Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey led a church in an experiment. The church sent people out (not identifying themselves as church members) to businesses in the community to ask them if they knew about the church.
“Oh, I know that church,” said a gas-station attendant. “That is the building with the sign on the lawn that says, ‘Children: Keep off the Grass.’”
Nilson Kibbey, director of connectional and missional church initiatives for West Ohio Annual Conference, helps churches look outside themselves and into the community and to open their hearts and eyes to their neighbors. Through her experience helping “stuck” churches to develop spirit-filled and compassionate ministries, she’s developed “five breakthrough practices of the missional church,” which she presented to conference members on May 30.
“Unleashing unpaid ministry” is the first practice. “People will make time for ministries if they know they will be part of world-changing priorities,” Nilson Kibbey said.
The days of expecting people to engage in church work out of a sense of duty is over. Nilson Kibbey urged Minnesota United Methodists to invite parishioners to serve in ways that no one has been before.
At one church, a woman approached Nilson Kibbey after worship and asked, “Does this church like dogs?” The woman had an idea for the church’s being a location where people and their pets could be trained to visit residents of nursing homes and hospice centers. Many such residents missed their own pets or otherwise enjoyed petting a soft dog or rabbit.
Nilson Kibbey laughed when she reported, “I got in some trouble with the trustees for what this did to the carpet in the training room.” The soiled carpet was more than redeemed by the spirits healed, as testified by a commendation from the city of Dayton, Ohio.
Second, “love your community or neighborhood,” she said. “Missional churches are intentional about asking, “What would a great church look like for this area? Does the community know we are here? Do we know our neighbors?”
She told of Groesbeck United Methodist Church, which asked civic leaders what the community needed. School officials said that students in the nearby high school needed a place to go when school recessed for the day.
A group of retirees said they felt called to an after-school ministry to teens. They were trained to talk to teens and with some fear and trembling, they opened the church at 3 p.m. to the teens who walked by the church every day on their way to school.
Eventually up to 100 students were participating, doing homework, enjoying snacks, talking, and praying with the caring adults.
“What is radical hospitality?” Nilson Kibbey asked. Churches like to think that offering coffee after the service or having greeters is “radical,” but Nilson Kibbey said these should be basic expectations.
Radical hospitality, her third practice, means “going the extra mile so people can hear the message of Jesus; telling the God-story to the people within our sphere of influence,” Nilson Kibbey said. She told of a church that started offering worship at a high school, where neighbors felt more comfortable.
“The pastor of this church says that they don’t expect people to just show up,” Nilson Kibbey says. “They go out as missionaries to the community, to meet new people. They don’t hunker down.”
Her fourth principle is to commit to a new life prayer initiative. She recommended the example of churches who engage in “prayer walks”—groups of church members who walk through the community, praying for the business, the passersby, the people in homes.
“This helps the church move from an inward focus to an outward focus,” said the pastor of St. Andrew United Methodist Church in a video clip Nilson Kibbey introduced. “The breakthroughs keep coming.”
Finally, she recommended that Minnesota United Methodists “commit to building in themselves the lifestyle of a leader.”
“Do you have a ‘North Star strategy?” she asked. This, she explained, is a daily devotional life that includes breakthrough prayers, Bible study, listening for God to speak, and presenting oneself for God’s use.
“Ask God to develop in you an ‘unoffendable heart,’” Nilson Kibbey said. When you feel called to lead a change and face resistance, don’t take it personally, she urged. And have realistic expectations on how people move through the adoption of change.
“All it takes is one leader, you, to start to practice the lifestyle of a breakthrough leader,” Nilson Kibbey said. “The world has yet to see what God can do through us” when we are open to breakthrough movements of the Spirit.
Report by contributor Rev. Victoria Rebeck.
VIDEO CLIPS: When Nilson Kibbey addressed conference members on May 30, she used video clips about breakthrough practices of the missional church in her speech. To view those clips, click here (and enter password "Breakthrough").
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church