Monday, August 30, 2010

A Better Script for Small Churches

I have served as pastor of small, mid-size, and large churches. And some of them grew, especially the larger ones. Large churches that grow larger are exciting to serve and provide great stories of success. But 75 percent of churches in the United States and 95 percent in some countries are small and don't grow rapidly if at all. So what do we say about them? Are these small churches the unavoidable casualties of some invisible force at work?

I have looked everywhere for better scripts for small churches. What about a small family business that has no intention of making the Fortune 500 list, but thrives on direct communication, focused product, hands-on leadership, quick adaptability, and loyal workers, while it strives toward the goal of being passed on to the next generation at about the same size?

I use the phrase "dynamic equilibrium" to describe a better script for many small churches. A church in such healthy equilibrium:

  • Is multi-generational because the faith is not just for the present generation
  • Applies the church's own metrics of vitality and faithfulness, such as its capacity to hold diverse persons in a unity of purpose
  • Cherishes its corporate story but wants to write a new chapter
  • Creatively adapts to changes in its environment rather than closing itself off from change
  • Grows in members and stewardship at a pace that offsets losses and increased demands
The drama of a small church is not the drama of growth goals hit or missed, but the drama of endurance — of keeping the faith against incredible odds over extended periods of time.

--Lewis A. Parks

Lewis A. Parks is professor of theology, ministry, and congregational development at Wesley Theological Seminary. He is currently the pastoral leader at Arnold's Church in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. This article is an excerpt from a lecture presented on the occasion of his advancement to full professor.

God Is Still In Control

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Producer
United Methodist Communications

Monday, August 23, 2010


“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the laws with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which to put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (Ephesians 2: 14-18)

Injustice causes pain, not peace

How fleeting the experience of peace in the midst of perceived and experienced injustice. The injustice of attack, or exclusion, or misrepresentation, or deception, or other forms of violence and destruction.

There is a pain that accompanies injustice that is like an untreated impacted tooth or ulcer that just sits there and hurts. Sooner or later something must be done, or a more serious condition or even death will be the outcome. In the case of a tooth or ulcer, the injury is physical. But when the pain of injustice continues unresolved, the destruction is not of the body, but of the soul. The soul of a person, or a people, or an institution.

The Christians Paul wrote about knew injustice. They lived it daily. Yet, it seems in their effort to get some relief from their shared pain, they turned against one another. They could not see how to reconcile their differences.

But Paul offered them a way. I believe he asked them to consider that God, through Christ, had done inside them and between them what they could not do for themselves.

God brings healing

I believe God, in Christ Jesus, continues to do for us and between us what we cannot do for ourselves, if we are willing to trust God to do so. There is such a thing as healthy boundaries and knowing how to take care of oneself in unhealthy situations with unhealthy or unsafe people. And there is such a thing as discerning the safe people and places where reconciliation and healing are possible.

We can become the peace

I believe we can create places of safety and of healing as we stay so grounded in the peace of God, that we become the peace, and bring the non-anxious love of God with us into all the places we go. Not so things can be quiet or stay the same. Creating places where safety and healing are possible allow changes to occur which are deep and lasting. These changes are born out of a willingness to keep moving forward for the good of the whole, for Christ, for the kingdom of God--in spite of what have been barriers in the past within us and within our community, our congregations, our conferences. May we find the capacity to risk creating safe and sacred places where God can do what we cannot do within or by ourselves. May it be so with this upcoming Conference Session.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14: 27)

May this peace be with you.
--In Christ's Spirit, Bishop Linda Lee
God Is Still In Control!
Miss Lladale Carey
Web Producer

Monday, August 16, 2010

Planting new congregations is key to U.S. evangelization

On a recent Sunday morning, my wife and I attended worship at one of the newly planted churches in the North Georgia Conference. The church met at a school in the suburbs of Atlanta.

I was overdressed in my coat and tie. When we entered the school cafeteria, converted temporarily into worship space, a young couple enthusiastically greeted us and asked if we wanted earplugs. They said the music was high energy and high volume. We declined (which we later regretted), and soon the service began.

There were more than 200 worshippers in a congregation not yet one year old. I was deeply encouraged that morning:

  • Most of the people in worship were under 40—Children and teenagers were everywhere. Young adults were leading and serving.
  • Many of the people did not look like me. The crowd was culturally and racially diverse and mingled naturally with one another.
  • The preaching was engaging, biblical, thoughtful and Wesleyan. The sermon touched my heart and my head. My heart was warmed and my mind was stretched.
  • The mission outreach of the church was highlighted. Without a building of its own, the church had already organized itself to affect and transform its community.
  • The church was a hospitable place where people could be accepted the way they were, yet challenged to change and grow spiritually.
This experience is being repeated over and over again in new United Methodist churches across America. It is exactly what the Council of Bishops intended when we began to focus on new church development.

“Creating new places for new people” became one of the Four Areas of Focus affirmed by the 2008 General Conference. Reaching out to the more than 195 million unchurched people in the U.S. must be a priority again for us. Many of us believe it is the No. 1 priority.

Path 1 is a collaboration of church planters, directors of congregational development, bishops and general agency staff that seeks to provide leadership and to develop creative partnerships across the church to develop a national plan for training and supporting new church planters.

Its goal: to recruit, train and provide resources for 1,000 new church planters to start 650 churches in partnership with U.S. annual conferences, targeting 50 percent of those churches to be racially and ethnically diverse congregations.

To achieve these goals, we must establish a culture of starting new churches to replace our current culture of maintenance and decline.

We must also invest in leadership. The most important factor in successful church planting is a leader who can mobilize people into a vital, new faith community; a person with a deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ and a passion for evangelism and able to develop a plan for the future of the new congregation.

If we depend on ordained elders alone, we will not be able to plant the number of new churches envisioned. Lay pastors and other lay leaders can also grow new churches.

To reclaim our Methodist heritage and re-evangelize the U.S., we must make a system wide commitment to planting new churches. This is our journey and God’s vision for our future.

If we follow God’s vision and adopt a new missionary spirit, the resources we need will follow.

Bishop Davis leads the Louisville Area and chairs the Path 1 Vision Pathway Team of the Council of Bishops.

--excerpt from article in UMReporter

God is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Producer
United Methodist Communications

Saturday, August 7, 2010

One of the requirements in the the final year of our ordination process is to complete an ordination project.

It needs to be something we’d be doing anyway and we’ll just need to add some layers — writing a spiritual reflection paper and preparing and giving a 15-minute multimedia presentation to the Board of Ordained Ministry, a division of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville, TN.

In that light, here’s the background I wrote for this project …

I arrived at Centre Grove in July 2008 with the initial goals of (1) getting acquainted/acclimated and (2) building a shared vision. To build a shared vision, I began leading Council on a 2-year journey through Bishop Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations in January 2009. As we finish up our engagement of the Five Practices, the next step is to rethink prayer in the life of a disciple-making/transformational church!

Here’s the purpose of this project …

The best way to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is to be a prayer-saturated church. A prayer-saturated church is mission-driven and outward-focused. My goal, as a transformational leader, is to cultivate a place where prayer informs, guides, and empowers mission and ministry!

Here’s the plan for executing this project …

  1. Deepen my own personal prayer life through greater focus on spiritual disciplines (especially prayer, Scripture reading, journaling, and fasting).
  2. Recruit prayer partners to pray for me and the mission/ministry of the church.
  3. Develop a missional prayer guide based on the Lord’s Prayer.
  4. Equip leaders to lead groups/committees in missional prayer.
  5. Engage in missional prayer in Council meetings, particularly as we discuss Risk-Taking Mission and Service and create new ways to engage our community with the good news of Jesus Christ (fall 2010).
  6. Equip people for missional prayer through preaching (fall 2010 series on the Lord’s Prayer, “What Would Jesus Pray?”) and teaching (emphasize missional prayer in new First Steps class, which grew out of our Five Practices discussion; open to all, required for membership).
  7. Provide opportunities to model and/or engage in missional prayer (e.g., make prayer during worship more missional by praying intentionally for mission and ministry, in addition to personal needs) and prayer-walking/driving in our neighborhoods.

The project involves identifying the fruit/results of the project. While shaping the culture of a church is a long term effort, there are some short-term goals I’d like to accomplish in the next few months:
  • Equip people to pray missionally (i.e., to saturate the church’s ministry in prayer).
  • Be more intentional about praying missionally in worship gatherings, ministries, and meetings.
  • Experience greater fruit from our mission/ministry.
  • See more people get involved in the mission and ministry of the church (this one may take longer to see fruit, but it’s an important, if not long term, goal).

While my time is limited, I am hoping to connect with and learn from other prayer-saturated churches (churches that saturate their mission and ministry in prayer).

I would appreciate your prayers for this effort (not just the “ordination project,” but more importantly, the initiative at Centre Grove!).

---by Randy Willis, Centre Grove UMC,
Clearfield, PA; Susquehanna Ann Conf.
God is Still in Control!
Miss Lladale Carey
Web Producer

Monday, August 2, 2010

The $100 Challenge

A young man came up to me the other day and led off with the line, “You probably don’t remember me, but…” Having worked for the national church for almost 15 years, I have met an awful lot of people, and I must confess that I don’t remember too many of them, but this young man went back even further to my days in New Jersey. He said, “We only attended your church one time when I was like fifteen, but I still remember you.” I don’t think there is anything a preacher likes hearing more than that he or she said something to a teenager 22 years ago that made a lasting impression. Most of what we say seems to be forgotten before the majority of people exit the sanctuary… Anyway, what he remembered was “the $100 challenge.”

I haven’t thought of this in years. I went to two small churches that had a terrible track record paying their apportionments. (Apportionments being the “fair share” of missional and denominational support each congregation gives through the annual conference to support the work of the church.) The combined apportionment for the two churches was no more than $8,000, but generally each congregation only paid in the hundreds. Leaders in the congregations were fuzzy about what apportionments were and did. Paying apportionments in full was one of my top priorities, but the skeptical leadership didn’t share my commitment. I remember the chair of Trustees telling me, “if you can think of some way to raise the money, we’ll gladly pay them.” I took the dare and came up with the $100 challenge.

I listed out twenty of the missions and causes supported by apportionments in our conference. I asked people for a few weeks if they would be willing to donate just one dime to each of them to see that these ministries could continue. Just $2 per week per person could support not just these twenty, but dozens others as well. I challenged every person — man, woman, and child — to commit to raise and/or give $100 over the year. I also issued the challenge to the UMW, UMYF, UMM, each of our committees, classes, study groups, etc., thinking if we could just get about half the congregation to commit, we would more than cover our apportionments. That year, we ended up paying 121% — our best giving ever.

We never had problems paying our apportionments from that day forward. It simply became part of what we did. Most people waste more than $2 per week, so for the vast majority of people it was no hardship at all. The young man who approached me told me that he never forgot the basic message: it doesn’t take a lot to do good, but it requires that many people are needed to do a little on a regular basis. In a lump sum, an apportionment might seem like a large amount, but when it is broken down to a manageable level, virtually no church can’t rise to the challenge. When we first issued the challenge, most people paid their money right away, or over a very short period of time. UMW held a fund-raiser and paid $1,000 to help cover the challenge for those in our congregation struggling financially. The UMYF had a candy sale and gave $350. Two Sunday school classes dedicated their weekly offering to apportionments once they understood the local missions they helped support. We even had nominally active members send us checks to cover “their share.”

What comes to mind with this challenge was that it was simple, fairly easy for almost everyone, optional — no one was forced to “pay up,” and it was tied into telling the story of what apportionments actually do, instead of approaching them as “church taxes” or “membership fees.” People liked paying their apportionments. People felt good about their simple gifts. People were happy to be doing good. I wonder how often we inadvertently make apportionments — and giving in general — harder than it needs to be?

People want to do good. Most people wish they could give more. It makes great sense to help people feel better about the giving they can actually do, instead of making people feel guilty for what they aren’t doing. In 1988, the per member apportionment was approximately $69. Today it is in the $85-90 range most places. The $100 challenge can still work. It still covers the membership. And almost everyone can find a way to free up a couple bucks a week for good causes. I’m talking movement here. I would love to see churches across the country struggling to meet apportionments to issue the $100 challenge. See what happens. The worst outcome is nothing changes. The best case? We fund our church at a 100% level and take pressure off the system so that we can worry less about money and get our focus back on mission. Help people do a little, and we might just change the world.

---borrowed from United Methodeviations/
Rethinking Church in the 21st Century blogsite
/posted by doroteos2

God is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Producer
United Methodist Communications