Church is Changing: Episode 26 - Stories of Hope
By Paul Nixon
This Easter season, Paul Nixon gathered four pastors from four western conferences in The United Methodist Church whose churches shared some powerful things in common. These churches live a different narrative than so many in this season where church sanctuaries are mostly emptier than pre-Covid and where disaffiliation troubles are distracting from the work of local ministry. These churches are remarkably different in terms of the communities they serve, but they all are growing as they discover the power of the Christian good news in the lives of their people and neighbors. The four pastors are:
- Joel Arvizu of Maryville Bridge, Phoenix (Desert Southwest)
- Ryan Cannady of Free Spiritual Community, Denver (Mountain Sky)
- Jane Voigts of UMC of Palm Springs (California-Pacific)
- Matthew Smith of The Table at Central UMC, Sacramento (California-Nevada)
Paul interviews these four pastors on the “Church is Changing” podcast episode – for the full conversation, listen below:
In this conversation, we learn of a merger in Phoenix between two churches with distinctive ethnic identities, as they become one people and a multiethnic, bilingual church. We discover a church in Denver, growing like a weed, that is rooted in a theology and practice of recovery, where shame is banned from the premises. We discover a church in a southern California resort community that is pouring energy into loving homeless people, now adding new members faster than it has in many years. We discover a twelve-year-old church in Sacramento that has reached deeply into the community of urban young adults who mostly elude organized churches these days, and this church lately has dived deep into urban farming!
Among the things these places share in common:
- Pastors who are clear about what sets their churches apart.
- Ministry that leans beyond the walls of church membership into loving neighbors and partnering with neighbors.
- Worship that is customized to the community and culturally appropriate, given the people God is collecting in that place.
- A significant and steady influx of new people who are discovering church to be something very different from their previous experiences or perceptions.
- A sense of holy momentum: that God is up to something good in their midst, and it is just getting started.
Many church leaders have concluded that growing a ministry is virtually impossible in the 2020s. This conclusion is simply wrong. Yet, in each of the four churches we explore here, there was a radical shifting of focus at some point, where ministry re-rooted itself in the experiences and needs of the people in the neighborhood. From this, community awareness emerged in each place where these churches loved community people and really sought to help them.
These four congregations of the Western Jurisdiction are but the tip of the ice burg – there are thriving churches, rising in hope and energy in all parts of the United States. They are not the majority of churches by any stretch. But they continue to show us that we do not have to accept decline as inevitable. They show us that God truly is doing a new thing in our century and that Methodism still works.
We bring you stories of hope and resilience from leaders around the world who are engaging the gospel message in new ways. We interview thought leaders who bring wisdom about the changing cultural landscape and its implications for faith formation. If you are a church leader looking for practical ideas and new ways of approaching church in the 21st century, this podcast is for you.
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About the Hosts:
After serving as a United Methodist pastor in a variety of settings in Georgia and Oregon, and then as Director of New Faith Community Development in the Oregon and Idaho conferences of The United Methodist Church, Beth Estock wanted to help big-hearted leaders have impact without exhaustion. She is a Master Certified Integral Coach™ as well as a meditative yoga instructor. Her contemplative sensibilities and integral approach inform her coaching work with leaders all over North America and the United Kingdom.
She has written two books, Weird Church: Welcome to the 21st Century and Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Building a Life of Faith. You can find out more about her at bethestock.com.
Paul Nixon is Director of Church Multiplication for Discipleship Ministries, an agency of The United Methodist Church. He has served as a Director of Church Development for an annual conference, served as a church planter, and coached scores of innovative leaders across the last quarter century. Paul is the president of Epicenter Group, a coaching organization currently focused on ministry in North America and the United Kingdom. Paul has written eleven books – including a joyful collaboration with Beth Estock in 2016 as they released Weird Church: Welcome to the 21st Century. His most recent book is Launching a New Worship Community: A Field Guide for the 2020s, co-authored with Craig Gilbert and twelve ministry innovators. You can find out more about him at epicentergroup.org.
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