Thursday, December 10, 2015

Vital Congregations - a dialogue to inspire churches with ideas for ministries of vitality

The following is part four in a five-part series based on a dialogue begun at the 2015 Susquehanna Annual Conference around stories and experiences of congregational vitality. The team that presented included Pastor Janet Durrwachter, Rev. Rich Morris, Rev. Dr. Randy Willis, and Jaime Carpenter. The video of this session (held Friday morning, June 12) and a full transcript can be found at

Stay the Course
Pastor Janet Durrwachter, First UMC, Williamsport
edited transcript

Maybe you’ve done cardboard testimonies at your church. We have. It’s not a brand new idea, but it is meaningful because it’s a simple way for people to effectively communicate the difference Jesus makes. Saved; forgiven; free; thank you, Jesus.

Centre Grove Church posted a video of cardboard testimonies ( on their Facebook page in late 2013, and it was shared with a man named Brian, who went from exploring atheism to exploring a call to ministry. The video wasn’t high-caliber, it wasn’t professionally shot using HD cameras and edited using Final Cut Pro. But it was high-impact. It changed the trajectory of a man’s life — all because someone from Centre Grove Church chose to reach out by sharing that video on Facebook.

A story like Brian’s provides inspiration when leading becomes challenging. We need to collect and celebrate those stories, because they remind us why we keep doing what we do. Equipping vital congregations involves repeating what is important. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repeat the vision; repeat that it’s all about Jesus; repeat the church’s call to reach out to the community; repeat the need to develop passionate connections.

We have all reached the point that we we’re tired of the repeats, haven’t we? Haven’t we reached the point where we we’re just tired? If you care about equipping vital congregations, if you are trying to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, you know what I am talking about, because sometimes we’re tired and sometimes we’re more than tired.

Sometimes we’re worried, ‘Is this going to work? Will the old guard give up power so that we can move forward? Will there be enough money to do what we’re planning? Will the leaders step up?’

So sometimes we can’t sleep at night. Sometimes we have a knot in the pit of our stomach. Sometimes we’re afraid that we’re going to fail. If you care about equipping vital congregations, if you are trying to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, you know what I am talking about. Every time we set out to accomplish a great vision, we will encounter circumstances at some point that will lead us to believe that we are headed toward failure. When we move from here to there we will almost always want to turn around half way. And I stand here to tell you just one thing – stay the course.

That’s my message.

I have seen the difference that it makes when leaders stay the course. It comes with a cost. It requires great faith. But it is what we must do to partner with God to change the culture of our churches. And until our churches have a culture that will nurture vitality, making disciples is going to continue to be very, very difficult.

 I have been a part of my congregation for over twenty years. And I have seen an amazing transformation in which the culture of a church changed dramatically. I have watched a congregation wake up to its potential, and has resulted in not only nearly quadrupling in size, but in becoming a significant, positive influence in our community. And I don’t take credit for this. We all know that none of this happens apart from a movement of God’s Spirit. But even more than that, I am not the primary leader. I have not, never have been, and am not the lead pastor at First Church, Williamsport. But I have been there, and I know what can happen when we stay the course.

And I just want to share with you a few of my observations of how I think that happened.

First of all, it’s all about Jesus. It started with discipleship. That’s why we started this dialogue with Rich Morris (September 2015 LINK). It started with raising people up who study Scripture, pray daily, are committed to tithe, support one another in small groups, and understand servant leadership. And that starts with the pastor. But it can’t be just one person. One person cannot change the culture.

Our leadership team is critical, and we never settle when choosing our key leaders. No warm bodies. You cannot do this alone; you have to build a team.
We also have found that it is just so important to remember what is at stake.
Anyone who is leading a vital congregation has wanted to quit. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church wanted to quit. Perry Noble, New Spring Church, wanted to quit. Be honest. Hasn’t there been a time when you were just tired out and beaten up? When you feel that way remember what is at stake, because if you stay the course something wonderful can happen. The culture of your church can change. The church can become a place where disciples are made for the transformation of the world.

We make it a habit to share good stories. Stories of transformed lives; stories that make it real for us. We share these stories because they are our oxygen. When we’re getting worn out these stories give us energy. They keep us going. They help us remember why we are willing to risk failure; why we get down on our knees at 3 a.m. when we cannot sleep. Why we stay the course.

And one of the stories that we love to share in our congregation is Edwin’s Story. Edwin lives a different life because of the United Methodist Church. I invite you to listen to what Edwin has to say about how the church introduced him to life in Christ, and changed his life:

Look for part five (final in this series) in the next issue of Susquehanna LINK or go to for the video and full transcript.

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