Workshops give clergy, laity insights on reaching their communities



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Workshops give clergy, laity insights on reaching their communities

By Mary Lee Downey | June 11, 2009 {1030}

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Churches in the Florida Conference are working hard to transform the world, and a series of workshops a day before the official start of the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event gave them additional tools to fulfill that mission.

Florida United Methodist clergy and laity met June 10 at Bethune-Cookman University, the site of this year’s annual session, for eight workshops on various areas of ministry, from reaching younger generations and providing safe sanctuaries for children and youth to building discipleship pathways and keeping members engaged.

The Rev. Vance Rains talks with participants attending the “Next Generation Ministry” workshop about ways to attract and disciple young adults. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1198.

All were designed to help churches cultivate ministries that make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Transforming young lives

“There is this obsessive concern in scripture, this paranoia, of what would happen if one generation failed to tell the next of who God is and what God has done for them,” said the Rev. Vance Rains, executive director of the Florida Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry and pastor of the Wesley Foundation at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Rains led “Next Generation Ministry,” focusing on ways to attract and disciple young adults ages 18 to 30.

Rains explained to the group of about 30 participants that teaching the next generation’s young adults is a process of discipleship and evangelism. “It is imperative that the goodness of God, the witness of God gets passed on to the next generation,” he said. “This isn’t just a good idea … this is a command of God.”

Rains said the average age of members in The United Methodist Church is 55 years old, leaving the church a mere 20 to 30 years of existence unless it begins to do something radically different. “The United Methodist Church, as it currently exists, will cease to exist,” he said, “unless we learn how to become younger and more diverse.”

The how was a main question on the minds of attendees as Rains opened the floor to discussion. They expressed concerns about reaching out to young adults — how to keep them engaged; how to bring in new families; how to cater to young adults with children, without children, not married with children; and most importantly, how to take young adults to the next level and make disciples of Christ.

To answer those questions, Rains said, the group first needed to get to know and understand younger generations. Eighteen- to 30-year-olds are “emerging adults,” he said, and because life stages have changed so drastically in the last 20 years, young adults are no longer marrying and starting families in their early 20s. They are a new set of individuals to reach, he said.

Research on these emerging adults, Rains said, shows they are spiritual but not necessarily religious, mostly unchurched, and if churched, very undiscipled. They have experienced extreme brokenness in their families and life, and they are sometimes lonely. They are also searching for identity, often unstable, very focused on themselves and their individual paths, feeling stuck “in between” and overwhelmed with new possibilities.

Melinda Trotti, director of the Florida Conference’s justice and spiritual formation ministries, leads a workshop on creating safe spaces for children and youth. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #09-1199.

Despite the challenges, Rains said, there is a way to reach these young adults. One is to recognize the group’s needs. Rains said research indicates young adults are searching for their calling, need a sense of community, are looking for significant opportunities to serve, and desire relevant ministry and a challenging adventure. If a church can provide these options, Rains said, they would provide answers to questions young adults are asking about their lives.

Rains also suggested several resources the group could read to further their knowledge on the subject and his most recommended curriculum for young adults. “The Bible,” he said. “It’s a really great book.”

Knowing the community

Where to find young adults and other people the church is trying to reach was just as big a question for participants as how to reach them.

The Rev. Dr. Mont Duncan sought to provide an answer during the workshop he led, titled “Who is Your Neighbor?”

Participants learned how to use Mission Insite (http://www.missioninsite.com) to get instant access to community information for their church.

Mission Insite is a Web-based program the Florida Conference New Church Development team uses to indentify statistics and demographics in an area when planning a new church start. Duncan, who serves as executive director of New Church Development, said he realized this same concept could help already established churches reach out and get to know their communities better.

“Churches who know their community say to the community we care about you, we want to know who you are,” Duncan said. “But too many churches don’t take the time to invest and learn who their neighbors are.”

That’s where the software can help, he said.

The Rev. Harold Lewis talks with attendees about the importance of churches developing a vision all members can learn and embrace during a workshop titled “Do You See What I See?” Lewis is the new director of African-American Congregational Development for the Florida Conference. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #09-1200.

The site — which users can access for free through the Florida Conference Web site — can generate reports explaining the demographics of individuals in a certain zip code or radius area. It is powered by the credit reporting agency Experian, and users can research everything from families in poverty in their neighborhood to those who are affluent enough to give charitable contributions. The site also gives users access to mailing lists and new families moving into the community.

“This is so cool,” said the Rev. Dan Jones, senior pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Ocala, about the report generating system. 

Ladye Cox, a member of Grace United Methodist Church in Lake Mary, also saw the potential in generating the information, and all at no cost. “It is going to be very helpful to get this information,” she said. “It’s fantastic. ... This site is free. People don’t realize what their annual conference does for them.”

Making disciples back home

Workshop participants were ready to take what they learned and start making disciples in their own church.

“It was good,” said Kay Flake, a member of Morrison United Methodist Church in Leesburg.

Flake attended the “Building the Discipleship Pathway” and “Who is Your Neighbor” workshops. She said she’ll take the information back to her church so she and others can use it to enhance their discipleship ministries.

Hilda Frazer, a member of Wesley United Methodist Church in Ft. Lauderdale, attended “Safe Sanctuaries” and “Closing the Congregation’s Backdoor.”

“A lot of things they talked about were very enlightening,” she said. “Both of them, I thought, were excellent. The people who taught them knew the subjects. I thought I would be bored, but I wasn’t in either one. The time really went by fast.”

Conference from the comfort of home

The “Transforming the World by Cherishing the Creation” 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event will be webcast live in its entirety, enabling those not able to attend the annual gathering to see the activities and hear the important news taking place.

Individuals who would like to view the events via the webcast may visit http://www.flumc.org and click on the webcast link.

More information about the conference session, including a schedule of activities and reports presented, is available at http://www.flumc2.org/page.asp?PKValue=1540.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Downey is a freelance writer based in St. Cloud, Fla.




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