Posts Tagged ‘small churches’

Can small rural churches really make a difference? Well, three United Methodist churches in the West District of the Indiana Conference are doing just that. Shelburn, Ebenezer, and Farmersburg UM churches are changing the lives of young people in their area through JAM, Jesus and Me. Although the churches collectively average around 100 people in weekly worship, they are reaching fifty children through their JAM ministry!

Bonnie Greene, a part-time school bus driver and one of the JAM leaders, says that the primary objective of the ministry is that every child knows God and how to pray.

Most of those being reached don’t attend traditional Sunday morning church. Bonnie says that they used to refer to the youth as unchurched until they realized that they were churched, that JAM was their church. And now she has a dream to reach their parents too.

A couple years ago, she was challenged by her church’s Conference Superintendent, Rev. John Groves, when he closed a Charge Conference with a prayer that included the phrase: “May the Holy Spirit come upon you and disturb you until you fall on your knees and He fills you with His power.”

Bonnie says that she kept thinking about that prayer, and as a result the Lord gave her a vision of reaching the JAM youth’s parents by offering them dinner at an off-site location. Bonnie says God even provided the name for it, The Table. To begin working on it, she and another person from the ministry recently attended Dinner Church training the Conference provided and are working on making that vision a reality!

So just think of how God can use your church!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

To hear more about this amazing story, watch this video of Bonnie sharing about the JAM ministry.

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AIMLogo-Impact-color-600x267Two United Methodist Conferences recently met with the Indiana Conference Church Development team to learn how to bring IMPACT to churches in the areas they serve.  Since 2016 Indiana has been using IMPACT to help revitalize and bring hope to small-membership churches, and other Conferences are noticing. Randy Anderson, Associate Director of Church Development, stated, “Small churches make up 70% of the church nationwide. Focus tends to be given to programs for medium and large churches, and the smaller churches are either overlooked or given a watered-down version of what worked at the large churches. When other Conferences hear that Indiana has created a process which entirely focuses on the revitalization of the small church, it is something they want to use.”

Since IMPACT is contextualized for small churches, it can be used in other regions and geographical areas. As other regions experience IMPACT, we pray there will be more stories of local congregations experiencing renewed hope for the mission and their vision.

To learn more about IMPACT within our Indiana Conference, visit IMPACT or visit the Church Development booth at Annual Conference for further conversation.

— Jennifer Hudson & Randy Anderson, Associate Directors of Church Development


Walnut Grove United Methodist Church is a rural congregation located in the countryside of Pike County near the White River in southern Indiana.  While its considered numerically to be a small congregation with an average Sunday worship attendance of 35-40, its members do big ministry! 

UnknownOne of their many successes is once again just around the corner.  Each year the congregation gathers the supply lists from the surrounding schools from each teacher of each grade level.  When the lists are obtained the fun begins!  The members, who have been purchasing and gathering school supplies all year begin the process of laying out the supplies in their fellowship hall.  When the big day arrives, children and their parents come to Walnut Grove UMC for a free lunch and the opportunity to fill their brand new backpacks, which the church provides, with the school supplies their new teachers suggest.  The congregation also has a “gift room” where students can pick out a gift (not school supplies) to take home.

Brenda Wick, a retired art instructor from Vincennes University, is the pastor at Walnut Grove UMC and smiles from ear to ear when speaking of this event!  Last year the church gave over 500 backpacks to students in Pike County.  Wick says the ministry has grown every year and expects the same to happen this year.  The 2018 back pack event is scheduled for Tuesday July 31st.

So what is your church planning to do for its community’s students this year?

— Rev. Randy Anderson, Associate Director of Church Development 

 

 

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

headshots+2-0052So many mis-conceptions surround the validity and value of the smaller membership churches.  Many feel that because they are small, there must be some problem or problems  that exists.  When this mentality becomes the plum line, finger pointing always seems to follow.

      “If only we had the right pastor”

      “If the big church down the street would quit attracting our members”

      “If only we had more money”

Well, you get the point!   The truth is the value and validity of any church regardless of it’s size is not based on any of the above.   Validity and value are based on the health of a congregation.

Just like our bodies, once in a while it is wise for congregations to get a check up.   I hear your next question clearly, “How in the world does a congregation get a check up”?   “How can we take the temperature of a congregation”?

Let me try to answer those questions briefly but clearly.  Congregational health is based on alignment.  Alignment of its vision with its over-arching mission.  We as United Methodists share a clearly stated and focused mission: THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH WILL MAKE DISCIPLES OF JESUS CHRIST FOR THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORLD.

This mission statement becomes the basis and focal point of our existence as a congregation, and our task is for all that we do to be aligned with our mission.

My mentor and interim Director of Church Development for the Indiana Conference, Doug Anderson states it this way, ” Communication plus collaboration brings alignment.”

Thus, because healthiness comes from alignment, communication and collaboration must become a part of our daily regimen.  When communication breaks down collaboration seldom happens.  The church looses sight of its vision because it isn’t being communicated clearly.  Collaboration between ministry areas and the congregation begins to suffer and eventually grinds to a standstill.  Ultimately the mission not only becomes out of reach but usually is forgotten or ignored.

Your Church Development team at the Indiana Conference wants to help.  We can come alongside a church with tools and procedures to help it move toward and ultimately achieve better health.

No matter what size congregation you call home, it is valuable and holds validity.  Please consider giving us the opportunity to serve with you as we together “MAKE DISCIPLES OF JESUS CHRIST FOR THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORLD.”

Because he lives…

— Randy L Anderson, Associate Director of 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

 

Close to 300 large churches in the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church have participated in the Fruitful Congregation Journey (FCJ) revitalization process.  Are you aware of a new FCJ process designed especially for small churches?

FCJ-Impact, designed for churches averaging 70 or fewer in weekly worship attendance, guides a church on how to thrive in its “tomorrows” instead of hoping to just survive them.

Eight UM churches in the Kokomo area are just completing a pilot run of FCJ-Impact.  Participant Evan Strong, pastor of Bunker Hill UMC, writes of his experience:

“This journey has blessed me. To be honest, in the beginning I was dreading giving up my Saturdays, but once we got started, I knew it was going to be worth every second. I would take this Fruitful Congregation Journey again!

“FCJ-Impact has taught me new ways to spread God’s love to people who may otherwise have never experienced it. I’ve learned to change (modify) and add to what we do and would like to do within our church without disrupting the entire congregation. I will miss our meetings, but know our church will continue to apply everything we have learned.

“As a clergy member, I see FCJ-Impact empowering for the laity. It has given my laity confidence that they can be effective ministers too.”

Although done over an 18-month period, FCJ-Impact involves nine Saturday learning sessions where teams from participating churches come together with an FCJ facilitator-coach.  Each local church is required to bring a significant number of lay people to each session– 20% of its congregation’s average worship attendance.  With such a large number of leaders from the congregation participating, the church is much more likely to apply the concepts and use the tools back home.

FCJ-Impact is beginning to expand.  Rev. Randy Anderson, Associate DS for the Southwest District, says that over 60 participants from five of his district’s churches gathered earlier this month at St. Peter’s UMC in Posey County to begin their FCJ-Impact journey.  He is anticipating another group to begin in another part of the district.

img_0519The group began their journey focusing on the alignment of vision and mission.  Participants shared their ideas and experiences, and then prepared a ministry action plan to work on in their local settings over the next two months.

Rev. Jeff Newton of Kokomo reflecting on his experience participating in the pilot group of churches said:  “This experience has transformed the five churches I lead. We have new direction, vision, and most of all HOPE!”  Praise God!

For more information about FCJ-Impact visit Church Development’s website.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development