Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Churches Having Babies - Big Priority

As the denomination celebrates 150 years of “spreading scriptural holiness across the land” and “preaching the gospel to the poor,” we celebrative a history marked by explosive church planting.  With a purpose and resolve to bring a whole gospel to masses of people who lived with either no faith or hope at all, or with an impoverished view of the extend of God’s redemption, the early Free Methodists, launched churches wherever and whenever they could.  Many North Central Conference churches were launched by the wave of pastors and lay leaders committed to establishing kingdom outposts in county seats and communities. 

The average age of a church in America is about 80 years.  Churches are birthed, then they grow, then they struggle, then they find themselves, then they become established, then they begin to level off, then they begin to celebrate what they did and begin to be less interested in a compellingly different vision for a new future, and then they age gracefully, and then they die, and then they pass on their legacy to a new generation of churches (or not).  Most NCC churches have lived longer than 80 years, by God’s grace, through good leadership, through the constant struggle of looking to Christ, seeking the Spirit’s guidance and power to understand, love, reach and redeem an ever changing community around them.  Many have not.  A significant number of us are plateaued, declining or on the verge of passing on.  It’s part of the life cycle of an older collection of churches.  Not a single church St. Paul planted still exists today.  You would be hard pressed to find many that were planted by John Wesley that still stand or exist in the same form today.  You will find billions of Christians who live today because of the church planting heritage of St. Paul and millions who can look to the seminal founding work of Wesley and his peers. Look at the age of the NCC (152 years old) and its trend line over the past 50 years … multiple conference mergers as regions lose churches and require combining resources in order to survive – maybe the hope is thrive – yet closing more churches than it plants at a rate exceeding 3-1.   

For the NCC to survive as a movement God can bless, existing churches must keep eyes fixed on Jesus, the communities around them, and make sacrificial efforts to bless those communities and redeem souls as the living Body of Christ.   This can only be accomplished in an environment that loves disciples and builds communities that so love one another and those around them that souls are nourished and communities blessed. That will keep what God has given us strong.  But it will not mean we thrive.  

The NCC will not thrive unless churches have babies that grow up and have more babies who grow up and move away and have more babies in different communities all over the Midwest, USA and world.  The NCC will not thrive unless the collective effort and power that truly does exist in our connection called Free Methodist all together will go places with people and plans endued with the Spirit of Christ, blessing of his people, resources of his disciples that presently do not have groups of Christians dedicated to blessing communities through a holistic Christian presence. 

Easum, Bandy and Associates seminal work, “Transformation and Reproduction Across Denominational Lines” (2008) explored judicatories (conferences, regional connections of churches) that grow, and those (the majority) that are shrinking to determine differences.  They discovered that any region can grow IF they 1) have competent and passionate pastors who prioritize soul winning and community penetration rather than surviving and having a good place to teach stuff, 2) allow churches to struggle when an entrepreneurial pastor shakes up the status quo rather than  jumping to ‘restore order’ or engage in triangulation behavior, 3) have judicatories that understand they exist for the churches and that the churches do not exist for the denomination, 4) have aggressive church planting agendas which meet or exceed a 4% church plant to established church ratio.   I believe the NCC has made serious attempts to engage such priorities, and consequently we have seen growth overall in our movement. 

We must not, cannot, will not move away from engaging in the primal command of God to “be fruitful and multiply!”  We must, we can and we will plant churches (have babies!) in communities all over the Midwest, the USA and the world.  I look forward to celebrating several church plants that were started since last Annual Conference, and to praying over and consecrating new church planters.  We will plant and revitalize 50 congregations by 2025!   

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jesus Sightings in the NCC

He lives, He lives
Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, he lives, Salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart!

Christian, many excellent apologetic arguments, solid reasons and historical evidences demonstrate that 2000 years ago Jesus died on the cross and resurrected to life. Yet, no more powerful argument exists for the Resurrection than the Living Christ bursting through with love and redemption in your heart and the heart of His mystical “body” – the church. 

We envision our collection of churches in the upper Midwest as “Bringing Jesus to the North Central United States through planting and growing healthy congregations advanced by boldly apostolic leaders working synergistically together.”  Bringing Jesus! When Christ LIVES in you, everywhere you go, you are bringing Jesus. Is this evident to your family, friends, peers, coworkers and Christian family? 

Here are some ways we see our peers in the North Central Conference Bringing Jesus lately. Nearly 1000 people trusted in Jesus for their eternal salvation in North Central Conference churches over the year. Shout hallelujah! 

Just last month 21 people became members of our churches, 14 people committed their lives to Jesus, 79 people made significant discipleship decisions.  Churches where people were born again this month include Iglesia Emanuel Pentecostal in Albert Lea, MN (Federico Rivera),Beloit FMC in Beloit, WI (Rich Whippler), Our Redeemer in Elgin, IL (Randy Stateler & Ernesto Ortega), Freeport FMC in Freeport, IL (Don Jamerson), Motley FMC in Motley, MN (Jim Johnson), New Hope in Oskaloosa, IA (Daryl Martin), Penn Street Church in Ottumwa, IA (Tim Ward), LifePointe Church in Tiffin, IA (Tommy Roberts), Toddville FMC in Toddville IA (Mark Lofquist), the Chapel in Chicago, IL (David Bates and Joel Smith) and Common Ground in Sioux Falls, SD (Mark Taylor and Pat an Marge McClanahan).

Men stood up to commit their lives to being patterned after Jesus rather than Oprah or the Spike TV ideals at Resolution Church in Oswego, IL (Erick & Bekki Ewaskowitz).  Thousands were fed through the Food Pantry in Evanston, IL (Pat Coakley and Maiya Lueptow) and Good in the Hood ministries at Cedarcrest Church in Bloomington, MN (Shawn and Jamie Morrison). A new community day care center – Noah’s Ark – was opened in Waterloo, IA (Al Taylor). Nearly 100 people attended a Valentines outreach in the small town of Wataga IL (Darren Anderson). Girls Night Out and Senior Citizens Breakfast are meeting community needs in Tiffin, IA (Tommy Roberts).  The Richland Center FMC is reaching people in their community using a Guitars for God program (Jim Berlin). Hilltop Church in Peoria, IL is launching the “Make a Friend” program (Paul Lee).  Ottumwa IA Free Methodists serve meals at the local homeless shelter (Tim Ward). Pine Grove FMC in Rockford, IL is distributing free batteries to their community in conjunction with the fire departments reminders to check life saving devices (Paul Bundschuh).  Emmanuel Church in Janesville WI is launching a Hot Rod Club and offering Line Dancing creating good community buzz (Dan Grimes). Several convicts give their life to Christ as New Hope in Fairfield IA launches a new jail ministry (Jim & Linda McGaffey). All over the conference sermons were preached, resources provided, concerts held, funds raised to set free the slaves in the world via Freedom Sunday activities.

Four new churches are in various stages of birth and launch! Common Ground, Sioux Falls (SD) launched with 200 in March. Clearview in Monroe WI, Mainstreet Ministries in Pella IA, Connect Church in DeKalb are building core groups and launching strategic ministries.

The sick are being healed, the hungry are being fed, the homeless are finding shelter, the lost are finding salvation.  YOU, North Central Conference Churches, are Bringing Jesus!  You have tasted and experienced the grace of God, grow more deeply in the knowledge of Christ and share God’s love broadly. Proclaim fearlessly the good news of the gospel over this Easter Season. 

He lives, He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, he lives, Salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!