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

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.

Vital Worship at Los Altos UMC


Los Altos UMC
[Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Reconciling Ministries Network]

Los Altos United Methodist Church loves offering excellent worship and music every week, with a continual focus on improvement. The pastoral staff and worship team work hard together to make it happen, and they bring in guest preachers, worship leaders, and musicians a few times a year to complement the work they do. Three avenues of worship have seen particular attendance growth in the last few years: a monthly young adult worship service on Saturday evenings, online “attendance” through virtual streaming of all services, and a new children’s worship service.

The OpenCircle young adult ministry at LAUMC, led by the Rev. Samuel Yun, started holding monthly Saturday worship services in October 2011. That first service drew 75 participants. In 2013, the service averaged 88 monthly participants, with a high of 145. Young adults from around the Bay Area come to the service. Each service has a theme, such as Come-Unity, U2charist, Free Jesus, and Imagine. OpenCircle has also supported young adult worship services at other Bay Area United Methodist Churches, growing the ministry with and for this age group.

LAUMC live streams its four Sunday services, the monthly OpenCircle service, and some special concerts. Online participants can register their attendance, download the bulletin, submit prayer requests, and make donations. Online attendance has increased from an average of 142 per weekend in 2011 to an average of 171 per weekend in 2013. Participants log in from the local community, across the country, and around the world. Church members report watching online while away on vacation, sometimes inviting friends they are visiting to watch with them and discuss the sermon afterward.

In September the children’s ministries started a new Sunday school curriculum that includes opening large-group worship for first through fifth graders before they divide into age-level classrooms. The children’s worship service, held at 9:30 a.m. in Creekside Center, includes music, interactive skits on the week’s Bible story, and prayer. The service has averaged 59 children in attendance over the last four months. The children are actively engaged, and the adults involved as Sunday school teachers, music leaders, and skit actors have reported renewed energy for teaching the children messages of faith.

If you would like to see our vital worship in action, you are welcome to attend a service any Sunday at 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m., or 5:00 p.m. or on the first Saturday of the month at 5:00 p.m. LAUMC’s address is 655 Magdalena Ave at Foothill Expressway, Los Altos, and our “virtual campus” is online at We look forward to worshipping with you!



Emily Allen

Director of Communications

Los Altos UMC

Happy New Year!

Greetings to all of you out in the blogosphere in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

My name is Anthony Fatta and I am happy to be moderating this blog as we continue the journey of learning new methods of vitality and being creative in how the Gospel manifests itself in our particular settings.

Vital Signs and Wonders will be organized in a way that allows us to explore all dimension of congregational vitality.  Every month we will share a different dimension including: worship attendance, professions of faith, small group participation, mission outreach and giving, connectional accountability, and stewardship and giving.

Another aspect of this blog will be entirely image and video driven.  It is called Snapshots of Vitality.  If you have a picture or short video of innovative worship, a vital small group, or anything interesting you would like to share with your fellow United Methodists, please share them with us.  If you are using social networking (Facebook, twitter, instagram), please use the hashtag #SSvitality with a caption.  We can make sure it is shared on this blog.  You can also email me pictures or blog ideas to

Christmastide blessings,


We are a part of God’s big picture!

I love our United Methodist Church. We are a connectional church and “connectionalism” is our trademark! Connectionalism is not in the dictionary and every time it is used in a document, you will see it underlined, signifying that it is a “wrong” word or does not exist.

Many people understand “connectionalism” as an organizing principle. Bishops appoint pastors to local churches and every church is connected in that sense. However, to me, “connectionalism” is more meaningful in mission and ministry. For example, on one given Sunday, if everybody gives one dollar to a mission, we could have 10 million dollars for that purpose. This was distinctly how African University was started. We gave money to the “Imagine No Malaria” and “Nothing But Nets” campaign in a similar fashion. The Bill Gates Foundation pledged to donate 2 billion dollars for  malaria prevention research and 1.4 billion dollars for the cure over the next couple of years. Our “Imagine No Malaria” campaign, on the other end, will help raise 75 million dollars over the course of two years. This is something that even some mega churches cannot do. I have read that some mega churches give millions of dollars to support social services. However, the United Methodist Churches are able to give billions of dollars to stop hunger, to support housing projects for homeless people, and to fight diseases globally. Every small church gives small amounts but eventually turns into a large pile of love. We are all small pieces of God’s big picture.

layetteAs pastors, we are willing to go to serve any church in the connection. Church members are all members of one big church. When we work together, the impact can be great. For instance, one ministry we are doing in our church is Layette Mother’s Day. Traditionally, on Mother’s Day, the men sing for the women and cook for them. We recognize mothers and appreciate their love by giving them flowers. However, this year, we decided to collect items for Layette Kits that UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) is helping our Annual Conference to assemble during our annual conference session. These Layette Kits will be delivered to the mothers who do not have resources for their babies. If our church is the only church doing this, we can only make a small number of kits. However, with all of our churches in the conference and all the conferences participating, it will fill many containers for the needy mothers.

We love to pay apportionments and paying apportionments is one part of connectional accountability. Every time our conference is doing something bigger than our own local church and our own conference we like  to participate in those missions and ministries. We can enjoy being a small church, small enough to care for our members but also be a part of the big church to transform the world. In this way, we are able to grow together, serve the world together, and be accountable to each other!

Questions to consider:

* What area(s) of connectional accountability is your church passionate about?

* How has your church responded to connectional accountability as a whole?

PastorLee2Rev. Sungho Lee
Concord United Methodist Church
Concord, CA

¡Grande gozo! ¡Cuán hermoso!

¡Grande gozo! ¡Cuán hermoso! That’s how I responded this week to a brief e-mail report that I received from the Sacramento Emanuel United Methodist Church.

It’s a line from a mid-19th Century hymn that says (translated from Spanish) “Great joy! How beautiful! I’m so happy all the time. Because I see the smiling face of Christ, great joy I feel in me.” What brought on that rush of Spirit-powered joy? It was a report from Pastor Jola Bortner that the Emanuel congregation was not only on track for 100% apportionment payments this year, but that they were also reaching “second mile” giving AND making up for apportionments unpaid from last year. I can see the smiling face of Christ and the joy within me is real!

How beautiful on the mountains (and valleys) are the hands and feet of those who bring the Good News of the transforming power of God into someone else’s life. Is that how you interpret our Shared Giving? It brings great joy to my heart every time I sign a 100% Apportionment Giving certificate for a local church. It brings great sadness to my heart every time I hear Pastors or lay leaders complain about the “tax” they are expected to pay. Are we no longer leading our disciples into accountable discipleship?

John Wesley understood that there is no such thing as a solitary Christian – not only because Jesus established a community of faith, but also because the mission we have been entrusted with is one that can only be carried out with the collaboration and cooperation we know as the Body of Christ. This was the genius of his “Method” for making disciples with Bands, Classes and Societies! I dare anyone to name any single congregation that could eradicate the disease of malaria and the scourge of suffering and death it brings every 60 seconds from the face of Planet Earth all by itself! In United Methodist connection with one another we did imagine such a joy – so we have made that choice and we are systematically working day in and day out to change everyday lives on the continent of Africa where malaria takes its worst toll.

Our Shared Giving (apportionments) is a commitment of faith that we are called to do far more together than any individual congregation could do alone.  After six years of watching congregations of all shapes, sizes and financial ability earn those 100% certificates – no one could ever convince me that faithfulness in shared giving is about anything other than the conviction that Christ calls us to put others first.

When that great day comes, when the scourge of malaria is wiped from the face of Africa along with the tears of her mothers, will your congregation share in the joyful knowledge that they answered the call of Christ when it came?

Beyond our Shared Giving, it also brings joy to my heart to see how many congregations and their Pastors have embraced the vision of “Circuit.” We used to call it a “parish,” but whether circuit or parish, the vision of collaboration in mission strategy and accountability is growing in our Annual Conference. What began as clergy gatherings to share best practices in congregational renewal is now blossoming in the Bridges District with 7 congregations and 2 pastors working through the challenges of finding their own Pathway to Renewal” with coaches Rev. Dan Smith and Rev. Mary Huycke. As with any process that is truly transformational, progress needs not only support but also accountability. Coaching offers just that. Watch for the fruit that is certainly coming!

It brings great joy to my heart to see how far we have come from strictly “silo” congregations, to shared services of worship, housing and feeding, and now – most importantly – congregations are entering the new waters of shared mission strategy. Even as I write, the Marin “Short” Circuit is exploring the possibility of a “yoked/shared” parish (not merger!) that will strengthen each individual congregation with the varied gifts of an appointed Pastoral team while also forwarding the collaborative engagement of their unique mission field. Did you know that Marin County is the second least “churched” county on the entire West Coast of the United States? (You thought your mission field was challenging!) Seeking the transformation of lives calls for more than a shared food pantry. We want to see what the connectional power that will eradicate Malaria in Africa can do in Marin County too.  ¡Grande gozo! ¡Cuán hermoso!

Rev. Renae Extrum-Fernandez
District Superintendent
Bridges District