fruitful Congregation Journey, which has involved over 260 UM churches, challenges churches to clarify their “discipleship” pathways, that is the system they use to help people take their next step on their faith journeys.  The Barna study suggests that many in our churches prefer using different language.  What about yours?

My contention is that no matter what language your church may use, the important thing is that it is talking about disciple making, that it’s intentionally focused on helping its members live out the Great Commission.  So how are you and your church doing?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

 

Halloween-CandyWaynedale United Methodist Church held its Trunk or Treat this fall and attracted 200 people from the community.  Not only did the church give away candy, but it also offered people the opportunity to submit prayer requests.  Twenty individuals took advantage of this opportunity and two asked for a follow-up contact from the pastor.  All were persons from outside the Waynedale Church.

Why did the church decide to incorporate prayer into this annual fall event?  According to its pastor, Rev. Ted Jansen, it was the result of asking the simple question, “Why are we doing this?”  Or in this case, “Why are we doing the Trunk or Treat?”  Asking such a question leads to important reflection.  It can help a church more intentionally “connect the dots” between an activity and the church’s ultimate purpose of making disciples of Christ and changing lives.

This Advent Season how are you making sure all your church’s activities relate to the church’s mission?  And what are the “bridge” events that you are offering that can help you develop deeper relationships with those God is calling you to reach?  Some churches follow up their Trunk or Treat with a Thanksgiving community meal, or Christmas with Santa, or a special one-day Vacation Bible School during Christmas break.  Offering such bridge events, provides a church the means to develop deeper relationships with those reached, relationships that ultimately can lead to a deepening relationship with with Jesus Christ.

—  Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of 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

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 4.31.57 PM“Take my grandchildren to Sunday school.”  These were the final words I was to hear from my neighbor who died of brain cancer in 2014.  How could I do that?  They lived in Japan at the time.  Their parents, as far as I knew, weren’t into church either.  This didn’t let me off the hook because a year ago the family moved from Japan into my neighbor’s home, and now her grandchildren are right across our driveway.  I see them nearly every day.  And I’ve discovered that Sunday school can happen more than just on Sundays and more than just at my church.  Right now it’s highly unlikely they would go to my church, but guess what, God brought the church to them through me and my wife.

Even though I’m committed to our United Methodist Church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, I don’t always do a good job.  I many times get so involved inside my church, doing church stuff with church folk, that disciple making outside rarely happens in an intentional way.  I don’t know about you, but I need help.

That’s why I’m excited about the launch of regional Missional Peer Learning Groups.  These are designed to help persons like me, and church leaders and teams, with ideas, encouragement, accountability and prayer as we make all make disciples where God places us.  I encourage you to consider trying out one of these groups.  Just contact the person below and they’ll help you get connected.  Or feel free to contact me.

  • Dyer (near Chicago) – Jim Clark  (james.clark@inumc.org)
  • Fort Wayne – Steve Mekaru  (kristoshandsandfeet@gmail.com)
  • Centerville (near Richmond) – Jason  Morris (jason.morris@inumc.org)
  • Brazil – Rick Koch (rick.koch@inumc.org)
  • Indianapolis – Mike Mather (mike.mather@inumc.org)
  • Pfrimmer’s Chapel (near Corydon) – Tim Johnson  (tim.johnson@inumc.org)

Together we’re stronger!  God is doing a new thing.  Let’s not miss out!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development