Calling to Plant Workshop Recap- We had so much fun for a Sunday!!

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Recap on Calling to Plant Workshop-

On Saturday, August 29th , the Office of Congregational Vitality’s Rev. Dr. Bener Baysa Agtarap and Project Coordinator Maya Parmar facilitated a church planter workshop, Calling to Plant: Exploring and Assessing Potential Leaders for Church Planting. The event was heartfelt and successful especially for a Saturday! Not only did we have 34 people register but 41 people turned out.

The Workshop began with River Valley Christian Fellowship’s Lay Leader, Brother Peter Katigbak and their Praise team. Everyone joined in as we praised God together. Then, Brother Tevita Koroi of Centennial UMC Sacramento shared his sermon “Only Believe” which could be heard here on their website:, a powerful message to encourage the spirit of these Church Planters.

The topics of the workshop included: Heart of Church Planting, Heart of the Community and Heart of a planter. We provided the planters with a 20-page workbook and asked them to draw their heart on the cover. We presented a demo on MissionInsite and provided everyone with an ExecutiveInsite Report on their church community to discuss within their groups. Totally, we had 30 people register for MissionInsite. With the information provided, fellowship support, and accepting of church analytics everyone seemed excited to about MissionInsite technology. In the group discussion people shared their experience with how this new process and assisted each other with registering and navigating through reports.

At the end we had a surprise visit from Bishop Warner Brown Jr. who stopped in to bless, thank and encourage the church planters for their time and hearts.

For more information about this event visit the Office of Congregational Vitality tab under Ministries or the Office/ Project Coordinator, Maya Parmar, at or 916.374.1525.

Churches as Models: Older Adult Ministries

As a member of the Older Adult Ministry of the Committee on New and Vital Congregations (OAM/CNVC), I am happy to be the project coordinator for the 2014 Churches as Models project.

I recently visited the two churches selected as model churches based on their long-standing successful older adult programs: Castro Valley United Methodist Church and Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church. While at each church I observed and participated in several programs and activities created for or beneficial to older adults (ages 50+), including exercise classes, crafts and gardening groups, and luncheons, all offered not only to congregational members, but to the broader communities as well. The visits also afforded me the opportunity to meet with the pastors and project representatives to discuss their thriving programs and to talk firsthand with program participants to learn why they enjoyed and appreciated the programs so much.

Even with the project in its early stages, I have already discovered much, including the value of older adult programs in keeping individuals supported and connected, and in providing a structure for creativity, productivity, and fun. Also, the importance of strong and committed program leadership and direction, not only from clergy and involved lay leaders, but from program participants as well, in order to keep programs relevant in meeting the needs of the congregations and communities.

A key goal of the Churches as Models project is to find ways similar programs can be developed and nourished in other congregations throughout the Conference. During the upcoming months as I visit more programs at Castro Valley UMC and Sacramento Japanese UMC, I will post what I find, along with ideas and strategies for potentially replicating them at other churches. If you have questions, please contact me at

Jackie Finley



Showing up

Recently, there was a 5K race that a few people from my congregation were running. At first, I balked at the idea of signing up: It was on a Sunday afternoon, and I knew that morning was going be a particularly long one. But in the end, I sucked it up, and after dragging myself downtown and standing through registration, I fought through a sea of people, and ran what was a very crowded race. Afterward, I found members of my church hanging out near the concession booth, and all of the hassle was rewarded with some of the most welcoming words I’ve ever heard. A woman from my church turned to a friend of hers (not from our church), and said, “Oh, how cool. Our pastor showed up!”

Showing up matters, and showing up can be particularly meaningful in the places and at the times when it’s least expected. It is not particularly remarkable that I showed up at a 5K, but it has been nothing short of incredible the way member from our congregation have showed up in Southwest Santa Rosa. On October 22nd, 2013, an unarmed 13-year-old, who was Latino-American, was shot to death by a local law enforcement officer, who was white. The teenager, Andy Lopez,  was carrying a toy gun, and the officer has already returned to the force.

The shooting enflamed the preexisting tension in a city that suffers from economic disparity between its incredibly racially segregated quadrants. The civil unrest that developed from the fall through the winter was enough to make anyone want to hide her head in the sand, but members from our church kept showing up. They showed up at rallies, and at community meetings. A small group of them took turns coming to a weekly peace vigil on the site where Andy Lopez was killed. They came every week and stood in silence. They were often the only non-Latino people there. When I told one of the members of the group how moved I was with her presence, she said, “The church needs to show up. The church just needs to show up and listen.”

There are places in every town where the church needs to show up. We need to show up in the face of injustice and oppression, and we need to show up as the church ready to listen. Ministry that starts with presence and deep listening may seem like it take a long time to grow, but that it only because it is developing deep roots in the soil. There was no immediately visible “success” from the outreach of our church members, but by Lent, other churches began to come forward to lead the weekly peace vigil. And by Holy Thursday, our congregation partnered with a pastor for a Latino church for combined worship.

Where in your community does the church need to “show up”?

What does it look like for your congregation to reach outside of its comfort zone to do the hard work of witnessing to injustice and oppression?

What is one tangible way your church could seek to listen to those who have a different experience of your community than you do?

Article submitted by: 

Pastor Lindsay Kerr, Associate Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Santa Rosa, CA

Pastor Lindsay

Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God – Micah 6:8

Courage to be Christian


Chapter Seven of Change the World begins with these words: “At the heart of every decision we make about the future and purpose of the church is a choice between courage and compliance.” Author Michael Slaughter challenges readers to determine their willingness to act boldly, meet challenges, and leave comfort zones in response to Christ’s call. The message is clear: It takes courage to be Christian.

Reaction is Weakness

While attending seminary in the 80s, I listened as a guest from South Africa spoke to our class. During this time, apartheid was still in effect there. In the context of describing the challenges facing people trying to dismantle apartheid in that volatile climate, the speaker said three words I’ll never forget: “Reaction is weakness.”

When you live in response mode, it means someone else is dictating terms and initiating the course of action. My personal metaphor of perpetual reaction is that of a football team that plays only defense for the entire game.

“Fear,” in Slaughter’s words, “is an irrational emotion.” As I write, the combination of our country’s current economic struggle and post-9/11 security concerns, have heightened anxiety nationwide. How should the church act during these times? First, the church must keep reminding itself of the reasons the church exists.

Three or Four Questions You Must Answer

In Leading Beyond the Walls , Pastor Adam Hamilton offers a set of questions that every church should answer. Here are the first three:

  1. Why do people need Christ?
  2. Why do people need the church?
  3. Why do people need this particular church?

The first question, “Why do people need Christ?” is a crucial one for each Christ follower in our local churches to answer. Work to get people to articulate personal and practical answers — not parroted, canned quotes from someone else’s writings. Here is a way to drive the point home. Ask additional questions, like the following, to provide a framework for responding:

  1. Who is Jesus Christ?
  2. What happens when a person allows Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit into his or her life?
  3. What difference has Christ made in your life?
  4. How would your life be different if you were not exercising personal faith in Jesus Christ?
  5. Why do we need what Jesus offers? (Hamilton offers a helpful suggestion to aid understanding of the human condition: Read the newspaper, watch the news, watch people, understand yourself; then answer the question.)

These basic questions may help start discussions that get people thinking about what difference Christ has made in their lives and in the lives of others. Without confident answers to these questions, the church has little hope of being relevant to unchurched people.

Provoked to Love

The second question, “Why do people need the church?” underscores the importance of the corporate function of the local church. We may begin answering this question by voicing major theological concepts: Christians are Christ’s continuing presence on earth and compose the collective Temple of the Holy Spirit. But what can we say in plain, practical terms that might speak to the average person? This is where the corporate function of the local church should be highlighted:

  1. 1 Hebrews 10:24-25 begins with these words, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” From its earliest depiction in the book of Acts, the church has historically been a faith community in which Christians live out their faith — together. The notion that “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) applies to the Christian journey. We work out our faith together, learning how to love, share, and serve — together.
  2. We can do more together than we can apart. In light of our connectional system, this is something that United Methodists should be able to promote wholeheartedly.
  3. God has given spiritual gifts to each believer. The gifts are not for personal gain, but to serve and help others.
  4. The church is the place where we gather to study God’s word, learn spiritual practices, and grow in spiritual maturity. People make progress faster when they work together. Statistically, married men are healthier than single men, and people lose weight more effectively when they join organizations such as Weight Watchers. Likewise, people grow in their Christian maturity when they intentionally walk with other Christian disciples.

What’s Your Reputation?

As a former congregational development director, I received this helpful advice: “Before consulting with a church, do a ‘windshield tour’ of the community. Notice the ministry opportunities. If you have time, walk the neighborhood and ask people what they know about the church in question.” In short, the advice provided a way to determine what type of reputation the church had in the community.

The third question, “Why do people need this particular church?” helps a local congregation identify its distinctive beliefs and ministry offerings. What is distinctive about Methodist beliefs? Here you can talk about Wesley’s concepts of grace, personal piety and social holiness, the General Rules, connectional ministries, and more. Then focus on what your local church offers that other churches do not.

If you are a small church, you could name the tangible benefits you offer. Your list might include: the speedy response to needs possible in a small church, the high percentage of involvement, and the down-to-earth, accepting atmosphere.

Pastoral care is another distinctive to explore. What type of pastoral care does your church offer? Does your church provide ministry to the community in any way?

Working through these types of questions will remind us why the church and our particular local church is needed.

The Fourth Question

The fourth question Hamilton asks is, “To whom does our church belong?” After sharing a litany noting the people who do not own the church, Hamilton states the obvious: The church belongs to Jesus Christ. He then presses readers to consider the following implication of this fact. The driving mission of every local church must be to do the things that Jesus wants us to do — nothing less.

Answering these questions honestly will take courage, but courage is part of the Christian legacy we should be willing to further.

This article is a repost from the “CONTINUE TO CHANGE THE WORLD” series at 


Small Groups in our Church

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

                                                                                                      Matthew 18:20 NRSV

By the numbers, Watsonville First United Methodist Church // Primera Iglesia Metodista Unida de Watsonville, isn’t a large church.  But in small groups we are mighty.  What does it take to have a thriving small group ministry?

  1. Be open to what God’s Spirit brings your church.
  2. And partner with others.

Behind our church is a little park.  When I first came to Watsonville, it was the source of my headaches.  It was run down.  The play equipment was old, broken and dangerous.  This space next to our facility was a magnet for criminal and other unhealthy behavior, which spilled onto our parking lot.  Graffiti covered the wall of a nearby residence.  There was trash everywhere.

In those days, I called the cops, a lot.  And rest assured, our church budget didn’t include anything to do with parks.

Then something shifted.

I began to see this eyesore of a park, as a gift from God.  We began to understand its potential.  So we started asking questions.

  • To the City: What can you do to fix up the play equipment?  And what can we do to improve our park?    
  • To the Police Department: How can we make our neighborhood safer and prevent crime instead of simply reacting to it?
  • To the neighborhood children and youth we met in the park: Would you like to help us make this a better park?

And that’s how we began our road to small groups.  We began to see our biggest “problem” as a gift from God.  We began to understand that the park was “our” park, and “our” problem.


So we found partners to help us do what needed to be done.  They were just waiting to be asked.  It was amazing!  We discovered that we needed partners to accomplish our work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

In this case, the City invited us to apply for a grant to fix up the park, which we did, twice, partnering with the nearby Pajaro Valley Children’s Center and other volunteers to install new fences, better signs, a picnic table, new trash cans, new trees, etc.  The City also replaced the old beat-up play equipment.


We found a local muralist and with the input of local children and youth, painted a big mural on a private residence.

Mural on the Wall #2

The Police helped us start a Neighborhood Watch group at the church with residents from around the park, and we began participating in National Night Out, an annual event to promote safety and introduce church and neighborhood families to our local fire fighters, police officers and city officials.

It was a win-win situation.

How long did it take to accomplish? We were actively involved in these projects start to finish at least three or four years.  This is not a fast process!  Making connections with the neighbors takes time, one relationship at a time.  But it’s worth it.  And it started us on the road to our small group ministries.

Check it out on our website:, or call me if you have questions, (831) 724-4434.

Blog courtesy of Pastor Robin Mathews-Johnson


5 Keys to a More Dynamic Group Experience

What makes for a dynamic small group experience?  Most of us know it when we see it.  Most of us have been in groups that have a different quality and go well beyond the ordinary.  I’ve written about what I think are the essential ingredients of life-change several times.

Here are what I think are the 5 keys to a dynamic small group experience:

  1. A group leader who is becoming more like Jesus.  Like Paul, the leader can say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV).  Embedded in this key are the practices of Jesus (praying for group members, thinking about their needs, loving them even when they fail, celebrating their faith steps, and appropriately challenging their stumbles.  A key for me is that need to be becoming more like Jesus.  Like Jesus’ closest followers, they can start very far from being like Him.
  2. A group leader who is being mentored by someone who is a few steps ahead.  I’ve often said, “Whatever you want to happen in the lives of your members has to happen first in the life of the leader.” How will the leader become like Jesus?  Almost always because someone is a few steps ahead, living out “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
  3. A warm and welcoming environment; a comfortable and familiar space.  Environment plays an important role in the meeting.  What’s needed isn’t elegant or expensive.  What’s needed is an invitation to relax.
  4. A shared understanding of essential purpose, values, and expectations of the group.
  5. A connection that extends beyond the meeting.  The meeting itself is important, but the meeting is not enough.  Groups that move beyond the ordinary experience almost always connect between meetings.  Dinner together.  A cup of coffee.  A Facebook message or a quick phone call.  Sitting together in the worship service.  A birthday card or note.

Article by Pastor Mark Howell (

About Mark Howell

mark_best1   Mark Howell is the Pastor of  Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada and the founder of, offering consulting and coaching services that help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries.

How to equip group members to live out a holistic faith


A few months ago, I had the privilege of hearing J. D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in North Carolina, speak about making work Christian. Unfortunately when most Christians think of trying to combine their faith and their careers, they assume they must work for a Christian company, a non-profit, or—at the very least—a company with a not-so-subtle Christianese name (e.g., a coffee shop called “He Brews”). Or, if they can’t seem to find a job at the right kind of company, many assume that combining their faith and careers requires sharing their faith in very direct, even awkward, ways.

But Greear set the record straight. One fact that he shared completely blew me away. Pointing to Acts, he stated that of the three great church planting centers in the ancient world (Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome), not one was founded by an apostle. Rather, the gospel was spread the furthest by ordinary business people on the coattails of commerce. Instead of specially trained missionaries telling people about Jesus, everyday laypeople were living out a holistic faith that included their business endeavors.

Greear’s main point was that we church leaders must equip the people in our congregations to live out a similar holistic faith that encompasses every area of their life, including their work. Rather than live out our faith a few hours a week in special places or roles, we must live out our faith every hour of every day. Who better to equip the everyday men and women in our churches than small-group leaders who are living life week-in and week-out with them—and are most likely laypeople themselves?

So I want to point you to a few resources that can help:

Redeeming Work Events from Leadership Journal
These one-day events happening around the country (beginning in Chicago on March 13) will explore the latest research and biblical scholarship on faith and work and how to recapture a theology of vocation. Hear great speakers as they address how to equip people to live out their faith every hour of every day. Register today!

Serving God in Our Jobs, by Amy L. Sherman
This article fleshes out a biblical theology of work. Use it to clarify your own understanding or hand it out to group members to start a conversation about faith and work.

Christians at Work, by J. D. Greear
This article explains five qualities that make work “Christian” and puts to rest many assumptions about what it looks like to combine our work and faith.

Praying for Our Work, by MaryKate Morse
This article features prayer exercises to help your group members connect their faith and work. It’s a great way to explore this topic.

As a small-group leader, you are perfectly poised to help your group members understand this concept and begin living out a more holistic faith. Let us know how you’re equipping your group members in the comments below.

Article by Amy Jackson
Copyright © 2014 Christianity Today International. Used by permission.