November 01, 2017
On October 9–11 the Missouri Conference’s Center for Congregational Excellence presented New Wineskins, a conference centered on replicating healthy ministry through multi-site ministries, relocations, creative partnerships and legacy churches. Several Missouri Conference leaders and notable pastors from across the country shared their experiences in growing their churches. The following is a brief highlight of three speakers’ presentations.
Rev. Andrew Forrest believes the heart of reaching new people is authentically sharing the life-changing presence of God.
“What people want to know more than anything is ‘Is this real? Is this guy sitting in the pew next to me legit?’” Forrest said.
Forrest has been at Munger Place since it was planted by Highland Park UMC in 2010 and has a diverse congregation of more than 1,000. He shares stories from across the spectrum of his congregation on how God is shaping people’s lives. At New Wineskins he showed a one video from a homeless person giving her testimony and another from a successful young couple, telling how they nearly split over the husband’s alcoholism.
“Make it clear that you love your neighbors. That’s why people visit our church,” Forrest said.
Forrest said the most effective times for outreach are Christmas Eve and Easter, because they offer an opportunity to reach out to people who are predisposed to be receptive to the message. He advises that churches should have a presence at every type of neighborhood event.
“We have a big float in the parade each year, and we’re the only church doing it,” Forrest said.
Each year the church hands out 4,000 one-year Bibles on Christmas Eve.
“People need to be steeped in the scripture to be transformed by God,” he said. He said he’s not sure that teaching denominational polity is worth the effort.
“I’d rather get my people to read the Bible and to love their enemies on Facebook rather than hate their enemies,” he said.
Rev. Jasmine Rose Smothers is the lead pastor of Atlanta First United Methodist Church in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. She is the first female, the first African-American and the youngest lead pastor of this historic congregation. She was presenting information based around her book Not Safe For Church: 10 Commandments for Reaching New Generations, that she co-authored with F. Douglas Powe.
Smothers asked those in her workshop to define worship. Responses were reflective of being in a community that is in council with God. She agreed and pointed out how that would be a hard place to start for someone who is at least a generation removed from religion.
“If I expect someone with no context to show up for worship, that is insanity,” she said.
What they will show up to is a project that is making a difference for people in the community, like building a Habitat for Humanity house. Relationships formed by these service-oriented entry points can open the doors to worship for people.
Smothers pushed back against former notions of disciple-making.
“We used to say if you got someone into worship and involved in two other places, like Sunday school and a mission project, you made a disciple. What you really did was make them a really good church member, like a member of a country club, not a disciple,” Smothers said.
“That method worked to build the church when the church was the heart of community life, and everyone wanted to belong to one. It doesn’t work today.”
Smothers went on to say if a church has gone three years without making a disciple, it is more of a country club than a church.
She also added that people must not be scared to stand up for justice. She confessed that she can stand up for herself, but it’s harder for her to stand up to someone at a meeting that is inappropriately being harsh to someone else. She tries to help people maintain standards when she can, though.
“I’m the kind of pastor that will call you out for a Facebook post,” she said. “If you’re spewing hate, you can expect a call from me, and we’ll have a talk about what it means to be a disciple.”
Pastors can be the harshest critics of the church when they all get together to talk. Rev. Jacob Armstrong said he acknowledges that the church needs to change, but he doesn’t think it’s dying.
“We can be the biggest critics, but I still believe in church,” he said.
Armstrong is the founding pastor of Providence Church, an 8-year-old United Methodist church plant in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, reaching 1,700 people each week.
Comparing the plight of the church today to the Israelites exodus from Egypt, Armstrong pointed out that even the people of God can get tired of miraculous bread. He said a lie that too many church leaders buy into is that they won’t have all that they need.
“Even with the people of God, you still have a scarcity mentality,” Armstrong said. The scripture doesn’t promise anyone steak every day, but there is daily bread. “God provides all you need for the journey. We need to look at what we have, believing God will give us all that we need.”
Armstrong told how after a mission trip to Nicaragua, he was moved to help provide a village with a well, which would cost $10,000. He was concerned he would got called out for asking for money all the time, so he came up with a plan in which he would ask everyone in the congregation to just give what they would pay for one lunch and that should get him pretty close if most people went along with it. Before the service, he felt in his heart that God was telling him not to go through with his plan. He didn’t, instead just concluding the service with the simple ask that a village in Nicaragua needed a $10,000 well, and people could give if they wanted. A man came through the communion line and handed Armstrong a check for $10,000.
“If I had shared my plan, that guy would have given me 8 bucks,” Armstrong said. “God had prepared him to give long before I asked for contributions. How many times am I going to come up with 8 buck-a-person plans? I get too used to miracles. God says, ‘Have you read my story? I make it snow bread in the desert.’” Director of Congregational Excellence Roger Ross and Associate Director Lia McIntosh address Missouri Conference new church planters at the New Wineskins conference.