Leaders find keys to building vital congregations

Study finds many vital congregations offer both traditional and contemporary worship services, such as worship during an Indiana Conference session.

Topical preaching, varied worship styles, effective lay leadership and small groups.

These are the things United Methodist congregations can do right now to become more vital and strengthen the denomination, say members of the Call to Action Steering Team, including Ben Boruff, a young adult from Indianapolis.

The 16-member team, which includes clergy and laity from across the U.S., met Aug. 23-25 in Nashville, Tenn., to begin developing recommendations on how the church can become more effective in making disciples and reverse decades of declining U.S. membership.

The team based its discussions on the findings of two studies it commissioned from independent researchers. The reports, released in July, included an Operational Assessment of the Connectional Church” and a “Congregational Vitality” overview.

Illinois Area Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, a team leader based in Springfield, said the group plans to present “robust recommendations” about the church’s operations to the denomination’s Council of Bishops and Connectional Table in November.

While the group irons out the details, team members stressed that data shows congregations can take certain steps without any action from the bishops or General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body.

Indiana's leader of congregational development answers questions about church growth and vitality

The United Methodist Church membership keeps shrinking in the United States, but some areas contradict the trend. The surprise this year was Indiana. At the Indiana Annual Conference gathering this summer in Muncie, conference members learned that membership was 200,620, up 3,271 from the past year. Average worship attendance was 117,750, up 1,013. This was the first time United Methodism in Indiana has shown growth in both those categories in more than 30 years.

The Rev. Mark Gough, director of church development for the Indiana Conference, answered questions from managing editor Sam Hodges about the turnaround.

What’s your short explanation for why the Indiana Conference grew this year?

As we developed the structure of the new conference (the former North and South Indiana Conferences became the new Indiana Conference in 2009), we purposely developed a structure that supported the mission: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The bishop, directors, superintendents, all conference leaders and pastors began to talk about how what we are doing supports the mission. This raised the issues of membership, professions of faith, worship attendance and membership as key indicators of how we are doing.

How do the members of that team advise a church without getting too bossy or intrusive?

We are bossy and intrusive, but with a smile. We also try to present the facts about how effective or ineffective they are in making disciples. Time is short, and we need to stay focused on making disciples. Our first question to leaders of a local church at a platitude or in decline is: “How is what you have been doing working for you?” You can’t expect to do the same things and get different results.

Explain the “Fruitful Congregations Journey” and how it helped with the improving numbers, if you think it did.

We are too early in the process to say this has improved the numbers. We believe it will be a big help in the coming years. The Fruitful Congregations Journey is a leadership development program. Step one is for lay leaders and the pastors of the local church. Step two is to do a weekend consultation to help the local church become outwardly focused, with specific steps to move forward. Step three involves a coach helping the local church move forward to complete the steps toward growth.

Has Indiana put into place the “dashboard” system of metrics? If not, is it something you’re considering?

We are part of the denomination’s Vital Congregations project. This project emphasizes and provides software for an improved method of keeping statistics.

Wesleyan Theological Forum: 'Preaching Christ' to be held in Franklin, Nov. 15

FRANKLIN, Ind. – The Third Annual Wesleyan Theological Forum in the Indiana Conference is set to take place Tuesday, Nov. 15, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Grace United Methodist Church, 1300 E. Adams Drive in Franklin, Ind. Professor Mike Pasquarello of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., will lead the Forum focusing on the theme “Preaching Christ in the Wesleyan Tradition.” This continuing education event is open to clergy and laity. Cost is $40 and includes lunch. For more information and to register online, visit www.inumc.org, click on Resources, then click on Wesleyan ConneXion.

Pasquarello is the Granger E. and Anna A. Fisher of Preaching and Biblical Interpretation at Asbury.

Following lunch, Dr. Derek Weber of Aldersgate UMC in Fort Wayne and Pasquarello will be sharing in a preaching practicum to engage participants in the tasks of preaching Christ in the Wesleyan tradition.

For more information, please contact Andy Kinsey at pastorandy@franklingrace.org.

Spirit present in UMW communities at School of Christian Mission

This year’s Indiana School of Christian Mission offered an entirely different format for the Spiritual Growth study. Contrary to previous years, this year’s experience involved participation by everyone.

The school’s plenary session abour forgiveness and reconciliation broke into smaller discussion groups. In one of those groups was (seated from left): Carol Bane, Connie Wood, Mavis Thomas, Joanne Boyer. Standing from left are: Jan Wilcox, Laura Ayers, Pat Wilkens-Cosby, David V.W. Owen (plenary leader) and Madalyn Ayers.

The Rev. David V.W. Owen, executive assistant to the bishop, used Bible study to lead the class on a journey of reflections aimed at forgiveness and reconciliation. The class of 206 women and men, gathered July 26-29 at DePauw University. Another 128 students attended the July 30 sampler event and they examined how the Good News of reconciliation is the central message of Christ and reconciliation includes forgiveness and restorative justice.

Groups of eights shared in circles, each group centered around an altar that held a candle, a small cross and a “talking stick.”

Following a Native American custom, Owen explained that individuals could only speak when holding the talking stick, and could easily be excused from sharing by simply passing the stick on to the next person. Bible stories guided reflections and discussions.

The Holy Spirit was present as communities formed within each circle as they shared together throughout the week. Many individuals shared experiences that healing and forgiveness began to take place, offering hope and reconciliation. Many circles coveted to stay in touch and to pray for one another.

Next year Indiana United Methodist Women will return to DePauw University in Greencastle, for their School of Christian Mission the week of July 23.

New vitality reflected at annual conferences

By Emily Snell

A UMNS photo by Jennifer Synder.

Young adults and campus ministry students worship with Bishop Mike Coyner at the Indiana Conference’s first ever leadership retreat for young adults, MOVE.

Membership and attendance numbers provided during the recent annual conferences in the United States did not reverse the declines of past years, but those numbers and other reports indicated something different is afoot.

For the most part, the trend of decline continues in the three measured categories – membership, worship and Sunday school attendance. However, activity within and aside from those categories shows that conferences are trying new initiatives to connect with unreached communities.

Declines in the three measured categories have been widespread for many years. In 1990, total lay and clergy membership in the United States was 8,853,455, according to the statistical review compiled annually by the General Council on Finance and Administration. By 2000, membership had decreased to 8,341,375, and in 2009, it was down to 7,725,039. Average attendance in 1990 was 3,466,439, and by 2009, it had decreased to 3,125,513.

By contrast, membership outside the United States has been steadily rising. In 1990, total lay and clergy membership in the central conferences was 806,841. By 2000, it had risen to 1,512,704, and in 2009, it had reached 4,412,489.

For many conferences, the decline in membership and attendance in 2010 narrowed even though 43 conferences fell in membership, 41 declined in attendance and 33 decreased in church school attendance.

Six conferences reported membership growth, five conferences increased average attendance and seven conferences reported increases in church school attendance.

The Rev. Mark Gough, director of church development for the conference, said a shift in focus was the key to Indiana’s growth.

“We really began to focus on the main mission to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” he said, adding that churches have to stop worrying about survival and start asking, “How are we going to win people to Christ?”

“It’s easy to get distracted in a local church by all the things we do,” Gough said, adding that churches need greater emphasis on reaching people who don’t know the gospel, inviting them to church and treating them well when they come.

Emily Snell serves as a United Methodist News Service intern and a senior at Lipscomb University.

Five churches partner to provide VBS experience for Bristol kids

Photos courtesy of Bristol UMC.

Two elementary-aged girls participated with more than 280 children in the Bristol Community’s VBS PandaMania.

BRISTOL, Ind. – Five churches offered an ecumenical approach to the Bristol Community Vacation Bible School (VBS) this summer. The partnering churches provided an evening VBS for more than 380 children July 17-21. Participating churches included: Betania Iglesia Christiana Misionera, Bristol Missionary, Bristol United Methodist, St. John of the Cross Episcopal and Tri-Lakes Community churches.

The Rev. Fred Stayton, senior pastor of Bristol UMC said, “I think we are able to do more together as a combined (VBS) church group than what each individual church could do alone. This event brings enthusiasm to the other ministries that we do. Relationships are nurtured and built that help the churches work together throughout the year.”

The VBS program was called “PandaMania: Where God is Wild About You!” PandaMania was held at Bristol UMC. Kids explored a bamboo forest filled with crazy pandas, as they discovered that God loves them.

The children also participated in memorable Bible-learning activities, sang catchy songs, played teamwork-building games, experienced electrifying Bible adventures and collected Bible Memory Buddies to remind them of God’s wild love. They also created Bible Point crafts which they took home and played with all summer long. Plus, kids learned to look for evidence of God all around them through something called God Sightings.

Lilly Endowment awards renewal grants to two UM pastors



Nineteen congregations from 14 Indiana counties, including two United Methodists, have received grants to enable their ministers to participate in the 2011 Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. The program – now in its 13th year – allows pastors to step back from their busy schedules and renew their spirits for challenges ahead.

The Endowment invites congregations and ministers to consider and plan a period of “intentional reflection and renewal.” It is a time for ministers to take a break from their daily obligations and gain the fresh perspective and renewed energy that a carefully considered “sabbath time” of travel, study, rest and prayer can offer.

Getting away from their ordinary routines gives pastors a chance for private periods of reflection and reading. It also allows real family time together, far from the frequently unpredictable schedules at home. It is no surprise that many will head for points around the globe, from Ohio to China.

United Methodist congregations and pastors selected for the 2011 Indiana Clergy Renewal program are :

  • The Rev. Mitchell Gieselman of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Evansville, and
  • The Rev. Donna Goings of First United Methodist Church in Anderson.

According to Gieselman, his renewal leave will encompass the summer of 2012, beginning in June. He plans to spend most of his time in the United Kingdom, primarily in England, and anticipates using the University of Evansville campus at Harlaxton as his base of operations. He hopes to trace the footsteps of the Wesleys, but also to explore many places of Christian heritage, including Scotland and Rome.

Goings told Together she is taking her renewal leave next summer from May to September.

She said, “The timing is great, because my daughter is expecting her first baby in late January and that will be my first grandbaby. I will be spending a lot of time with him or her during my leave.”

Goings also plans to travel to the mountains of the west, spend some time in three national parks, visit family who live in Montana, experience a personal spiritual retreat near Colorado Springs and attend a grief facilitation skills workshop in Fort Collins, Colo.

But that’s not all. She will top off her renewal leave by traveling to China for two weeks.

Lilly Endowment 2012 Clergy Renewal Program information meeting coming Sept. 27

The Lilly Endowment will hold an informational meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 27, from 1 to 4 p.m. at North UMC, 3808 North Meridian Street in Indianapolis. In 2012, Lilly Endowment’s Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations will again provide as many as 40 grants of up to $50,000 each to congregations in Indiana for the support of renewal programs for their pastors.

Register no later than Thursday, Sept. 22, at indianaclergyrenewal@yahoo.com or by calling 317-916-7350. Detailed information about the Indiana Clergy Renewal Program, including the application material, is available on the Lilly Endowment website at www.indianaclergy.org .

Non-traditional church presents gift to resourceful neighborhood community

INDIANAPOLIS –The Garden awarded $6,300 to the Laurelwood Resident Council as part of The Garden’s 10% Giving Program.

The Garden, a satellite of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Indianapolis, offers a non-traditional, secular-style worship service each Sunday at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre on West 86th Street and The Mansion at Oak Hill in Carmel. As part of its 10% Giving Program, The Garden dedicates ten percent of the money donated each quarter to a deserving organization in the greater Indianapolis community, along with donations of collected food and supplies.

Sandra Bailey, president of the nearby Laurelwood Resident Council, wrote to The Garden: “On behalf of the residents, staff and volunteers, I thank The Garden for its generous donation to our organization.”

“This donation will help Laurelwood continue to provide a network of support services and programs to promote self-confidence and self-sufficiency for our residents,” added Bailey.

During the years, The Garden has awarded $285,241 to help support various groups, services and initiatives, all focused on sharing unconditional love for all people.

Fenstermacher Lodge to open Oct. 23 at Epworth Forest

A Together photo.

NORTH WEBSTER, Ind. – Fenstermacher Lodge receives its final touches as the Indiana Conference Epworth Forest Conference Center staff plans for it dedication celebration from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23, at 8580 East Wesley Lane in North Webster on Lake Webster. This family event is free and open to the public and will include live music, dedication by Bishop Mike Coyner, a ribbon cutting and tour of the new lodge, refreshments, campfire and hayrides. Fenstermacher Lodge is the second of six new waterfront lodges to be built at Epworth Forest Conference Center through The Right Future Campaign. For more information, visit www.rightfuture.com.

Southwest District lends helping hand in Minot relief

A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

The Rev. John Windell (left) and his granddaughter Kayla Pahls clean up flood damage at the home of Edward Ortiz in Minot, N.D. The two were part of a United Methodist Volunteers in MIssion team from the Indiana Conference.

We went. We saw. We prayed. We worshiped. We cried. We lent a hand.

We were two teams. The first departed Southwest District Friday morning, Aug. 12. The team received overnight accommodations from Lydia Zion United Methodist Church in Jordan, Minn. After a breakfast feast provided by the Rev. Larry and Vicky Kasten, we arrived in Minot, N.D. on Saturday evening, Aug. 13, and were welcomed into the home of Kara Gross, our hostess from Faith United Methodist Church. The team worshiped with the Faith congregation at the home of their sister church, Vincent UMC, on Sunday morning. After worship, we met Judy Roed, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, (UMCOR) project coordinator, who introduced us to the owners of the homes we were to assist. The house of the Rhodes family had been underwater up to the roof. The house of the Silseth family had suffered flood damage three feet up on the main floor walls. The team finished its work and departed North Dakota on Friday.

The second team departed Southwest District on Monday, Aug. 22, and arrived at the Gross home 22 hours later. On Tuesday morning, we met with the project coordinator and Mr. Ortiz, the homeowner. The Ortiz house had been under water up to the ceiling. We mucked out the basement and the first floor up to the ceiling. The team completed its work on Friday and departed Minot on Friday afternoon.

Churches celebrate Christmas in July

There will be many children in Guatemala with smiling faces this Christmas thanks to several churches in southwest Indiana.

During the month of July numerous churches helped Mission Guatemala by celebrating Christmas. During this special Christmas in July celebration, United Methodists collected gently used and new toys for children in Guatemala.

“The result was spectacular!” according to Tom Heaton, director of Mission Guatemala.

United Methodists collected hundreds of toys for children of all ages. During August, the toys were delivered to Old North United Methodist Church in Evansville, Ind. for sorting and packing.

Mission Guatemala opens feeding center

United Methodist-related Mission Guatemala opened its feeding center on Monday, July 11, in Nueva Esperanza where MG feeds almost 100 children a day. Most of this ministry comes from the generosity of churches and individuals in the Indiana Conference.

Mission Director Tom Heaton says, “Since we started the program in May, the average weight gain of children has been 3.4 pounds with some of the smallest children gaining as much as seven pounds.” For more information, visit www.missionguatemala.com.

January 2012 Sierra Leone Mission Teams organizing

INDIANAPOLIS – Sierra Leone Health Partners of St. Luke’s UMC plans two medical continuing education teams to serve at the UMC General Hospital at Freetown next January. The goal is to provide in-service training to professionals at the hospital in areas of medical care, leadership development, financial/administrative training and infrastructure development and planning.

The first medical team will leave Jan. 14 and return Jan. 28.

For information and registration forms for the medical teams, contact Don Griffith at 317-823-9390 or e-mail drdongriffith@aol.com, or contact Sue Phillips, RN, BS, at 502-718-2242 or e-mail sue.phillips@clarkmemorial.org.

The second education team will leave Jan. 27 and return Feb. 11.

The cost for either trip is $3,500 per person, depending on airfare, and covers all but meals to and from Sierra Leone, souvenirs, church offerings and some tips.

Bishop to install UMW officers Oct. 15

Indiana Bishop Mike Coyner will speak to women gathered for the third Annual Meeting of United Methodist Women of Indiana Saturday, Oct. 15, at Old Bethel United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. He also will administer Holy Communion and install 2012 conference UMW officers.

Bonnie Albert, conference Volunteer in Mission coordinator, will share experiences from a recent mission trip to Haiti. Haiti is this year’s geographical study for United Methodist Women Schools of Christian Mission across the country.

Local units are asked to bring their collection of hands-on-mission items consisting of little girl dresses made from pillowcases or yard goods, newly packaged women and girls’ underwear, socks for women and children and new small stuffed toys. Instruction for making pillowcase dresses is available online: www.jenleheny.com/pillowcase-dress-instructions.

Plan now for World Communion Sunday

World Communion Sunday will be celebrated on Sunday, Oct 2. Remember to order your church’s free resources for this special offering. The World Communion Sunday offering provides for three areas: World Communion Scholarships, Ethnic Scholarship Program and Ethnic In-Service Training Program. This support is a lifeline for many United Methodist students. Gifts are divided as follows:

  • 50% – World Communion Scholarships (At least half must go beyond the United States)
  • 35% – Ethnic Scholarship Program
  • 15% – Ethnic In-Service Training Program

Your generous support through the World Communion Sunday offering prepares leaders for The United Methodist Church and the world.

Order free offering resources for your congregation today. Offering inserts, a poster, worship resources, stories and videos are available to download or order at www.umcgiving.org/WCS.

Clergy spouses to gather for Nov. 12 retreat

“Be Still,” a ministry to and with clergy spouses, will gather Saturday, Nov. 12 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Little Noddfa retreat center in Tipton. Two other retreats will be held on other dates to be announced in southern Indiana and in south/central Indiana.

The goal of this special ministry is to have at least two clergy spouses from each of the ten districts available to those who may have a concern or need for connection. Currently, Shirley Dominick (shirley.dominick@gmail.com) in the Northwest District and Julie Pimlott (jpimlott@mtso.edu) and Jacquie Reed (jreed46038@hotmail.com) in the Central District are available with more information about the "Be Still" ministry.