Revs. Dave Lewis, Elena Ortiz and Gordon Hendrickson share growing-church wisdom

An invitation to join Growing-Church Covenant Groups

The Rev. Dave Lewis of New Hanover UMC has a mentoring model where he gathers individuals who want to covenant with him to meet monthly and talk about key strategies and tactics to help churches grow. We want to replicate that model so other pastors can participate as both givers and receivers of knowledge. The goal is that more clergy who need insights on how to grow churches can get them, delivered up close and personal.

Now Dave Lewis and other clergy “peer-guides” will form new covenant groups for pastors wanting to learn what they know. They will establish standards of participation, including ground rules and goals. This is not a top-down assignment where we select and send pastors to be mentored. It’s more bottom-up, meaning pastors who want to benefit from this teaching opportunity can do so on their own initiative and become “covenant partners.”

Pastors can read the growing-church pastors’ profiles, learn about their ministry styles, settings and backgrounds, and then decide from whom they might learn best, based on a discernible affinity. They can contact and begin to dialogue with that peer-guide, even across district lines; and they may go on to join his or her covenant group.

Peer-guides will set guidelines for their groups, along with meeting times. Meetings can occur at their churches or elsewhere. They can also determine what if any reporting mechanisms are needed to keep track of sessions and to inform district superintendents and the Congregational Development Team of their progress. Everything should be covered in each covenant groups’ detailed agreement.

Feel free to contact Dave Lewis to learn more about what his group did and how they operated. Maybe some group members can tell you how this small-group peer-learning experience is benefitting them. Take a look at the following brief bios, and contact any peer-guide whose experience, tactics and outlook you think might be helpful to you. We will add more information about them if and when it becomes available. But getting started is up to you.

By the Rev. Gordon Hendrickson
Coordinator of Congregational Development, Eastern PA Conference

Photo: The Rev. Dave Lewis (seated) shares experiences as the Revs., Elena Ortiz and Gordon Hendrickson listen, during a growing-church pastors dialogue at the 2014 Annual Conference.  John Coleman photo

The Rev. Dave Lewis
: Lead Pastor, New Hanover UMC

I led a group last year. We met once per month from September through May and focused each month on one church system, using the topics of Nelson Searcy at the Journey Church: Worship, Evangelism, Assimilation, Small Groups, Ministry, Stewardship, Leadership, and Strategy. I think the best way for me to help other pastors is to help them face the reality of the church they serve. Every church can become healthier but not every church has the capacity to grow in the same way and at the same rate. Context means everything.

I served two churches as pastor before I came to my present appointment. In five years at Mt. Carmel: St. Paul’s UMC, in the coal region, our attendance grew slightly from 70 up; but much was accomplished in ministry and mission. In seven years at Norristown: Bethany UMC the attendance grew slightly from 75; but when I left, a church that had been near closing was much healthier. In 28 years at New Hanover, this new church start has grown from 0 to 800 in worship attendance. We are doing things in ministry and mission that exceed what I dreamed. Context means everything.

But context is no excuse. Every pastor can help any church to become healthier. Pastors often focus on what is unrealistic or unessential to the mission; or worse, they focus on what is blocking growth instead of what may lead to growth. I try to use probing questions and my own experience and strategic sense to help pastors do what is most important and will be most effective.

I expect members of my group to be on time, to be prepared, and to care most of all about what is best for the church they are called to lead.

The Rev. Elena Ortiz:
Lead Pastor, New Birth (Nuevo Naciamento) UMC, Lebanon

My name is Elena Ortiz, I am married to Abraham Ortiz. We have seven children and 14 grandchildren; and I have nine sisters and two brothers.  I was born and schooled in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. I moved to the United States 35 years ago, where I took computer programming classes from 1983 to 1985.

I moved to Reading PA and was a member of Ebenezer UMC, where the Rev. Jorge Hernandez was pastor. We then moved to Lebanon where my husband Abraham Ortiz entered candidacy to be a pastor. He began to lead the New Birth Church. In 1998 I was accepted as a candidate for ministry. From 1999 to 2005 I attended the course of study program at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.

When I arrived at New Birth Church the worship was good, but I felt something was missing. So I started devoting myself to improving the way we praised God. As to our culture, we like different rhythms of Latin music. So we formed a group to worship with instruments used for Latin music–for example, congas, bongos, drums, trumpet, saxophone, violin, tambourines, etc. We formed a group of adult dancers, and another group of young girls to do pantomime and drama ministries. We began to incorporate the arts ministries in worship. We developed a group for hospitality and discipleship for the newly converted, for the growth of all those who accept Jesus as their Savior. We combined everything, and our church began to grow. We went from 60 to 380 in attendance, and every year we receive new people as members of our congregation. This year we will receive 40 people as members. To God be all the glory.

The Rev. John Longmire:
Lead Pastor, Hempfield UMC

John Longmire is the lead pastor of Hempfield United Methodist Church, a congregation of 1500 members with a ministry staff of 20 people. He is a graduate of Temple University, and has completed two Masters degree programs from Reformed Episcopal Seminary and Drew University. He is Wesleyan in theology and practice, and strives to be faithful to our mutual covenant as United Methodists. He is the son of Rev. Rodney Longmire, retired member of our conference. He is married to his wife Tracy, and they have two teenage sons. Prior to Hempfield, he served at Black Creek UMC (1992-1999) where attendance grew from 60 to100 and Memorial UMC in Quarryville (1999-2008) where attendance grew from 130 to 330. He has experience in adding new worship services, led in three building projects and has expanded the number of staff at each appointment. Areas of proficiency include:

  • Proactive Worship Planning
  • The Sermon and Visual Media
  • Leading Staff
  • Cooperative Visioning