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

Calling to Plant Cover Calling to Plant 4 Calling to Plant 3 11933488_10153190297012087_122092165106797500_n 11223804_10153190298057087_385858567396052912_n 11952048_10153190297302087_2816844354711426907_n 11899921_10155954192585244_1784856688187258349_n Calling to Plant 5

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



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 


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,


Stewardship at FUMC

download (1)At First United Methodist Church of Bakersfield stewardship is taught as a Christian lifestyle. All year our people get the message that God gave His own Son for us. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price,” 1 Cor. 6:20; and God wants us to become generous as God is generous.

In 2009 FUMC completed the construction of our newest building – a $1.3 narthex.   There remained a debt of about $250,000 which was paid off in 2010.   How did that happen? Everyone was urged to pray for financial blessing. Then one day we were informed of a considerable sum of money left to the church by a long-­‐ago member. So the mortgage was paid and the Administrative Council praised God and realized that we needed to show our gratitude to God.  So a decision was made to tithe our bequest monies – give 10% –   to a local, Christian ministry. That is how we were able to help The Mission at Kern with their “women in transition” program, LOVE inc. and others.

Tithing is taught at FUMC. Does the Pastor tithe? Do leaders of the church tithe?  Tithing is a not a requirement for church membership, but it is a biblical standard. So we try to embed the Bible in all our communications.  Everyone is encouraged to be in a small group for spiritual growth. The small group experience includes practical knowledge of the Bible, prayer, a stewardship lifestyle, and a service project in the community.

The Finance Committee develops an annual budget that “stretches” us toward God’s purpose. Special holiday offerings go to mission outside the FUMC budget (such as UMCOR projects and local Christian missions). It is our practice to nominate people to the Finance Committee who are tithers or strong and consistent givers.

In the Fall we have a “stewardship emphasis” encouraging our members and constituents to pledge to the Lord’s mission through the church. Each year we have a new theme and logo that appears on our communications and is a theme for a sermon series. The theme for 2013 -­‐   Living the Life God Meant For You “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” John 10:10.

We continue to pray that God will provide the necessary resources for us to fulfill the mission the Lord has given us.

PastorRichard-bioRev. Richard Thompson
First United Methodist Church, Bakersfield

When Professed Faith becomes Personal Faith


I was a church kid. I grew up with Sunday School, Confirmation, and Youth Group as an ongoing part of my life, but I didn’t see myself as a stereotypical church kid.   Competitive sports were a big part of my growing up, and that kept me, at least in my own imagination, from being a stereotypical church kid.  Everything was turned upside down the summer following my junior year of high school.  The local Kiwanis club selected two high school students to attend the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Boy’s Camp in Ashland, Oregon.   To qualify you had to play a sport (mine was tennis) and be active in a church.

The stereotypical church kids I imagined (long on church, short on sport) never showed that week at Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp.   Most of the 800 teen boys played football, basketball, baseball or track, and most were bigger, taller and stronger than me . . .  by a lot.  As it turned out, tennis wasn’t a featured sport, but football, basketball, baseball and track were.

The first two days of competition were the two most humbling days of my life.    I was a part of a team made up of eleven other guys and me.  In almost every competition, I felt like that proverbial  ‘last kid to be picked for the team’.    As I failed to shine for (or even with) the team, my self-confidence plummeted through abysmal performances at football, basketball and baseball.

My redemption, however, was coming:  Wednesday afternoon was track.  While I knew I wasn’t the fastest kid there, I was pretty quick.  My event was to run the second leg of the mile relay.  It was hot, about 103, and the brand new black rubberized track absorbed so much heat that your feet were hot just walking across it in tennis shoes.  When they ran out of colored shirts, our team volunteered to be the skins (we ran shirtless).

My race started out wonderful, I received the baton and actually passed a couple of other runners.  For the first time since I had arrived, I felt like I was an asset, rather than a liability, to the team.  However, on the back stretch my toe came in contact with another person’s heel and the next thing I knew I was skidding across that new, hot, rubberized track.    Without any idea of the amount of skin I left on the track (substantial), I pulled myself to my feet and ran, or perhaps staggered, until I collapsed.

That afternoon and evening I sat alone in my dorm room covered in some sort of petroleum jelly slathered all over my still burning body.  I was  hurting intensely, both physically and emotionally.

My life up to that point included a number of significant ‘professions of faith’: baptism, confirmation, and kneeling at the altar receiving communion.  However, that petroleum jelly-covered Wednesday evening was a new sort of profession of faith.   For the first time my ‘self’ was stripped of all imagined worth . . . like the skin that flayed off my body as I skidded across that hot rubber track.

“When he came to himself” was the wording of the existential turning point of “the prodigal” in my RSV Bible (presented to me as a 4th grader, with my name imprinted on the cover, at Court Street UMC in Alameda).  I had long loved the story, but never before had I been stripped to that sort of ‘self’.   It was there that my public professions became faith. . . alive and intimately personal.

Over the years in the church my understanding of being a disciple of Jesus Christ has changed in many ways (I’d like to think it has deepened and matured), but that raw moment of embracing, accepting, committing to . . . and with . . . and for . . .Jesus Christ, remains formative and clarifying.

Through this blog on professions of faith, each of the writers close with an invitation to explore a couple of questions.  I leave you with two.

  • Is there a raw and stripped down moment where professed faith became personal faith?  (I don’t want to suggest that it cannot happen simultaneously in a public moment of Professed Faith).
  • How can you return to those “coming to yourself” moments to rekindle passion and find intimate clarity?

DaveSamelson_80x100_GVKZGJVCRev. David Samelson
District Superintendent for Great Northern District
Cal-Nevada Annual Conference