1. Shared Learning Experience


The Fruitful Congregation Journey is a team-based, leadership development discovery process to help churches to more effectively fulfill the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The process first helps develop a church’s leadership base so as to provide it with greater strength. Then the process helps a church discern what next steps it needs to take in order to be more fruitful and effective. In healthy, growing churches the process helps churches move to even greater effectiveness. In plateaued or declining churches, it helps provide them with a strategy and coach to move forward. In the process, leaders customize the directions and outcomes to fit their church’s particular ministry context. It’s not a “cookie-cutter” approach.

The Fruitful Congregation Journey consists of the following three steps:

  1. Shared Learning Experience (9 months)
    1. Laity track, called Lay Leadership Development (LLD)
    2. Pastor track, called Pastor Leadership Development (PLD)
  2. Consultation/Intervention Process (approximately 5 months)
  3. Implementation of Prescriptions (up to 18 months)

Step 1: Shared Learning Experience (PLD/LLD)

What is it? In Step 1, a church establishes a team that meets with teams from other nearby churches for eight Saturday learning sessions. This experience will help your team learn key concepts and best practices – tapping into the discoveries of other effective churches and church leaders – and then apply them in their own lives in order to develop as church leaders. As a result your church will develop a cadre of leaders to help it more effectively carry out its mission and become more fruitful.

What churches are eligible? At this time, only a limited number of churches from the Indiana Conference will be invited to participate. In 2012-2013, only fifty churches will be accepted into this process.

Where? Sessions will be held at locations throughout the state determined by the location of the participating churches. It is intended that a church will not have to travel more than an hour to attend.

The Team: A church’s team consists of its pastor and 8-15 laity. It is imperative the lead pastor and at least six laity attend all eight sessions. Pastors attend a weekday session just for pastors. Associate pastors may attend this session with the lead pastor. This session, called the Pastor Leadership Development (PLD), will be led by a trained lead pastor of a growing congregation.

The laity – which may include paid lay staff, but should include other key leaders as well – attend a Saturday session, usually the same week as the pastors’ session. These sessions, called the Lay Leadership Development (LLD), are led by laity with experience in churches that have effective ministry. Although pastors and laity meet separately, to foster open and honest sharing, both groups cover the same material.

Eight Sessions: All sessions begin at 9 am and end by 1 pm. Lunch is not a part of these sessions. Each session will consist of teaching, spiritual reflection, interaction with the ideas and concepts, and group sharing. A major focus of the Shared Learning Experience for participants is personal growth. Participants will be given time to share how their lives are being changed.

Between Sessions: Participants read a book each month pertaining to each session’s topic. Those on your church’s team (pastors and 8-15 laity) meet at least once between each session to debrief the session, discuss the readings, and to see how each person is doing at applying the concepts. Your Church Development staff will contact your pastor during the process to see how your team is doing.

Cost? The participation fee for Step 1 is $995 per church. This covers the cost of the leadership – presenters and coaches – for all eight sessions, as well as a set of nine copies of the books that will be used and the session manual. A church can pay this fee in full upon registering or can pay an initial $195 non-refundable payment and be billed for the remainder in four monthly payments of $200.

Limited space: Please note, there is only space for 50 churches to participate. To secure a spot, church’s must pay at least $195 of the registration fee. Once the 50 spots are filled, additional churches will need to wait till the 2013-2014 Shared Learning Experience. The registration deadline is May 11, 2012.

Steps 2 & 3

Once a church’s pastor and lay team complete the Shared Learning Experience (Step 1), it will be eligible for steps 2 and 3 of the Fruitful Congregation Journey. It is in these steps that the focus moves from leadership development to church development, from developing leaders in your church to developing your church as a whole – applying the concepts in Step 1 within the church and to identify the areas that need focused attention in order to move your church forward into greater effectiveness and fruitfulness. Step 2, approximately five months, will help your church assess its strengths and weakness and to identify five prescriptions to help your church to move forward. With the help of a coach, Step 3 will help your church implement the five prescriptions identified in Step 2. This typically will take up to 18 months.

How and why were we invited?

The conference Church Development staff, District Superintendents, and Bishop considered which churches would be ideal candidates and yours made the final cut. Your church and the others were selected because they are considered to be high potential churches – either already doing effective ministry or having the potential.

Topics and Tentative Book List for the Shared Learning Experience:

  • Session 1 – Introduction to the Fruitful Congregation Journey
  • Session 2 – Our World Has Changed / Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results, Lovett Weems & Tom Berlin
  • Session 3 – Aiming Real Leaders at the Mission Field / Direct Hit by Paul Borden
  • Session 4 – Personal Leadership / Taking Your Church to the Next Level, by Gary McIntosh
  • Session 5 – Focusing for Transformation / Simple Church by Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger
  • Session 6 – Focusing Outward / The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson
  • Session 7 – Preaching / Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley & Lane Jones
  • Session 8 – Real Life Evangelism / Unbinding the Gospel by Martha Grace Reese

Note: Participants are encouraged to Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase prior to the first session.


Nearly 100 Indiana United Methodist Churches have participated in Step 1. Because their experience has been so positive, FCJ has been expanded. Here are some of their testimonies:

“We have had 10 laity folks volunteer to be part of the leadership team and they have been faithfully reading the monthly books and attending the learning sessions. Wow!” - Jill Davis, lay leader at Linton UMC.

“Delphi UMC is facing an important transition in moving to our new building. Fruitful congregations came along at just the right time to expand our network of leaders, expose them to timely research, and offering new perspectives. Fruitful Congregations gave us a full head of steam as we head into our new building. The process actually lightened my load as a Senior Pastor, as our lay people knew ideas even before I would present them to the congregation. I highly recommend this program for any church that desires to take the next step in the growth of building the Kingdom”-Todd Ladd, Senior Pastor, Delphi UMC.

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Questions about Shared Learning Experience? Contact the Conference Office at 877 781-6706 or your district’s Conference Church Development staff person.

 February 23, 2012, Indiana Conference UMC.