Hirsch addresses clergy and lay leaders from across Indiana at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.

Question: What could entice a large group of Methodists to trade a Saturday during the most hectic part of the Christmas shopping season for an all day workshop? Answer: The opportunity to recapture the “movemental” spirit of their congregations and conference. More than 230 people from across the Indiana Conference gathered at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church Saturday, December 6, 2014, to hear noted missiologist Alan Hirsch speak about “Putting the Movement back into Methodism in Indiana.” This event was part of a plan by the Indiana Conference Church Development team’s desire to launch new initiatives to recapture the missional essence of the local church. The audience was an assembly of laity and clergy from dozens of congregations, each hoping to discover new paradigms that offer keys to spiritual vitality and faithful witness in the 21st century.

Alan Hirsch describes himself as a “future traveler.” Hirsch explains, “I have worked as missionary and denominational executive in Australia, experienced the collapse of Christendom first hand and I have a clear picture of what your future looks like.” According to Hirsch, the systems built to support Christendom have already imploded in Europe and most of the West. He states, “I believe we have approximately forty years before we hit the wall in America.”

Hirsch spent much of the afternoon mapping out processes that he believes can help the church recapture its true nature as an organism that is “movemental,” a term he himself coined. At the center of these maps is a need to refocus on Jesus as the heart of the Christian faith. “‘Jesus is Lord’ has been the slogan and rallying cry for all successful Christian movements in the past and we need to build around that as the essential truth of the Gospel.”

The speaker also spoke of five additional elements that are the essentials in a rebirth of Christianity as movement. Those elements are: a focus on discipleship, a missional-incarnational impulse, organic organization, communitas over community and recapturing the five-fold leadership gifts of the church found in Ephesians, chapter four, described as APEST. Hirsch chided the audience for devaluing the gifts of apostle, prophet and evangelist from Ephesians four, stating that “your systems tend to remove the APE from the equation, leaving shepherd/teachers to guide the church, but all five of these gifts are necessary for the church to reach maturity.

One of the strongest refrains of the day was the need for corporate repentance. Hirsch spoke very candidly about statistical evidence that shows that the Methodist movement reached its apex in the 1850’s and has been in decline ever since. “Decisions have been made in the past that have pulled the focus away from discipleship and disempowered the ministry of the laity,” Hirsch exclaimed. “You don’t have to continue to follow those decisions, you can repent. In fact, those in the future could very well look back to this day as a time when decisions were made that reshaped the destiny of things to come.”

This event will be followed by another of a similar nature Saturday, February 21, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Eastern Time), at St. Joseph United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne. Leaders from St. Joseph will share some concrete steps that reflect Hirsch’s ideas, including the following:

  • Using “prayer walking” as a way to discover the most fertile ground for evangelism and a way to build relationships
  • Using “positive loitering” events (spontaneous parties thrown within specific target neighborhoods) to connect with neighbors and build relationships
  • Partnering with other community organizations instead of competing with them (e.g. the public schools, Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Club, food banks, etc.)
  • Developing small disciplining groups organically

You’ll hear how this United Methodist church--that primarily does attractional programs, ministries and worship--has been able to become more missional, through relational evangelism.

The intention is that this event will be followed with another learning opportunity. Church Development hopes, as a result, to develop a network of Indiana United Methodist churches that are focused on missional outreach to their communities that result in disciples that make disciples. The hope is to help create a movement. Plan to be a part of it and let’s change the world!

For more information, please contact the church development staff person assigned to your respective district.

Steve Clouse serves as the Senior Associate Director of Church Development Director of the Indiana Conference.