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.

Attention to the Unexpected

So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all their things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47).

FUMCSantaROsaThis last year I began my fifth appointment to a new church. Something is different about my approach at the beginning of this journey. I have still been taking the time to get to know the church and the community. I am still immersing myself in our understanding of the mission of the church and our strategies and processes to accomplish that mission. I am still trying to align and focus all that we do with that mission and free leaders up to be innovative and creative in accomplishing our purpose. But what is different is that in the midst of all of this work, I’m looking for “signs and wonders.”

Somehow, in the past, I glossed over this abundant reference in the book of Acts. What I formerly saw was three main parts to becoming a movement and being vital once again.

1. The Resurrection sparks the movement
2. The Holy Spirit ignites the flame.
3. Proclaiming Jesus spreads the fire.

What I missed was the “signs and wonders” between numbers 2 and 3 above. There is little to proclaim without the authenticating “signs and wonders”.

For too many years, I fell into the trap of thinking that if only I understood more, implemented a different strategy or found the right leader, we would emerge as a movement again. While all these things are important, I’ve learned that I must, at the same time, be looking for “signs and wonders” – that is, evidence that God is working.

What is happening in our midst that can only be explained by the presence and action of God? If every accomplishment in our church can be explained by our plans, processes and efforts then, I think, vitality will continue to elude us. We must discover what God is doing and rally around that.

At our church we have a gathering we call Spirit Café. It began as one of our regular worship services. What was different about it was that it began with a meal, worship was very informal and it was on Tuesday. Initially, those who attended were church members for whom a weekday service was better than Sunday or just preferred a more informal service that included dinner.

A strong regular worshiping community evolved out of this service. Over the last six months, however, it has included a growing number of guests and visitors who have subsequently become a vital part of our congregation. Many of those people have been or are homeless. Over the years, I have been a part of food programs for the hungry that might also include a worship service. This is the first time, however, I’ve been a part of a worship service that many homeless and other community members have joined.

Many come initially because food is being served. But since the service began as a worship service that includes a meal rather than a meal that adds on a worship service, it has a very different feel to it – one of a worshiping community, rather than a service project. We have been asking ourselves, “What is God doing here?”

We are seeing “signs and wonders” for which we did not plan nor expect. We are experiencing growth in the number of regular people coming to this service from a portion of our population that we did not anticipate. Since it is a worship service we are asking ourselves different questions than we might otherwise – questions like, how do we welcome and greet people? How do we help people get connected? How do we involve them in our discipleship process? How do we create genuine Christian community? If we began this as a service project we might be asking different questions that would lead us down a different path.

God is connecting us to new people in our community through doors we did not anticipate nor plan for. We are seeking to rally around a new agenda God is setting for us and proclaim how Jesus is reshaping his community at the corner of Montgomery and Talbot. Rather than try to create movement we are trying to catch up with the movement God has already initiated.

While I highly value the need for greater understanding, competency and processes, I am sure that I often make things more complicated than needed. I miss what God is doing right before my eyes. One of the key ingredients that has always fueled the Jesus movement is “signs and wonders” – clear evidence that God is at work.

Questions for Reflection and Response:

1. What “signs and wonders” are you seeing around worship in your church?
2. Share an experience of God’s unmistakable presence in worship?
3. Do you have any unexpected guests God is sending to your worshiping community? How are you responding to God’s initiative?

blakebusick_resizeBlake Busick
Vital Signs and Wonders Project Coordinator
First United Methodist Church, Santa Rosa