We often think that creating a new community of faith and cultivating disciples of Jesus Christ are disconnected but actually, one cannot happen without the other. But what many tend to overlook is that it’s not the physical space of a church that is the main ingredient when it comes to building a new faith community, it has always been, and still is, the people. 

It is people who embody God’s love and grace, who grow from the seeds planted in every Sunday sermon. It is people who invest in the church and breathe life into its sanctuary. It is people who devote themselves to the United Methodist mission of creating disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The Bishop’s Multiplication Summit took place last Thursday, at Castleton United Methodist Church, and it invited attendees to embrace the idea of investing, not only in the space in which services will be held, but in the people who will be enriched, inspired, and delivered from engaging with the word of God. 

Bishop Trimble opened the summit by providing a space for the audience to be vulnerable with God through honest, unbridled prayer. The focus of the prayer was children across the world living in vulnerable homes with financial, moral, and spiritual instability. And in particular, children, who had undergone or were bracing themselves for what has turned out to be a catastrophic impact from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, with others to come in the near future.

Throughout the past two weeks, Bishop Trimble has consistently voiced his stance on how the Indiana Conference should proceed during times of faith-testing turmoil. Whether those storms come in the form of powerful hurricanes or sociopolitical storms that are fueled by divisiveness and isolation, the Bishop encourages members of the Indiana Conference to hunker down and commit themselves to steadfast prayer. 

“When we speak the name of Jesus Christ, we expect something to happen,” remarked Bishop Trimble. “As United Methodists, we have something to offer that cannot be found anywhere else, and that is the grace and love of Jesus Christ.” 

The Bishop used his time at the pulpit to remind the people of the Indiana Conference of their calling as a collective mass, the role of our United Methodist community and others like us across the world — the saving of souls. Being reminded by the words of John Wesley, the Bishop states, “We have nothing to do but save souls. That is the business we’re in.”

“A business without a sign is a sign of no business,” said Bishop Trimble, treasured words from his father-in-law, an entrepreneur who made a living from making signs for local businesses.

“If we’re out of business, then we ought to take down our sign,” continued the Bishop. 

The Bishop completed his message by thanking members of the Conference for their unwavering support and enthusiasm during his first year as resident bishop of the Indiana episcopal area and ensures them that he is as committed to pursuing his mission statement today as he was when he first moved to the Hoosier state. “ My business is to encourage you all so that one day you may encourage me.” 

He reflects on various tokens of gratitude and motivation he has received during his assignment so far, referring to a couple from Hanover who writes the Bishop letters to encourage him to continue God’s mission and to assert that they consistently raise the bishop and his family up in prayer. To that end, Bishop Trimble challenged the audience of ministry leaders to; 

  1. Maximize their prayer life: “Little prayer, little power. Much prayer, much power. If it’s not made in prayer then it’s not worth much in the eyes of God.” 
  2. Give the church away: “Take responsibility for being proactive, and be committed to risk-taking.” 

Steve Clouse, Director of Church Development at the Indiana Conference, shared the Conference’s vision of planting 30 new faith communities by 2020 with an average attendance of 2500 people on any given week. 10 of those churches are in full operation.

The Church Development team is committed to its mission of developing new faith communities in areas that are in need of spiritual representation and leadership. Indiana has experienced a vast growth of multicultural communities throughout the past few years. Some of this growth is credited to moderate living expenses, a healthy housing market, and a growing job industry. 

As communities continue to see an influx in ethnic diversity, the need for responding churches in those areas will grow exponentially. The Conference now has eight Spanish-speaking faith communities, a Korean United Methodist Church in Bloomington, one newly-sprouted Haitian congregation in Washington, Ind., and four multi-ethnic congregations that are using their native language to forge networks that will strengthen their communities, as well as using the word of God to make disciples of Jesus Christ from all backgrounds.

Pastor Sergio Reyes, Associate Director of Church Development and church planter with strong ties to the Hispanic / Latino community celebrated the launch of Iglesia Cristiana Getsemani, a Hispanic Children’s Ministry in Fort Wayne, this past weekend along with wife and Co-Pastor Janie Reyes. Sergio expressed much dismay as he described how fear has begun to permeate throughout the multicultural community, as the government continues to make remarks threatening mass deportation and recently made attempts to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which would destabilize the residency status of nearly 800,000 children of undocumented citizens throughout the country. 

Sergio implored the audience to pray for his community during these instances of fear, pressure, and systematic tension. For a large portion of those who face deportation threats, Indiana has been the only home they’ve grown to know, and for some, English is the only language they speak. Banishing them would mean that they would be separated from their homes, community, education, as well as the morals and values they have earned while living in the US and the thousands of shattered dreams.

The Bishop’s Multiplication Summit is a rare opportunity for ministry leaders passionate about church redevelopment to not only celebrate the feats of the church development community, but also an opportunity to learn about the obstacles that one can expect when attempting to build something that is meant to inspire a community but may lack the resources, support, and planning required to do so. 

Audience members got to hear straight from local pastors and members of the church planting community about the disappointments they endured while trying to carve a door in new communities, their attempts to maintain a healthy congregation, as well as a steady flow of recruiting new disciples while navigating low attendance rates, and relying on their faith to help them recover from inevitable trials. 

Patrick O’Connell, Global Director of the New Thing Network, an organization with a focus on helping ministry leaders, churches, and church planters plant healthy churches with a consistent reproduction model. O’Connell shared that for much of his life he maintained a rocky relationship with God, much of it predicated on disbelief and a strong mistrust in God’s existence. He even admits to being a ‘devout’ atheist during his college years. Today, he lives his life as a testament to God’s grace and the outstanding things that take fruition by enacting one's faith through Jesus Christ. 

Drawing from Isaiah 43, O’Connell encouraged ministry leaders to maintain a mindset of always seeking something new as suggested by the Bible passage. And when things seem uncertain and trust in the mission is broken, understand that God always provides you with “the language for the mission and the license to do it.” 

Audience members were inspired by stories of triumph from church planters who had experienced the darkest, faith-testing components of church planting work. Stories form planters who initially attempted to follow a cookie-cutter model of planting a new congregation, failed, and looked to God to take the reigns and allow his plans to ensue. 

These stories derive from the experiences of Pastor Tim Johnson, Senior Pastor at Pfrimmers Chapel United Methodist Church and planter of Mercy Street, who experienced attendance numbers rising from 7 members the first year, to 9 members in the second, and doubled in the third year of ministry. The pastor said that the slow growth did not deter him from the mission, nor did he waver in his belief that Mercy Street was part of God’s divine planning. “We believed that we were making a change,” said Johnson, who happily revealed that Mercy Street had expanded to five satellite ministries around the world, with plans for continued growth. 

He continued by sharing the motto has carried him this far, “Dream Big. Take small steps. Go first.” A motto that can be used daily as we work to make and multiply disciples wherever we are.

(A time for intentional prayer during the Bishop's Multiplication Summit Thursday, September 7)