Archive for the ‘Church Growth’ Category

Looking for just the right gift for a preacher? Consider Warren Lathem and Dan Dunn’s 2008 book, Preaching for a Response: Leading New Believers into Spiritual Maturity, published by Bristol House. preaching-for-a-response2

The authors (Lathem has served as a pastor, district superintendent, and seminary president; Dunn has been a pastor, associate pastor, and missionary) know how to declare biblical truths in ways that elicit a clear response from listeners — a skill neither learned in seminary.

From the book:

These authors have a collective 17 years of formal theological education.

Yet never in those years did anyone attempt to instruct either of us in how to preach for a response, how to give the invitation for a response, or even why we ought to find a way to invite and encourage a response….

[But r]esponse is inherent in the gospel and the gospel preacher who does night invite response is not being completely faithful to the gospel.

Other excerpts:

How many sermons are preached, how many worship services are conducted in church all across America without any thought being given to a response by the hearer? How often do preachers and worship leaders prepare a great banquet, set it before the people, entice them to this gospel feast with beautiful words and music, yet never say, “Come and get it”?…

We may delude ourselves into thinking that just because the listener recognizes the need to respond, that he or she will know how to make a proper response to the gospel.

More likely, without direction, guidance and invitation from the preacher, most will simply make no overt, conscious, intentional response, and by failing to do so will in fact reject the message they just heard….

Why do most mainline preachers fail to issue an invitation or give an opportunity for response? There are several possible reasons….

  • We do not really believe people are lost…
  • We do not believe the power of the gospel…
  • We do not know how to invite a response…
  • We would not know what do if they did respond…
  • Our order of worship does not accommodate a response…
  • We are fearful of the opinion of others…
  • We do not take preaching seriously enough….

Preaching for a Response includes advice about “what to say” and “how to say it.” The chapter “Twelve Keys to Effective Preaching” emphasizes the basic building blocks of effective speaking — such as maintaining strong eye contact, using varied pacing, employing short sentences, and ending strong.


Warren Lathem


Dan Dunn

The book also includes detailed suggestions on how to plan worship services, week after week, aimed at eliciting responses that move people toward maturity in Christ.

You can order Preaching for a Response here (Amazon) or here (Bristol House).

Read Full Post »

The following commentary is by Riley B. Case, associate executive director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Riley B. Case

Dr. Case served for many years as a pastor and district superintendent in the UMC’s North Indiana Conference (now the Indiana Conference).

He is the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon Press) and has served as a delegate to five UM General Conferences.

This opinion pieced was originally published in a slightly longer form in the Confessing Movement’s e-publication, “Happenings Around the Church.”

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

It is nice to be liked. United Methodists are well liked, at least according to a recent survey (PDF) by Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research. Sixty-two percent of Americans have a “favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of United Methodists.

This is compared with favorable opinions of  59 percent for Roman Catholics, 53 percent for Southern Baptists, 37 percent for Mormons, and 28 percent for Muslims.

New survey, but nothing new

Over the years, several surveys and studies have reported somewhat similar results. Methodism, at least for the past 100 years, has reflected American popular religious culture. Methodism gave to the country gospel hymns, Mother’s Day, chicken-and-noodle suppers, and “the right hand of fellowship” (traceable back to campmeeting days).

United Methodists are middle-class. They are common, ordinary people. They do food pantries, deliver Christmas boxes, and always cooperate in the community Good Friday services.

While some denominations are regionally concentrated, United Methodists are everywhere.

In every state, in almost every county, in almost every little community and even in the open country, there are United Methodist churches, sometimes big brick churches with steeples, sometimes little frame churches.

The teachers, the owners of small businesses, the farmers and the skilled workers are very often United Methodists. United Methodists are the backbone of the Rotary Club, the home ec club, and the Girl Scouts.

Methodists through the years have been good citizens, good neighbors, and have been optimistic about the future of the country.

So, there is no surprise that most Americans think favorably of United Methodists.

United Methodism has a well-established ‘brand’

Much is made today of “branding.” United Methodism has it. The American public’s good impressions about The United Methodist Church ought to work in our favor.

Those of us who work with evangelical renewal groups within The United Methodist Church deal continually with pastors and lay people who want to opt out of United Methodism. It is dead, liberal, hierarchical, and bureaucratic, they say. We in the renewal groups urge people to stay.

There are a number of reasons why some of the greatest opportunities for ministry are in The United Methodist Church. The UM Church has the doctrine and the polity — to say nothing of the money — to be an influence for good in the world.

Because of Methodism’s favorable impression many people seeking a new church home will give the local United Methodist Church a try. They may not stay, but at least Methodists get a chance.

When I was an active pastor doing house-to-house visitation (a lost art these days, I am sorry to say), I was always accepted — even with strangers. United Methodists just by the name have a “foot in the door”; they just need to “make the sale.”

A downside to our popularity

Christians should beware when all people speak well of them — especially in pagan territory. During its early years in England and in America, Methodism was a despised sect.

Methodists were enthusiasts (too excitable); their camp meetings were out of control; their preachers were uneducated. They sang “ditties” instead of stately hymns. They offended people by talking to them about their souls. They opposed “worldliness,” which included Sabbath breaking, dancing, card playing, gambling, alcohol, and fancy dress.

For the first 75 years of their presence in America, Methodists would never have won any popularity polls. But Methodism grew. From 1784 to 1850, a period known generally as the Second Great Awakening, Methodism grew from 3 percent of America’s religious population, to 33 percent. It was in part because Methodism during this period thought it better to be despised for the gospel than to be respectable in the world.

It is time for the church to come up with something better than “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” as its slogan.

A better approach to making disciples?

It is time to talk about informed minds and changed hearts — and the narrow doors on the path that leads to life.

The UMC’s current emphasis on vital congregations is fine, but it needs to be understood that leadership and exciting worship and other marks of vital congregations must be based on commitment to biblical doctrine and biblical moral standards.

People talk about making United Methodism a movement again, instead of a dead institution. This will require new directions.

New life in Methodism will have to come through individuals, small groups, and local churches that will affirm with conviction United Methodist doctrinal standards, traditional Christian views on morality, and John Wesley’s passion of souls.

New life will come when United Methodists talk more about Jesus (this would lower our favorable rating in a hurry) and insist of the new birth as a condition of church membership. New life will come when people witness to miracles, to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their churches, and to changed lives.

Let us pray for the day when The United Methodist Church’s brand isn’t just that we’re nice people, but that “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).

Such a message has always been “a stumbling block” to some “and folly” to others (1 Cor. 1:23), “but to [those] who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Related posts
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops

Related articles and information
UMC renewal demands vital local congregations | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (June 7, 2011)
Call to Action: Reordering the Life of the Church | Website of the UMC’s Call to Action Steering Team
The complete “Operational Assessment” report (PDF) and Appendices (PDF) | Call to Action Steering Team (June 29, 2010)
Tone deafness and the Call to Action | Rob Renfroe, Good News (September/October 2010)
United Methodist ‘Call to Action’ finds 15% of UM churches highly ‘vital’ | Mark Tooley, UMAction—IRD (July 17, 2010)
Call to Action offers signs of crisis and hope | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (July 13, 2010)
Momentum builds for major church change | Bishop John L. Hopkins, United Methodist News Service (April 12, 2010)
Call to Action seeks to increase church vitality | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (April 9, 2010)
Church leaders seek consensus on plans for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 12, 2009)
Connectional Table OKs new plan to study church | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 9, 2009)
Committee assesses life of church | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (July 22, 2009)
Bishop Palmer says church is in ‘sweet spot’ for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (May 14, 2009)
Methodism’s coming death spiral | Donald Sensing, WindsOfChange.net (Nov. 15, 2007)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)
‘Open Hearts’ slogan is marketing, not theology | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (July 12, 2007)
United Methodists poised for ‘open house,’ media campaign | United Methodist News Service (Aug. 30, 2001)

The video below was produced for the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration:

Read Full Post »

To reverse the United Methodist Church’s decades-long membership decline in the United States, local UM churches must embrace innovation and commit themselves to constant improvement, according to Adam Hamilton, leader of one of the UMC’s largest and most successful churches.

Hamilton, founder and senior pastor of  the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in Leawood, Kansas, was the lead speaker at COR’s 12th annual Leadership Institute, attended last week by nearly 2,000 pastors and leaders.

Even if local churches are willing to embrace innovative change, a net membership increase in the UMC is still likely to be at least 10 years away, Hamilton predicted, because the next decade will see heavy membership losses due to the deaths of tens of thousands of older members.

“If we act now, in 10 years we might actually see that we begin to reverse the decline,” he said during the conference’s Friday afternoon session. “In 10 years, we’ll actually start to see that we have a future with hope.”

He did not address the serious doctrinal disagreements or sharply differing approaches to social concerns that have roiled the denomination over the past four decades and have helped fuel membership decline.

Adam Hamilton illustrated the need for innovation and improvement at the local church level by looking at how computers have changed during the 20 years since Church of the Resurrection was founded.

I bought a computer for us four weeks before our first worship service. It had just come out…. It was a Macintosh Classic…. And this was the hottest computer you could buy in 1990….

And I want you to imagine if Apple Computer had said…, “We have just built the best computer that anybody could ever build.”… [Or maybe they said,] “We’ll make if faster, but we’re going to keep it [looking] just like this.”…

The Rev. Adam Hamilton

Instead, they developed laptops… that had the capacity to do things that nobody had ever dreamed of when [the Mac Classic] was built….

And [now in 2010 they’ve] invented a whole new way of doing computers…[with the release of] the iPad….

[T]hey studied how people used computers, they studied to try to understand…the needs of people, and then they formed a product….

And so [as the church,] part of this [is] in our hands. We have to be able to ask: “What needs to change [so that we can better speak to people’s needs today and connect with them]?”…

[M]ost of our churches [haven’t] had leaders who understood that and we [have] just kept doing the same thing over and over and over again. And we’re realizing that can’t work. It simply can’t work for the future.

You either…innovate, you improve, or you’re going to die. That’s a [Church of the] Resurrection classic principle we use around here….

[W]e’re not changing the gospel, we’re not changing the Scriptures. But we are changing how we talk about faith. We’re changing how we help people experience the presence of God in their lives.

Hamilton also focused on ways new communication technologies are improving the ability of local churches to connect with people — and with other churches.

The world is changing. Are you willing to shape the future by embracing technology?…

I think our future [in the United Methodist Church is] rooted and grounded in our past. When the early Methodists went to start churches across the United States, here’s what they did: they sent circuit riders out, and those circuit riders were given two books — they were given a hymnal and a book of John Wesley’s sermons.

And they would preach in a place and they would form a church, and after three weeks they would say, “Now, you’re in charge while I’m gone…. Here’s a copy of John Wesley’s sermons. And while I’m gone, why don’t you just read one sermon a Sunday when the people gather together for worship?” So the circuit rider would go start five or six or seven more churches and would circle back around 12 weeks later….

How do you think John Wesley would do this today? Would he give them a book of his sermons? No, he would say, “Why don’t you log on…online and then you can join me and I’ll look in the camera and I’ll say ‘Hey’ to all of you….”

Circuits were the groupings of churches that worked together and they shared one pastor and then they had lay leaders and they would work together for the discipleship of the people….

Is it possible that there are super circuits in the future where there are multiple churches, not bound geographic areas — they may be in different parts of the country — and they join together voluntarily and become connected to one another in these circuits?

Some of them [would] have ordained pastors who are overseeing. Some of those ordained pastors [might be] excellent preachers and some of them, maybe not so much. So sometimes they [would] use the sermons from another congregation…. Maybe some of them [would] only use the sermons from the largest church.

They [would] all share the IT resources of that [largest] congregation, and all of the churches [would] work together and bring their strengths to the table to help them all be more effective and stronger congregations….

There are 19,600 churches in the United Methodist denomination in the U.S. that have less than 60 people a Sunday in worship. Currently, most people say those churches have no future. They’re going to have to close because they can’t afford pastors, they can’t afford benefits, they can’t afford apportionments — they simply are going to die.

But what would happen if each of those was seen…as a place that could be [connected by technology]? And…it costs nothing to do it in this place. The building is already paid for. And if we get 25 people and over the next three years we can grow it to 30, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in attendance in that place in three years, as opposed to closing it down….

What could you do with this? How could you help other churches in your community? Is there a way that you could create a voluntary circuit in which you are helping support and nurture one another in being healthy, vibrant congregations?

Renewing the church is going to require all of us looking at how we do share we share the resources we have so that other might have a chance to have future with hope.

Use the audio player below to listen to Adam Hamilton discussing the need for innovation and improvement in United Methodist churches (this 12-minute excerpt has been edited for length).

The purpose of the annual Church of the Resurrection (COR) Leadership Institute, launched in 1999, is to teach “practical, translatable principles” that have helped COR grow from four people in 1990 to about 17,000 today with multiple meeting locations.

DVDs of this year’s Leadership Institute will be available through The Well, the Church of the Resurrection bookstore.

Related posts
Adam Hamilton: ‘We are in desperate need of excellent preaching’
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Podcast: Billy Abraham on connecting doctrine and evangelism
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Four things the UMC must do ‘to serve the present age’
Podcast: Dr. James Heidinger on ‘United Methodist Renewal’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’
John Ed Mathison: Six ways for a pastor to make a lasting difference
Bishop Robert Schnase on ‘The Five Practices’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The primary task of the Church’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’

Related articles and information
The church offers ‘what’s desperately needed’: A conversation with Adam Hamilton (video) | Faith & Leadership (Duke Divinity School) (March 31, 2009)
Institute gives UM churches renewed hope | Robin Russell, UM Reporter (Aug. 22, 2008)
How to grow a church: Kansas pastor offers tips at Methodist gathering | David Yonke, The (Toledo) Blade (via Google Newspapers) (June 16, 2007)
Fewer whiffs: Too many sermons are ‘swing-and-a-miss’ strike outs | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Fall 2007)
4-H sermons: Connecting with your audience | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Summer 2007)
Reaching the unchurched | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2007)
‘Should we fret the back door?’ Why the departure of church members hurts me so | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2006)
Opening closed minds | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2004)
Christmas Eve at Adam’s house: Adam Hamilton’s Church of the Resurrection enjoys the fruit of the season | Kendrick Blackwood, The Pitch (Dec. 19, 2002)
Purpose, passion drive church growth, pastor says | Michael Wacht, United Methodist News Service (Feb. 26, 2002)

Read Full Post »

Dr. Richard Hunter

This post is by Richard Hunter, senior pastor of Snellville United Methodist Church (North Georgia Conference). He holds a doctorate in parish revitalization from McCormick Theological Seminary (Chicago) and teaches on the adjunct faculty at both Asbury Theological Seminary and the Candler School of Theology. — Ed.

I want to be a part of renewing our Methodist movement for faithfulness in the 21st century.

Renewal requires facing facts — namely that reversing our downward spiral of membership losses and evangelistic ineffectiveness calls for dramatic changes and creative innovations across the church.

I suggest four areas where we need to embrace a different way of doing things:

  • We must bring an emphasis on church planting into every district and place it in the DNA of every church.

After 20 years of existence, the average United Methodist congregation brings one new believer to Christ for every 85 members (an 85-to-1 ratio)! In contrast, our new churches reach new believers at a 2-to-1 ratio. After five years, they are still reaching new people, 3-to-1.

The future of our denomination depends on starting new churches every week just as we did at the beginning of the 20th century, yet we put far more resources in serving ourselves rather than church planting.

We must welcome innovative and “out-of-the-box” church plants. To reach today’s culture, we must be starting churches in coffee houses, in warehouses, in homes and movie theaters. Not all church plants can succeed with the UM label. We need to insist on UM theology and accountability but not require these new starts to carry a label that is a huge hurdle for some people.

  • We must recognize that growing churches of the future will be multicultural.

Thirty years ago I was taught that fast-growing churches were homogeneous. Not anymore! Many thriving churches are multicultural, especially in our cities.

Most of our conferences are behind the time on this trend. We need to educate, place, and promote pastors who are bilingual and effective in developing these churches.

  • We must encourage and embrace innovative and contemporary worship.

This does not mean churches like mine should stop offering “traditional,” main-sanctuary worship services. Our traditional service is still relevant and growing. Yet the trends tell us that innovative worship is here to stay.

We must be wiling to use modern media to 1) reach the unchurched, 2) teach the Gospel to a visual culture, and 3) communicate with people through the modes of communication that they use daily. We must require our seminaries to respect this trend and teach how to be effective in using communication technology.

Virtual churches will be common in the next decade. Will the UMC be a part of this movement or leave it to non-denominational churches?

  • We must offer sound doctrine and serious discipleship.

People may choose a church based on the style of worship, the preacher, and the programs. But they stay and commit to a church that disciples them to a cause and a movement that is changing the world. Therefore, we must embrace our Methodist roots and bring scriptural holiness to every community we serve.

People are drawn to high-commitment churches. So let us clearly state the membership expectations of prayer, worship, tithing, and servant living.

Thirty years in ministry have demonstrated to me that God’s Kingdom-design for a community will be served by faithful churches and visionary leaders.

The future of our movement depends on our willingness to be committed to change and innovation regardless of the hardships. May God find many United Methodist churches that will be faithful to His call.

To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will!

—Charles Wesley

A version of this column previously appeared in the newsletter of the Wesleyan Renewal Movement.

The WRM is a group of North Georgia clergy seeking “to promote the election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences who are committed to ensuring the Book of Discipline and the election of bishops reflect [the] principles of Wesley and the Bible.”

Bishop Scott Jones (Kansas Area) is scheduled to speak at next month’s WRM annual breakfast (June 18) in Athens, Ga., concurrent with the 2010 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference.

Related posts
Podcast: Randy Maddox on Methodist ‘doctrine, spirit, discipline’
Adam Hamilton: ‘We are in desperate need of excellent preaching’
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC (address to N. Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)
John Ed Mathison: Six ways for a pastor to make a lasting difference (address to N. Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)
Bishop Robert Schnase on ‘The Five Practices’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The primary task of the Church’

Related information
Planting new congregations (PDF) | Bishop G. Lindsey Davis (chapter one of The Future of the United Methodist Church: 7 Vision Pathways — Abingdon Press, May 2010)
United Methodists seek 250 to start new churches | Jeanette Pinkston, United Methodist News Service (June 2, 2009)
UMC Path 1 (Collaborative UMC leadership for church starts in the USA)
High expectations: How to raise the bar so people will stay | Sam S. Rainer, BuildingForMinistry.com (April 6, 2009)
The Spirit and the holy life (PDF) | Bryan Stone, Quarterly Review (Summer 2001)
Richard Hunter’s blog
Sermons by Richard Hunter

Read Full Post »

At the 11th annual Leadership Institute, held last week at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, host pastor Adam Hamilton urged pastors and lay preachers to focus on improving the quality of their preaching. “We are in desperate need today of excellent preaching,” he said during the conference’s Oct. 9 morning session.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton

The Rev. Adam Hamilton

Hamilton, who founded the now-megachurch 19 years ago with only a handful of people, noted that the Methodist movement began and prospered as “a movement of preachers.”

“[People] went to the Anglican church for the sacraments on Sunday. But if [they] wanted preaching, [they] went to the Methodist ‘preaching house,'” he said. “And we had lay people and clergy — mostly lay people — who were trained to preach the gospel.”

Hamilton buttressed his point about Methodist preaching by quoting 19th-century Presbyterian revivalist, Charles Finney. Finney decried much of the preaching of his time, but had great admiration for preaching by Methodists.

It is evident that we must have more exciting preaching, to meet the character and wants of the age…. The character of the age is changed, and [most preachers] have not conformed to it, but retain the same stiff, dry, prosing style of preaching that answered half a century ago.

[But l]ook at the Methodists. Many of their ministers are unlearned, in the common sense of the term, many of them taken right from the shop or the farm, and yet they have gathered congregations, and pushed their way, and won souls everywhere. Wherever the Methodists have gone, their plain, pointed and simple, but warm and animated mode of preaching has always gathered congregations….

We must have exciting, powerful preaching, or the devil will have the people, except what the Methodists can save.

(From Finney’s 1835 Lectures on Revival of Religion,
Lecture XIV, “Methods to Promote Revivals.”)

In the past, Methodist preachers were known for “connect[ing] the gospel with daily life,” Hamilton noted. Their preaching was filled with passion, but not at the expense of intellect. “It was well-informed preaching but preaching that stirred the heart.”

leadership-institute09That same approach can work today — and it connects especially well with young adults, Hamilton said.

He mentioned an informal Facebook-based survey in which respondents ages 16-to-35 listed “preaching” as the number one reason they attend Church of the Resurrection.

“Preaching is something that can touch them and connect with them — if the preaching is thoughtful, if it’s helpful, if it’s inspiring.”

Adam Hamilton reminded his audience that the ability to excel in preaching isn’t something people are born with, but “we can learn,” he said. Hamilton called on pastors and lay preachers to work on improving their preaching by devoting sufficient time to learning, study, reflection, and prayer.

“The enemy of great preaching is busyness — when we don’t have enough time to devote to preparing a meal that’s satisfying to people,” he said. “And sometimes [the problem is that we’re not] clear what that meal might look like.”

Hamilton then laid out five goals for every sermon. “If you do these five things, the chances of somebody wanting to some back next week, the chances of somebody wanting to invite a friend, go up exponentially.”

He said an effective sermon will:

  • Inform — teach at least one thing people didn’t know before;
  • Inspire and motivate — use illustrations that move people;
  • Invite — ask for a response;
  • Be practical and relevant — relate to daily life;
  • Be biblical — reinforce that the text, not the preacher, is the authority.

Adam Hamilton again reminded his hearers that an effective sermon must be “passionate.” He quoted a ministry colleague who said, “People come to see our convictions. They come to see what we really, really believe.”

Use the audio players below to listen to excerpts from Adam Hamilton’s teaching on preaching and worship at the 2009 Leadership Institute.

Excerpt 1: ‘We are in desperate need of excellent preaching’ (5 min.)

Excerpt 2: ‘Five goals for every sermon’ (12 min.)

The annual Church of the Resurrection (COR) Leadership Institute, launched in 1999, is designed to teach “practical, translatable principles” that have helped COR grow from four people in 1990 to 16,000 today.

DVDs of this year’s general sessions are available through The Well, the Church of the Resurrection bookstore.

Related posts
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’
Podcast: Sir Alan Walker on ‘Christianity at the Crossroads’
Podcast: Dr. James Heidinger on ‘United Methodist Renewal’
For the pastor on your Christmas list: Preaching for a Response by Lathem and Dunn
Astonishing preaching

Related articles and information
The church offers ‘what’s desperately needed’: A conversation with Adam Hamilton (video) | Faith & Leadership (Duke Divinity School) (March 31, 2009)
Institute gives UM churches renewed hope | Robin Russell, UM Reporter (Aug. 22, 2008)
How to grow a church: Kansas pastor offers tips at Methodist gathering | David Yonke, The (Toledo) Blade (via Google Newspapers) (June 16, 2007)
Fewer whiffs: Too many sermons are ‘swing-and-a-miss’ strike outs | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Fall 2007)
4-H sermons: Connecting with your audience | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Summer 2007)
Reaching the unchurched | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2007)
‘Should we fret the back door?’ Why the departure of church members hurts me so | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2006)
Opening closed minds | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2004)
Large Leawood church getting even bigger | KMBC-TV (March 31, 2004)
Adam Hamilton and his bright vision for United Methodism | Kathleen K. Rutledge, Good News (July/August 2003)
Christmas Eve at Adam’s house: Adam Hamilton’s Church of the Resurrection enjoys the fruit of the season | Kendrick Blackwood, The Pitch (Dec. 19, 2002)
Purpose, passion drive church growth, pastor says | Michael Wacht, United Methodist News Service (Feb. 26, 2002)
Everyone gets ‘mugged’ at booming Kansas City church | John A. Lovelace, United Methodist News Service (April 20, 2000)

Read Full Post »

Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri Conference) has done a great service for the United Methodist Church with his book, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.

Bishop Robert Schnase (UMNS photo)

Bishop Robert Schnase (UMNS photo)

The United Methodist News Service notes that “[p]ublisher Abingdon Press has sold nearly 75,000 copies of the Five Practices book, and demand is hot for the companion leader manual and media kit and church-wide devotional book, Cultivating Fruitfulness. More than 2,000 congregations have used the material in some fashion.”

Speaking last week at the United Methodist Congress on Evangelism in Nashville, Bishop Schnase (Schnay’-zee) explained that the five practices — radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity — are “the fundamental activities by which congregations carry out their mission.”

When I talk about radical hospitality, it’s got to pervade the whole life of the congregation — every cell has to vibrate with… [an] outward focus…. Churches that practice [radical hospitality] are constantly examining every one of their ministries and saying, “How do we become more… attuned to the call of God to reach out to other people?”…

When I talk about passionate worship, I’m talking about worship that is authentic, that is true to the gospel, that is life changing. Worship that we enter into with an air of anticipation that something significant might actually happen in this time together…. I’m talking about worship that really connects people to God….

Intentional faith development has to do with all those things that a congregation offers to help people grow in faith outside of the Sunday morning service…. [This] is central to our self-understanding as United Methodists, of the sanctifying grace of God…. And churches that are vibrant, fruitful, and growing are those that provide rich opportunities constantly for people to grow and mature in the faith….

But you can’t go very far in engagement with Scripture, or learning in community, growing in Christ — this “inner holiness” — without being struck by a call of God to make a positive difference in the lives of people around you.

And that leads us to risk-taking mission and service…. [These are] the things we do out of our commitment and obedience to Christ that we would not have done  if we had never known Christ…. Risk-taking mission and service stretches us, and churches that practice risk-taking mission and service… [are] looking at the gifts and abilities of the people in their congregation and the needs of their community and the world, and they’re [asking], “Where do these intersect?”…

Now, extravagant generosity. I’ll just say it up front, what I’m talking about is teaching, preaching, and practicing the tithe, among other things — and just being unapologetic in our proclamation of that. Churches that are growing and vibrant and fruitful talk about generosity — not about the church’s need for money, but about the Christian’s need to give. They focus on generosity as an aspect of Christian character…. The practice of tithing — of putting God first in everything — starts changing how we feel and experience everything else.

Use the audio player below to listen to a 12-minute excerpt of Bishop Schnase at the 2009 Congress on Evangelism.

Bishop Schnase’s Five Practices Blog is here.

The Congress on Evangelism is presented each January by the Council on Evangelism and the General Board of Discipleship, with support from The Foundation for Evangelism.

coe09In addition to Bishop Schnase, this year’s speakers and workshop leaders included Tyrone Gordon of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, Tex. (summary of remarks); Sue Nilson Kibbey and Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio; Maxie Dunnam, chancellor of Asbury Seminary (summary); Terry Teykl of Renewal Ministries; Kent Millard of St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis; and Karen Greenwaldt of the UM General Board of Discipleship.

Dr. Billy Abraham of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University delivered the annual Denman Lectures (summary).

Video and audio recordings of the 2009 Congress on Evangelism are available from the GNTV Media Ministry.

Read Full Post »

This graph, based on research by social scientist Rodney Stark, appears in the October issue of the AFA Journal:

As you can see, United Methodists are among those who ought to “read ’em and weep.” The Methodist Church had almost 59 members per 1,000 people in the U.S. in 1960. By the turn of the century, the United Methodist Church, despite a 1968 denominational merger, had fewer than 30 members per 1,000 people in the U.S. — a 49 percent decline.

The information above is included in Rodney Stark’s latest book, What Americans Really Believe: New Findings from the Baylor Surveys of Religion, published last month by Baylor University Press. Dr. Stark is the co-director of the university’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

At a Sept. 9 media briefing, Dr. Stark discussed discoveries from the latest Baylor research, including information about “megachurches” and about “mystical experiences.”

None of the things we all believe about the megachurch is true. We think of them as these great, huge, cold religious gatherings with a symphony orchestra and a paid choir and a lot of hoopla and a lot of good tidings but no bad tidings. A great collection of a big theater audience. Wrong.

Rodney Stark

Rodney Stark

Compared to small churches, the people who go to a church of 2,000 or more have a much higher percentage of their close personal friends in their church congregation than do the people who go to churches of a hundred and two hundred.

When you stop and think about it, how did they get to the megachurch? Their friends brought them there in the first place! Because how do megachurches grow? They grow because the people who belong to them work at making them grow. The individual outreach is enormous.

And it’s not true that it’s all happy talk. These people are as interested in evil and sin…as anybody in any of the churches.

Their levels of satisfaction are high, their volunteerism in community service is very high, and their outreach efforts are absolutely phenomenal. People in the megachurches talk to strangers about their church repeatedly. [emphasis added]

During the briefing, Dr. Stark responded to a question about which of the survey’s findings surprised him most.

When we did [religious] studies back in the 60s, the director of the center I was situated in…was plugged into all kinds of American religious intellectuals…. I designed the questionnaires and he sent them out to these people to kind of vet them.

And I had written a whole section on mystical experiences. [These intellectuals] hit the roof. Martin Marty went nuts, saying: “This is offensive. There’s not one person in a thousand who could say ‘Yes’ to these questions…. It’ll turn people off so much they won’t even finish [the survey].”… And we took [the questions] out….

Well, we didn’t take them out this time… [And the results] did astound me….

“I’ve heard the voice of God speaking to me.” Twenty percent said yes. “I felt called by God to do something.” Forty-four percent, yes. “I was protected from harm by a guardian angel.” Fifty-five percent said yes…. “I have received a miraculous physical healing.” Sixteen percent [said yes]….

I was groping the dark because nobody has ever asked this stuff…. Those [responses] absolutely knocked me down. I knew there was a lot more of [this kind of thing] out there than people at the liberal seminaries believe is out there, but I didn’t believe there was this much. [emphasis added]

Thinking more about this: 1) Dr. Stark noted that “People in the megachurches talk to strangers about their church repeatedly.” I suspect this is because they have found something at the megachurch — a vital worship experience, an array of positive relationships, clarity of biblical teaching — they want others to enjoy.

In contrast, many smaller and long-established churches have become staid, dysfunctional, and muddled in theology. As a result, members who may hang on because of family ties or responsibilities of office have no particular enthusiasm for inviting others.

2) The propensity of “intellectuals” to look down on (or simply be incognizant of) mystical encounters with God is nothing new. Consider this Journal entry by John Wesley, dated August 15, 1750:

I was fully convinced of what I had long suspected,… that the grand reason why the miraculous gifts were so soon withdrawn, was not only that faith and holiness were well nigh lost; but that dry, formal, orthodox men began even then [the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D.] to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves, and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.

It is worth noting that the three fastest-growing denominations shown in the chart above are quite open to “mystical experiences,” as indeed were many of the early Methodists.

(Put this against the backdrop of related research by Russell Spittler of Vanguard University: “When the total figures are combined for classical Pentecostals along with charismatics from Anglican, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant sectors, the sum [now] exceeds the size of [non-charismatic] Protestantism as a whole.”)

Findings published in Rodney Stark’s book, What Americans Really Believe, are summarized here and here. Streaming video of the Sept. 9 media briefing is here.

Read Full Post »