Schnase to teach at Annual Conference

When Bishop Robert Schnase began thinking about writing a book on congregational effectiveness and excellence, he focused on finding the right word to describe the practical and theological nature of a successful congregation.

Schnase’s research and testing led him to select “fruitful.” Now, the principles of his work, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, are bearing fruit in the United States and around the world.

Publisher Abingdon Press has sold more than 110,000 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.” Thousands of congregations have used the material in some fashion. Schnase’s “Five Practices” blog at has become a must-read for pastors and church leaders interested in congregational effectiveness. He is sought after as a speaker and workshop leader.

“I believe it is important to find common language where pastors and laypersons can easily understand each other,” said Schnase, bishop of the Missouri Area of The United Methodist Church. “We need a word that captures the essence of the Great Commission and the teachings of early Christians. To me, ‘fruitful’ is that word. ‘Fruitful’ is a word that shows action. It stretches us. And as a church, we are called to act and to stretch ourselves.”

The practices at the core of Schnase’s work are:

  • Radical hospitality;
  • Passionate worship;
  • Intentional faith development;
  • Risk-taking mission and service; and
  • Extravagant generosity.

Each of the practices, Schnase said, is designed to stretch everyone’s imagination and focus them on ministry in Jesus’ mode.

“These core practices are fundamental activities,” Schnase said. ‘We’ve got to do it right because it matters. … we’ve got to practice these in exemplary ways.” The practices move the church into alignment with Jesus’ ministry, he said.

Hospitality must be radical

The practice of radical hospitality is generally considered a keystone to a church’s success. In his blog posting, “The Battle is Won or Lost in Your Lobby,” Schnase reflected on a talk given by Claudia Levy at a Leadership Nexus event in Shreveport, La.

“She said a preacher may preach the best sermon since the Apostle Paul … but if someone walks in your front door and is ignored, neglected, rudely treated, pounced upon in an overdone fashion or welcomed in a mechanical and perfunctory manner then you will likely never see the visitor return.”

Schnase responded: “I’m not suggesting every usher, greeter, staff member and volunteer must be perfect. But they must be authentic, hospitable and attentive. Directed by the right motivations, sustained by the Spirit, attentive in a caring way, we can do this right. We have to look at the guest experience through the eyes of a visitor.”

This post sparked lively discussion on the blog from people sharing their own stories of hospitality gone awry or being nonexistent.

“We have the same problem in a lot of our churches,” wrote Michael D. Pope, an administrator at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo., who frequently responds to Schnase’s blog postings. “We need to stop, look around and observe who is in our churches today. Who knows? Maybe Jesus is sitting in the middle of our congregation and yet somehow we miss him. How sad, but all too true.”

Pope’s response is the type of reaction Schnase is aiming for from church leaders concerned about the future of their congregations and denominations.

Radical hospitality, Schnase said, “is not a church growth strategy … not the bishops’ strategy. It is fundamental to our faith. Jesus said, ‘Don’t put obstacles in the way of people.’ ”

Radical hospitality challenges church members to stretch far beyond simply being friendly. The words shape broader images of welcoming and caring. They bring to mind many examples of when Jesus did the unexpected by welcoming strangers, people considered to be unclean and those out of the mainstream.

“This is hospitality that goes the second mile,” Schnase said.

Adjectives add punch

Schnase said the Five Practices began as four areas, and with an understanding of the power of a common language that he learned from his colleague, Bishop Bruce Ough, who leads the denomination’s Ohio West Area. With some modification of the language, the four evolved into five as he tested descriptions and phrases with pastors and congregational leaders in the Missouri Conference and with a number of his colleagues on the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

“The power of these practices is in the adjectives,” Schnase said. The practices have been the building blocks of congregations since the second chapter of Acts – evangelism, worship, Christian education, mission and stewardship.

“The adjectives create a kind of dissonance that invites us in, stretches us, makes us think and challenges us to new action. Is our hospitality really radical? Does it exceed expectations, go the second mile, show as much passion for those outside the church as for those inside?”

“‘Five Practices’ has been incorporated in the work of a number of U.S. annual conferences,” Schnase said, “including Texas, North Texas, Memphis, Florida and New Mexico.”

When he began writing, he said, he had modest hopes for his book. Because of tight deadlines, it was a quick, eight-week writing project for the newly elected bishop in 2004.

The book’s success has exceeded expectations. It has drawn international attention as Protestant groups use it as a building block to congregational development and revitalization.

“I am continually surprised by the comments I receive and the way in which the material has been received,” Schnase said. “There is a real hunger for authentic growth, for revitalization, and to have a church with a deeper meaning.”

Schnase is expanding his offerings with the addition of podcasts to the blog. He is recording commentaries and conducting interviews with congregational growth and evangelism experts for the downloadable programs.

To help meet the growing demand for expert speakers and leaders, the Missouri bishop has trained a small group of leaders who will lead “Five Practices” seminars and training around the world. He is receiving so many requests to speak that he is being forced to turn down many.

“Five Practices” is being used in Australia, England, Russia, Korea, and even Indonesia, Schnase said. German United Methodists planned a significant implementation of the material when a German translation was released this past year.

Building international interest

“Five Practices” materials are being translated into Spanish, Korean, Russian and German. Abingdon Press has received a number of other requests for translation into languages serving readers in Asia and Europe.

German Bishop Rosemarie Wenner uses “Five Practices” as a motivational and educational tool for United Methodist congregations in her area.

“We need a new emphasis in mission and outreach. We need radical, extraordinary dedication to Jesus Christ and his mission,” Wenner said. “‘Five Practices’ is a theologically grounded and practical tool. … The development of German-language materials has created much excitement.”

Schnase conducted three days of workshops for European, Eurasian and North African United Methodist leaders in Germany during 2007. District superintendents who preside over United Methodist congregations and pastors in at least 20 countries participated in the training.

As he was writing the book, Schnase said he was unsure how United Methodists outside the United States would respond.

“My fear was that I would sound like just another American church consultant with a formula, a plan, some steps or keys or programs that would be perceived as so American in language and concept and presentation that our European and Eurasian partners would reject them as irrelevant and unhelpful,” he said.

“Instead, the ‘Five Practices’ stimulated energetic discussions, and provoked the sharing of ideas and experiences, and the development of some strategies for future collaboration between the various conferences.”

Stephen Drachler serves as a public relations consultant and former United Methodist Communications staff member and also consults for Bishop Schnase.

UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

Bishop Robert Schnase discusses his book, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. He will share his five practices during three sessions of the 2010 Indiana Annual Conference in Muncie, June 10-13.


“We have to look at the guest experience through the eyes of a visitor.”

– Robert Schnase