PITMAN – Many congregants at Pitman UMC “did church” all day on Sunday, February 11. After service, they joined nearly 200 other United Methodist clergy and laity engaged in various ministries from the southern region of New Jersey who braved torrential downpours to gather for a Day of Learning, featuring worship, workshops, and dinner. Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) members, Board of Trustees, Finance Committees, Administrative Board and Council Members, Lay Members and Lay Leaders were encouraged to attend.
Gateway South District Superintendent Myrna Bethke delivered a message to kick off the day. Church classroom space was used for groups ranging from ten to 30 gathering to learn from experts, and perhaps more importantly, each other. The afternoon was organized around two series of ten workshops so each attendee could participate in two.
Director of Worship, Eric Drew, provided powerful insights into the needs of Next Generation ministries. He shared his story of how he grew up in the church, reflecting on how someone engaged him at key points in his life, forming an honest relationship and inviting him to become involved in a meaningful way.
“Research has shown that as many as one in two young people have written and recorded their own song,” said Drew. “Next generations of disciples are incredibly creative. However, engaging them in worship services and worship planning continues to be a challenge.”
Drew went on to speak about how to engage next generation disciples to add energy and freshness to worship. He challenged attendees to offer the same opportunities that were offered him growing up in the church: developing relationships with students, loosening a grip on how worship ‘must be done’ and setting people up for successful involvement.
“Try new things,” he said. “Youth won’t break the church.”
Drew encouraged the group to keep Jesus central.
“Most Next Gen people aren’t superficial,” he said. “They want to dive deeper to know the real Jesus. They don’t want ‘Jesus Lite’ or ‘Church Lite.’”
Heather Mandala, Director of Small Groups Ministry at Hope Church in Voorhees led a workshop helping to set a vision and plan to grow small group ministries. She challenged the concept of “small groups” and of “learning” or “Bible study” in the church and reminded attendees that Jesus was in a small group of about 12 core people.
“Are we a church with small groups or a church of small groups?” she asked.
Mandala also challenged the group to increase their leadership by 10% by creating one “out of the box” small group or groups addressing specific needs. A general consensus emerged for the need to create groups that address topics, talents, and current issues. Mandala explained that short-term small groups are more desirable to newcomers who don’t always want to commit long-term while providing opportunity to branch out into other groups.
How to effectively deal with difficult personalities without alienating people was also discussed. Mandala spelled out the personalities who tend to occasionally sidetrack a small group and the diplomatic approaches to take to refocus.
Josh Kinney, GNJ Editorial Manager, reminded attendees of his Church Storytelling workshop that each person has a story.
“Every Christian strives to know Jesus,” said Kinney. “We want to become like him by growing into his likeness, but in order to do that, we need to know what he looks like.”
Kinney described how although no one knows Jesus’ physical appearance, through individual relationships each person has knowledge of part of Christ’s character and hold a piece of the picture.
“Since we each hold on to a piece of the story, we are responsible for sharing it with the rest of the community,” he said. “The piece we have isn’t the whole, we have a story to tell and there’s an audience needing to hear it.”
He shared how stories come in the form of testimonies and the benefits of sharing life experiences, biblical insights, moving music, touching prayers, or challenging sermons.
“Each of us has stories of mentors or church history,” he said. “We can tell of small groups and of friends who stood by our side through difficult times. Each of these stories represents a piece of Christ.”
Kinney challenged the group to reflect on why they were called to the church they serve, where they see their ministry headed, and what their picture of Jesus is.
“As church members we need to discover our answers to those questions,” he said. “As a body of believers, we need to share those stories and learn from each other. As church leaders, we must provide avenues where our stories can be told and heard: through worship services, small groups, or publication.”
One attendee described how her church presented their history through drama. Others spoke of being challenged during their worship service to describe “where they have seen Christ this week?” Kinney shared how testimonies could be told through writing, blogging, social media, video, or small groups specifically designed around stories.
Other workshops were led by Cape Atlantic and Delaware Bay District Superintendent’s Brian Roberts and Glenn Conaway on Wesleyan leadership and developing creative sermon series.
Executive Assistant to the Bishop, Nicola Mulligan directed two workshops on conflict resolution and the pastoral evaluation process and GNJ Property Manager, Alex Mayer led a session on caring for physical church property.
The United Methodist Stewardship Foundation of Greater New Jersey was represented by Director of Development Brian Mickle who led a workshop exploring ways to initiate electronic giving, year round stewardship planning, and helping congregations understand the importance of generosity. He also spoke to those new to the role of their church finance team.
Gina Yeske, GNJ Director of Small Groups Ministry, offered tools to help small church leaders evaluate how their church is prepared to move into the future.
Lynn Caterson, GNJ Chancellor Chair and Absecon UMC Board of Trustees, led a workshop instructing trustees in matters beyond supervising and maintaining church property.
A safe sanctuaries workshop was led by Debbie Barnett, Regional Safe Sanctuaries.
Additionally, Haddonfield UMC Pastor Chris Heckert talked about team building, Hope UMC Pastor Jeff Bills spoke about church as a “team sport” and Good Shepherd UMC Pastor Tom Stark discussed the importance of listening to the congregation and community to develop high impact ministry.
Larry Bakely reports news and updates for Pitman United Methodist Church’s website. Visit www.pitmanumc.org for more information and to read news articles