How would you describe your leadership stance these days? Visionary or Reactionary? Fear-driven or Faith-driven? God-led or people-pleasing? Anxious or Centered? In order to be the leader God has called us to be, we need to be people who are FIRST and FOREMOST deeply grounded in a daily, life-giving relationship with God in Jesus Christ. A deep spirituality is like a well-founded rudder on a boat… no matter the size of the wind or waves that hit the boat, it keeps the bow pointed on the intended course! Tonight and tomorrow, a group of ten of us (planters, facilitators and Planter Peer Group team members) are gathering at Casowasco Camp and Retreat Center to experience a 23 hour retreat to give us an opportunity to come back to the center. This retreat will be the first go-around of a model which will be used all over the Conference in quarterly “Planter Peer Groups” starting later this fall. These “Planter Peer Group” gatherings will be designed to give each planter a safe place to pull away, be honest about their spiritual lives, reconnect with God, and develop deep relationships with others who are also planting NFC’s. If you are trying to create a new place for new people, be looking for a formal invitation from the Planter Peer Group Team to join a group. It is a key way we believe you can keep a visionary, faith-filled, God-led, well centered leadership stance every day of your ministry!
There are dozens of experimental New Faith Communities being planted around the world these days… and almost that many in our own Conference! People are imagining all kinds of ways of connecting with new people! It is clear, we are in an exciting time of risk taking, when people feel freed up to allow their creativity to run wild! Many of these strategies take into consideration the diverse learning styles of people in our culture, for whom traditional worship may seem a bit dull! The common thread is always sharing the good news of God’s love and grace, and inviting new people to follow Jesus with us! But the strategies are all over the map!
One such strategy that has been in existence for many years in Europe is currently gaining popularity in our own country. it is called “Messy Church.” Sound intriguing?
Each instance of Messy Church is unique. But, there are a few key ingredients that mark them all: It is typically intergenerational (often with elders alongside and engaged with children). It is always experiential with lots of opportunity for people to engage the faith with their minds, hands and bodies. There is always food involved (a simple meal is served, where community is formed around tables). There is brief, engaging worship. And, each Messy Church event is shaped around a theme, or a Bible story, so that all the experiences teach a biblical concept in a memorable, transformative way.
Messy Church is often held in Fellowship Halls or public spaces (parks or school halls). And, it is typically held at some other time than Sunday morning. Many are on a weekday evening, or a Sunday afternoon/evening. Messy Church often is NOT held every week, but once or twice a month.
For a really good picture of what Messy Church might look like, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mN7cD64Dh50
And, for LOTS more information, check out the Messy Church website: http://www.messychurch.org.uk
There are at least two churches currently planting new faith communities in our Conference using strategies that feel a lot like Messy Church. They are 1st Oneonta UMC with their NFC called “The Gathering” which is held on Sunday nights… guided by Rev. Teressa Sivers. And, Salem UMC, under the leadership of Rev. Debbie Earthrowl who is doing a new thing on Thursday nights. Both are bringing new persons into relationship with Christ thru a more experiential approach. Contact them to learn what they are learning!
Is it possible God is calling you to find new ways of making disciples in your neighborhood thru holding your own Messy Church like events?
As you may have heard, my wife Leslie and I are new grandparents! Eleanor Nahal Masland-Sarani was born to my son Josh and his wife Ashlinn on Thursday, April 24th at 3:54 AM. What an amazing gift from God! Because of the New Faith Communities Event on Saturday, we waited until Sunday to make the trip to Elizabethtown, PA to meet her. Here is the little miracle that we held and have welcomed into our family… with our whole hearts:
Amazing! Her dad and mom were tired from the first few days of parenthood, so I was privileged to hold her for 2+ hours on Sunday afternoon! Somebody HAD to do it! During that time, I am pretty sure I experienced the Kingdom of God in ways I had never imagined!
Her middle name may be a puzzle to you. Eleanor’s mom identifies herself as half Persian… and Nahal is a Farsi word that means “Little Plant.” This comes as no surprise to us. It is a beautiful name. And, Josh and Ashlinn are avid gardeners. We love it! And it fits her so well!
I can not help but make another connection. My whole work-life these days is engaged in developing relationships with “little plants” of another kind! I am thrilled to tell you that there are now 30 new faith communities being planted among us, and 15+ others in the planning stages! These new faith communities that are sprouting up all over Upper New York Conference are, in many ways, like baby Eleanor. They are new. They began as a glimmer of hope and a dream in some person’s heart. They are starting very small. They are fragile, and need to be nurtured carefully. Their “parents” need rest and a healthy diet in order to lead and grow new disciples and new leaders. And, in order to thrive, these new faith communities need to be loved and welcomed with open arms!
In the same way that I am enjoying every chance I get to see Eleanor and talk to her parents during these formative weeks and months, I enjoy every chance I get to meet and talk to the people who are developing “little plants” in our neighborhoods. I pray for Eleanor every day. I pray for the NFC’s every day.
I am also very aware that I can not be the only one nurturing and supporting and praying for the new faith communities that are taking shape around us. Will you covenant with me to support and pray for each one of these “little plants” in our midst?
Planting a new faith community in the northeast is different from planting in other parts of the country! How different? Read this recent article by my coach, Paul Nixon, which describes what he sees as he works with people all over the country:
“HOW FAST SHOULD A NEW CHURCH GROW
As the guy who has coached the fastest growing new church in the UMC for the last four and one half years, I should add that I have also coached some of the slowest growing new churches. In a few cases, new church projects just fail to take root, and we need to close the project, making a note of lessons learned. In most cases, however, where excellent church plants grow slowly it is because they are relating to a different audience than the fastest growing new church mentioned above.
By now, all of us have heard about the red and blue thing going on in America. And we all know that in the red state regions, it is a lot easier to gain a critical mass and grow a conventional church than in the blue state regions. But we may not understand how much easier, and we may not understand how deeply the blue zones are creeping out across the land, especially into our urban areas.
In the blue zones, we see some of the largest churches in the country (almost universally very conservative theologically and/or non-denominational). But if we are planting a ministry in those areas to relate to people in the emerging cultural middle of young adults, or on the cultural left, we may see a vastly slower growth of our ministry.
In the red zones, denominations can still grow big churches and, often, quite fast. Been there, done that personally. More recently, Embrace Church in Sioux Falls, The Gathering Place near Birmingham, Alabama and Impact Church in Atlanta have tapped in to similar dynamics to the community I worked in northwest Florida in the late nineties. These churches are not evangelical right. They do, however, love Jesus and try to follow him with their whole hearts. (As does just about every thriving church in the universe – blue, red, right, left or middle.)
Put the same pastors that will grow a church to 1000 in red-zone Missouri in a decidedly blue place and they might work five years to get 100.
The difference is that stark. In a blue zone, few alums of childhood church experience are shopping for a church in adulthood. Furthermore, the diversity of beliefs and cultural backgrounds makes them hard to weave into a single flock.
Those who are most open will almost inevitably end up in a non-denominational church. To those of you who watch church planting trends, this is no news.
So – will mainline denominations like the UMC decide simply to double down in the red zones of the USA – where we can continue to find success doing what we understand for another generation or so?
Or will we faithfully work the whole nation that is our field of ministry? Will we pay attention to thriving ministry as it is emerging in the blue zones, where the numbers are much smaller? Further, will we create ways to give planters a longer run at gathering the first 50 or 100 people in the blue zones, and celebrate when they hit these marks? If we are not careful, we could end up proclaiming some of our most innovative home missionaries as failures because they did not produce red zone numbers or get anywhere close to financial sustainability for a full time pastor in three years.
Path 1 is a movement to plant 1000 new faith communities in America in four years. A few of these will explode with a LOT of people. Most of these will struggle in the early years, even when the planters do almost everything well. We had best go in wise to reality, and ready to stick it out. Or we shall be pulling the plug on a lot of great faith community projects in the next few years.
If there is one thing that we need to do immediately it would be to reduce the cash outlay per new project in the blue zones.Cut the costs dramatically, work with more lay planters and bi-vocational pastors in the early years, and we will be able to stay with the plants long enough to see fruit.
The Epicenter Group
Over and over people hear me say “anyone can be a new faith community planter!” And, I mean it.
Don’t get me wrong. Planting a new faith community is NOT easy. And, there are always lots of things we can learn to be more effective at it. But, more than anything else, what God needs from us to find new ways of connecting with new people is very simple: To have a theory, to make a Plan, and to take a risk!
A theory is a hunch you have about a new way to reach new people. This theory does not come out thin air. It grows from relationships you build, and real listening to your community and the target group you are trying to reach. And, it grows out of your prayer life, as the Spirit whispers in your ear. Your theory may sound something like: “Young adults are busy, but they are also often lonely, and hungry, and looking for something meaningful to give their lives to… so I think they will come to a NFC where they can sample some great food, connect at a deeper level with new friends, and have a chance to serve others.”
A plan is developed directly out of your theory. It grows from asking some questions with others who share your theory. What is the best space to use to meet the people we want to reach? How often do we plan to gather people? How will we communicate with the people we want to reach? What teams do we need to test our theory? What resources do we need, and where might those come from? Planning takes time. But, doing it well can make or break our new faith community.
Eventually, we simply have to leap! We have to prayerfully trust God with our theory and our plan, and just launch our NFC. Risk taking is hard for most of us. Fear of failure is our worst enemy. But, a theory is nothing if we are not willing to test it in the real world. And, a plan is empty if we do not put it into play. We have to take a risk and invite new people to come and see Jesus with us!
The best church planters are not successful because they have a perfect theory and a flawless plan from the beginning. The best new faith community planters are people who take risks based on their theory, and then evaluate. They learn as they go, adjusting their theory, tweaking their plan, and then risking again! They do not ever give up. They are flexible, and focused. Their calling to reach new people drives everything they do. And, they will not stop trying until they find a way to reach the people God is calling them to reach!
I’ll say it again: Every believer can plant a new faith community! All you need is a theory, a plan, some friends to join you on the adventure, and courage to take a risk! What is calling calling YOU to plant in your neighborhood?
The Upper NY Conference New Faith Communities Teams are excited to invite you to join us from 9 AM to 4 PM on Saturday, April 26th at the Liverpool UMC. This will be our 3rd Annual New Faith Communities Event as an Annual Conference.
Who should come? Any person who is thinking of finding a new way to reach new people with the good news of God’s love! Any person who is wanting to start a small group ministry in their community! Any person who is planting a new faith community (of any style)! And, any person who wants to revitalize their own church!
What will happen at the event? We hope you will join us and bring some friends for a time of worship, conversation and learning! We’ll enjoy some creative worship led by some gifted persons from around the Conference. Dave Masland will be giving his first ever “State of the Planting Address” and describe the system that multiple teams have been growing this year to support planters (and their teams) as they seek to build “new places for new people.”
The highlight of the day will be the keynote address by Rev. Dr. Elaine Heath. Elaine is professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. She also is the author of two books that lay out a vision for planting new faith communities that are based in small groups for our modern world. Many people around the Conference are reading her books “Mystic Way of Evangelism” or “Longing for Spring” to prepare for the event. Please read with us!
As if all of this was not enough, perhaps most of all, this will be a chance for you to have conversation with interesting people from across the Conference who are planting new faith communities, or dreaming of doing so in the future. These gatherings are a chance to allow the Holy Spirit fire within each of us to grow a bit stronger! We believe you will leave inspired and equipped in new ways to venture out and try new things in your own context!
If you have not already registered for the event, please do so today! A block of rooms have been set aside in a nearby hotel if you need to spend the night, but we can only save those rooms until the end of March. For more information about the event, hotel information, and to register on-line, go to this page: http://www.unyumc.org/news/detail/1854
See you in Liverpool in April!
As we approach the season of Lent, I am thinking about the ways that God is calling us to invite new people to encounter Jesus in a powerful way. For generations, we have invited people to come to our churches on Ash Wednesday, to think with us about our mortality, consider what it means to recognize our sinfulness, to choose to walk a different way during the season leading up to Holy Week, and to receive ashes as a sign of their choice. I am not sure if this is the case for you, but through my 25+ years of ministry, I have watched the numbers of people coming to churches to participate in this practice dwindling.
Today, I am wondering if God is calling us to take our practices on the road.
Click on this link, and read the story of a young pastor who decided to take her ashes, and meet people at a local coffee shop last year: http://www.churchleadership.com/leadingideas/leaddocs/2014/140226_article.html
If we believe that knowing and following Jesus is the greatest adventure in the world… And, we believe that every person we meet in our neighborhoods is a spiritual being who is seeking for meaning and purpose… then why not take our ancient symbols of human interaction with Christ on the road?
To be effective in this, like the pastor in this story, we need to find language that makes sense to people who do not know “church-ese.” And, we need to be just as committed to listening as we are to speaking. But, we also need to take the risk of being bold to invite strangers into our practices of prayer and silence, remembering our frailty, and seeking to turn our faces toward following Jesus’ way. Who knows how God might use us if we simply get outside our buildings, and put ourselves in those risky places.
Rebecca Laird and Alicia Wood are working together with a team of others to plant The Road, a New Faith Community in Syracuse. Early last fall they began showing up in a park in the city on Fridays at noon with peanut butter sandwiches, and the bread and cup of holy communion. Every single Friday (yes, even on the coldest days of this winter) they have been in that park. And every single Friday they have shared a simple meal, and served communion to anyone who wanted to receive. When you get chance, ask them if they have seen Christ this year. They have some amazing tales to tell. Not the least of which is the way God’s spirit is transforming THEM as they have seek to serve others!
God always shows up when we invite people to connect with the sacred spaces in their life! Is it possible God is calling you to share Jesus with people in some place other than your own church this lent?
One of the primary core values we are hoping to find present in EVERY new faith community in Upper New York Conference is “multiplication.” We mean at least two things by this. We hope every healthy new faith community will have a long-term plan to duplicate itself in the future! And, we also hope every planter will be intentionally pouring themselves into the people on their teams, to develop them as leaders!
New ministries of any kind are only as strong and healthy as their leaders. And, any new ministry that is dependent on one primary leader will almost surely not last! Sustainable new ministries are built by leaders who are constantly working to identify potential new leaders, and then encourage and equip them to do what they do!
Good leaders lead well. Great leaders give away what they know and what they do to others, and multiply their impact! Two gifted, trained leaders can always accomplish more disciple-making than one! Four can do even better! Imagine what eight Spirit-gifted, carefully-equipped leaders could do if unleashed on the community the faith community serves?
So I ask you: Who are the people God has put in your path who have spiritual gifts for leadership? Who are the people who might thrive if you asked them to take on more responsibility? Who are the people who would grow in their faith if they were challenged to face some of the same challenges you are facing in your ministry? How can you invite them into the work you are doing this week? What will these people need from you to succeed? What do they need spiritually? What do they need to learn? Where do they need you to get out of the way? Where will they need you to be their greatest cheerleader?
In what ways is God calling you to develop other leaders? And, what is the next faithful step you could make this week to help move in that direction?
As you may know, the Upper New York Annual Conference is committed to planting 100 new faith communities in the next few years! That is a big goal that calls for a healthy, well-rounded system of support. Since July, we have been working on building this system. We started by asking: “What does a new faith community planter and their team need to thrive in their work of reaching new people?” Here is how we answered that question, and what parts of the system we have been building to provide for those needs:
1. Potential planters need help discerning their call — And, we have built, trained and organized the work of a Recruiting and Assessment Team. This team have developed a process for curious people to explore what it means to be a planter. They are also developing a comprehensive plan to identify gifted people for future plants. The fruits of their labors will be on display at their Recruiting and Assessment Retreat, which will be held on March 14-15th at Asbury Camp and Retreat Center. If you are interested in learning more about this event, please contact Rev. Dave Masland: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. NFC Planters Need a Coach — This knowledge comes from years of experience in multiple places. Planters with a great coach are much more highly effective, healthy planters who last! In conjunction with Aaron Bouwens (who also needs coaches for H2P leaders) we have organized a Coaching Network Team. They have been developing a plan for providing a network of trained, experienced, Conference-approved coaches, as well as a set of policies to guide their work with planters. We also have committed to providing funding to make it possible for planters to have a coach.
3. Speaking of funding, Planters Need Seed Funds to start their new thing — Our Conference is committed to providing financial support for planting, and has committed to using a large % of the funds from the sale of closed churches for planting work. In addition, we have established a team for raising more funds (in fact, if you feel called to support this work, you can make a donation today!), and a second team to make decisions regarding grant applications. In fact, the Grant Processing Team will be meeting early in February to consider 14 applications! Pray for them!
4. Planters Need a Peer Group for Support and Mutual Learning — Yes! We have a team for this too! The Planter Peer Group Team has been working since July developing a plan for organizing our planters into small groups of 4-6 planters each. Their vision includes groups spread geographically throughout the Conference, meeting six times a year for sharing of joys and struggles, learning, spiritual development and mutual prayer support. The groups will be lead by trained spiritual directors. We expect the first groups to be organizing between Easter and Annual Conference 2014.
5. Planters Need Continuing Education — We are thrilled to announce that we will hold our Third Annual New Faith Communities Event from 9 AM to 4 PM on April 26th at the Liverpool UMC. Our keynote speaker will be Elaine Heath, professor at Perkins Theological Seminary. Elaine is widely recognized throughout the connection as someone on the cutting edge of providing practical training for leaders (lay and clergy) to develop missional micro-communities (small groups) in the Wesleyan tradition. Her books “Longing for Spring” and “Mystical Way of Evangelism” paint a beautiful picture of her vision. Please join us in reading her books during the season of Lent, and then joining her at this event in April.
Each of these parts of the system are still being built, and strengthened. But, this is our plan. We believe God is calling and gifting people to plant new places for new people all over Upper New York. By July, we expect nearly 30 of these to be on their way! With God’s help we are working to create a system to support them all. If you would like to be part of helping us build this system, please let us know!
Making disciples. It is the reason we say we exist. But, how can we tell if we are effectively doing so? Good question! In my experience, the truest measurement is in transformed lives.
In their end-of-the year reports, I have asked each of the lead planters (or a designated team member) to report to me brief stories of persons whose lives have been transformed by their encounters with Christ through their new faith community. Here is an example of one of those stories:
Kristine D. first came to Fresh Start after our summer VBS. Kristine’s daughter Mackenzie, who was visiting for the summer, was involved and loved it. Kristine had been involved with other churches in the past and did not have good experiences. Since then Kristine has been a faithful attender, is active in a Growth Group, has become a member, and now serves in the Worship Band. She arrives early on Sunday to assist the Weekend Warriors with set-up. Kristine recently coordinated the medley of Christmas music for the Flash Mob. She has been going through custody struggles and many times has come for prayer and encouragement, not only to the prayer supporters at the end of each service, but to other members of her church family. Recently Kristine was overheard telling one of our office visitors on Black Friday morning, “This is not like any other church I have known…these people are the real deal. We really love and serve Jesus here.” She went on to tell him about our VBS and the different ways there are to serve as a part of Fresh Start and how excited she is to be part of this ministry.
Sounds like a transformed life to me! And, all because a group of United Methodist people stepped out in faith, and invited God to partner with them in connecting with new people at the Arnot Mall. More stories will follow!
How is God calling YOU to step out in faith in order to connect with new people in your part of Upstate New York?