One of our four mission foci for The United Methodist Church is “to create new places for new people,” where we can invite others to come experience the Holy Spirit in new, potentially life-changing ways. We are called, as John Wesley was, to make the world our parish by moving outside our church walls and meeting people wherever they are.
No longer can we sit in our church pews and wait for people to come to us. Those days of people beating a path to our church doors have been gone for many years; but too many of us are still waiting for them to arrive or to return. It may happen, but probably not. The only return we can be sure of is that of Jesus Christ.
Innovative churches with an outward focus are looking to MissionInSite for help in looking carefully at the people in their communities and seeing who they are, what they need and how we can best share with them the love of Jesus Christ.
Church-growth strategist, trainer and author Tom Bandy, whose latest book is See, Know and Serve, will be here Oct. 4-6 to show us how using the powerful demographics tool of MissionInsite can help transform our churches and benefit the communities they serve.
Nuevo Nacimiento (New Birth) UMC in Lebanon is starting house churches in its community to grow in faith and fellowship with neighbors in their homes. The idea was born along with the church in 1998; and now they have 11 lively house churches meeting bi-weekly. Many participants also attend the Latino church’s thriving Sunday worship services. But their discipleship is being nurtured and their needs are being met at home also.
Our conference will sponsor, and Nuevo Nacimiento will host, Launchpad on Aug. 21-23. It’s an intensive training event, offered in English and Spanish, for church leaders and teams wanting or starting to plant new faith communities. Our PATH 1 friend Paul Nixon, who coaches new church start efforts, will co-lead the training with Sam Rodriguez, one of the foremost experts on church planting within Latino communities.
Meanwhile, Lifetree Café, a national, innovative ministry that reaches beyond church walls, is where Congregational Development will concentrate much of its efforts in the coming months. People gather weekly in a coffee shop, restaurant or pub not just to meet, greet and eat, but also to create an open, non-threatening environment to talk about what’s on their minds and in their hearts. It may not always be about religion, but it may have more to do with their need for faith and capacity for discipleship than they realize.
Important concerns are happening daily to us all. Lifetree Café is about listening and engaging in gentle, guided, topical conversations, as people share their concerns and opinions, unhindered by fear of prejudice or judgment. They wait on the Holy Spirit to know when and how they should respond, but they are always led to respond with agape acceptance.
In June we visited and learned about the Lifetree Café that meets Monday evenings at the Canal Street Pub in Reading. It’s led by Reading police sergeant Nathan Matz and his wife. Nathan came and spoke to us at the March 21 faith-sharing event, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, led by Thom and Joani Schultz, the creators of Lifetree Café.
We hope to create a dozen or more similar experiences around the conference in the next year or two. What’s important is for many or most of the participants to be not from our churches but from our communities, especially neighbors who need something more than just church.
We have two new similar ministries just emerging at opposite ends of our conference, each with a flavor of its own. The Rev. Lydia Muñoz has launched Starting Point: Philly in the Northern Liberties area of Philadelphia. Read her article about this inventive, boundary-crossing ministry.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Graeff, a Lancaster Theological Seminary student, is starting Ember, a new faith community that will borrow from secular art, music and culture to “help share the gospel in more accessible ways with people who have never been to church, don’t go to church often, or have left the church.” Gatherings are slated to begin Sept. 6, meeting on Sundays at 7 PM in a downtown Lancaster art studio near Franklin & Marshall College. Right now Graeff is getting the word out and trying to raise funds for this effort.
Both of these innovators, with help from their districts, are reaching beyond church walls to touch people who otherwise might never grace the doors of of our traditional churches. We will share updates about their progress and about our multi-site Lifetree Cafe efforts in the coming months.
God is waiting for you and your church to fulfill the Great Commission in creative ways by reaching and touching people where they live. Listen and be lifted by the Holy Spirit’s Wind beyond your church’s walls. Let it take you to see new places, meet new people and discover new adventures that you’ve never dreamed of before. Then write us and please tell us all about it.
By the Rev. Gordon Hendrickson
The Rev. Gordon Hendrickson is Coordinator of Congregational Development in the Eastern PA Conference. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo: Members of the Eastern PA Conference’s Congregational Development Team–(clockwise from bottom left) Rev. Mike Netznik, Rev. Rick Rimert, Rev. Deanna Geiter, Suzette James, Rev. Christopher Kurien and Rev. Gordon Hendrickson–gain insights from Nathan Matz (bottom right), co-founder of the Lifetree Cafe that meets at the Canal Street Pub in Reading. They attended a Lifetree Cafe Monday night gathering there in June. (John Coleman photo)