Church leaders in the 21st century can never get enough real ideas to revitalize churches and keep them healthy, so a homegrown annual event is taking to the Web to continue sharing tips for building strong communities geared for discipleship.
About 20 people tapped into “Why Connections Matter,” a discussion featuring Rev. Matthew Hartsfield, lead pastor of Van Dyke Church, Lutz, that was webcast live Wednesday and will be available shortly to the public at www.realideasconference.com. Viewers should click on “Resources,” then “Web Workshops,” then select the fifth webinar in the series, “Importance of Connecting.”
It was the fifth in a series of webinars following the ninth annual Real Ideas Conference, held last March at Van Dyke, a United Methodist church just outside of Tampa. Until this week, only people who attended the 2015 gathering were eligible to join the conversation, but Van Dyke invited church leaders everywhere to join this month’s webinar and will offer the opportunity again at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28. People who have not signed up before will need to email email@example.com for instructions.
The opportunities are available as part of “Learning Communities,” a program being developed by the Congregational Vitality office of the Florida Conference.
Andrew Davis, who hosted the webinar Wednesday and is coordinating the 2016 Real Ideas Conference for Van Dyke, said the webinars are part of an expansion of the event founded by Hartsfield and Rev. Jorge Acevedo, pastors of two of the largest United Methodist congregations in the Florida Conference and the U.S.
The Real Ideas Conference will grow from two days to three, and its website is getting a makeover to become more user-friendly, Davis said. Registration will open soon for the event, slated for March 2-4, 2016.
In addition to Hartsfield and Acevedo, keynote speakers will be Matt Keller, founder and lead pastor of Next Level Church in Fort Myers, and Bryan Loritts, pastor for preaching and mission at New York-based Trinity Grace Church.
The event will continue to offer numerous workshops on the “nuts and bolts” of building and maintaining healthy churches, Davis said.
“It’s all about tangible takeaways,” he told the audience during the “Connections” webinar.
Hartsfield and Davis carried on a casual question-and-answer conversation during the 30-minute webcast, and viewers were invited to submit questions and comments through a chat feature that was visible to all.
“Connections matter because relationships matter,” Hartsfield told the audience at the outset of the discussion.
“Relationships matter because people matter. People matter to God, so they should matter to us. … It is all about connection.”
Davis noted that church leaders’ job is to “not just get them through the door but [get them] plugged in.”
Hartsfield said the connection starts with the pastor because his or hers is the face and voice they are exposed to first.
At Van Dyke, he invites newcomers or people who have not met him before to join him for a brief introduction after Sunday worship in a section of the church designated as “Guest Central.” He greets them, finds out how they came to Van Dyke and then invites them to have their photo taken.
He explains to them, “I keep a personal prayer journal, and faces help me pray, and I would love to be praying for you.”
Veteran members of the congregation have been educated about the importance of the pastor spending time on Sundays with newcomers and are invited to bend his ear at some other time in the week, Hartsfield said.
“It’s an evangelism moment,” he said. “It’s also an evangelism teaching moment.”
Davis said after the webcast that the number of participants has been about the same for all the webinars, with about half the people who sign up actually sitting in on the live version. Posting a link to the recorded session allows people to watch later at their own convenience, he said.
Janet Earls, congregational vitality specialist for the Florida Conference, said she was encouraged by the event but will be interested in tracking whether participants from Florida Conference churches take action to use the ideas presented and what results they realize.
“At the end of that [webinar series], we’ll poll those 20 to see what they got out of it,” Earls said. “It’s been consistent [in participation], so that tells me they like it.”
Experience tells her people need to act immediately, while they’re enthusiastic about new ideas.
“If you don’t share it right away with more than one person, it doesn’t get implemented,” Earls said.
She said she is preparing a list of recommended recorded webinars from United Methodist Discipleship Ministries (formerly the General Board of Discipleship) on topics frequently requested by church leaders. The Learning Communities program also will feature videos created locally for Florida Conference congregations on topics like finance and ministry protection. Links to the online learning opportunities are expected to be posted to www.flumc.org in the near future.
– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.