By: Christa Meland
On Sunday, Rev. Henry Dolopei II shared with his congregation the story about how he came to Christ in the form of a 60-second elevator speech. He also plans to join the local Rotary Club, start connecting with nearby schools, and try to build new relationships at high school sports games.
All of these are ideas that he came away with after having attended the 2014 Leadership Institute at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. More than 100 United Methodists from Minnesota and the Dakotas were among 2,000 church leaders who attended the event, at which 750 churches and 15 denominations were represented. The theme was “Revival,” defined as “turning the church inside-out.”
“The church of Jesus Christ is not only in the walls but it’s going outside,” said Dolopei, who was commissioned in May and is now serving in his first appointment as minister of evangelism at Brooklyn United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Center. “That needs to start with me. I need to build relationships with the community. Then people will follow me.”
Dolopei said Brooklyn UMC is an older congregation with a lot of aging members, and it’s been a struggle to attract young families. Two of the biggest things he came away from the conference with are a firm belief in the importance of building relationships in the area surrounding his church—and a commitment to giving his congregation opportunities to practice and become comfortable sharing their faith stories.
Sharing faith stories and reaching new people
Judy Fallat, co-lay leader at Minnetonka United Methodist Church, also wants to help facilitate opportunities for members of her church to become comfortable discussing their faith. She and 12 other members of her congregation who attended the 2014 Leadership Institute like the idea of having all ministry teams begin their meetings by sharing how they see God working in their lives. Not only will this help people learn how to articulate their faith, but hearing other people’s experiences might deepen their awareness of all the ways God speaks to us, said Fallat.
Several of the Leadership Institute breakout sessions focused on a new model for reaching people. It used to be that you’d introduce people to your church, invite them to worship, share the gospel, and then help them grow in their faith through small groups and service opportunities. But a number of presenters pointed out that such a model no longer works in the 21st century. Now, the invitation comes last—after you’ve built an authentic relationship, gotten to know someone where he or she is at, and shared about your faith. Meeting needs in your church community, these presenters said, provides a great opportunity to meet people with whom to start forming these relationships.
“We can build disciples at the same time we are being disciples,” said Fallat. “I am excited about that.”
Rev. Joyce Slostad from Milaca United Methodist Church and Rev. Jean Rollin from Common Ground: A United Methodist Community in Cambridge both say that the new model challenges them to step outside of their comfort zones and realms of experience.
“It really is ministry in a whole new way than how we were trained,” said Rollin. “It is definitely much more direct. But reaching people is all about relationships.”
One of the presenters who both pastors heard urged them to set a goal for the number of new people in their community who they want to connect with over a given time period—to start, perhaps 10 each week—and Slostad and Rollin are both thinking about goals they could set for themselves. Pastors should be out in their communities meeting people at least eight hours each week, the presenter said. But the idea is to meet people naturally. If you’re a biker, strike up a conversation with someone else who owns a bike. If you love sports or yoga or knitting, connect with people in atmospheres where those activities are taking place.
Blessing people and being a miracle to someone else
Another idea that Rollin would like to apply in her own ministry setting is Rev. Adam Hamilton’s suggestion for every church to lead its members in an effort to touch, bless, or minister to a specific number of people over a specified period of time (he mentioned 100 in a year). He suggested giving congregants a coin or a rock that they can move back and forth between their pants pockets each time they reach out to someone new.
“Acts of kindness is translatable thing for any size of church,” Rollin said. “I’ve preached about how we’re all beloved children of God and to be kind in what we do but to specifically say ‘do it for four weeks’ or ‘use the coin as a tangible reminder’ is something that I need to work on.”
Rev. Gary Gottfried, who leads Esko and Northwood United Methodist churches (both in Esko, near Duluth) said he, too, likes the idea of encouraging the congregation to focus on acts of kindness or paying it forward.
“I want them to recognize that every day they have the opportunity to share the good news,” he said. “They need to be reminded, whether it’s through a coin or a stone, that they can be a miracle to someone else.”
In conjunction with the acts of kindness, Gottfried would like to find one related passage from the Bible that members would be encouraged to memorize and recite each day.
“Members of my congregation are beginning to feel that we have to do whatever it takes to spread the good news,” he said. “The challenge is recognizing that the mission field we have is virtually everyone we encounter, could encounter, or should encounter.”
‘We can do more with the church’
Although most of the Minnesotans who attended the Leadership Institute are pastors or longtime church members, that wasn’t the case for everyone.
Lisa and Mike Randall were among the eight people who attended from Grand Rapids United Methodist Church, which they joined just six months ago. Although they’re now trying to help grow the church, it wasn’t too long ago when they were part of the mission field that the church was trying to connect with.
“For years, we’ve been church shopping, and we had made a checklist of what we were looking for,” said Lisa. “Instead of going to different churches, we wanted to be invited.”
While the Randalls were taking a financial class that was offered at Grand Rapids UMC, Rev. Alan Bolte got to know them and invited them to worship. They went and quickly started checking off the items on their list.
The Randalls now teach that same financial class at the church—and they want to help others discover the church and grow in their faith.
“Both of us know that we can do more with the church,” Mike said.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church