Grow By One Summit teaches reaching out

Kay Kotan, an author and a laywoman from the Missouri Conference, served as the keynote speaker for the April 30 Grow By One Summit in Little Rock.  AUM PHOTO BY AMY FORBUS

Kay Kotan, an author and a laywoman from the Missouri Conference, served as the keynote speaker for the April 30 Grow By One Summit in Little Rock.

By Amy Forbus

More than 600 United Methodists gathered Saturday, April 30 to learn about sharing their faith and reaching new people for Christ at the Grow By One Summit, a one-day event organized by the Arkansas Conference Center for Vitality (CFV). St. James UMC Little Rock hosted the day’s activities.

The event’s title comes from Step 6 of the Bishop’s Mission Plan:

“More churches will continue to grow every year by at least one new adult profession of faith, at least one more person in worship, at least one additional small group and at least one more ministry that reaches into the mission field…. Every single church—regardless of its size—can be vital and reach its mission field with excellence and passion.”

In her opening greeting, the Rev. Dede Roberts, director of the CFV, celebrated the energy of those filling the worship center and offered encouragement for those who had come to learn. She reminded the crowd that the call is to grow by at least one in the four areas identified by Bishop Gary Mueller. “Don’t stop at one!” she said, prompting applause.

Mueller acknowledged the fatigue that can come from struggling to help a congregation grow and be fruitful. He shared the vision set forth by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (NIV).

“It’s a vision that God gave Paul. It’s a vision that God has given us,” he said. He challenged attendees to make the decision to grow, to pray and to learn new skills.

“Grow By One is not about what you haven’t done, it’s about what you can do,” he said. “It’s not about the size of your church, it’s about the size of God’s vision.”

Participants chose from a number of workshops led by special guests from outside the Arkansas Conference, as well as presenters from within Arkansas who shared stories of fruitful ministries in their own local contexts. Topics ranged from starting new outreach ministries and forging neighborhood connections to creating opportunities to deepen discipleship and using a team approach to designing worship.

Reaching new people

Keynote speaker Kay Kotan warned the laity in the crowd that she, as a fellow layperson, would be hard on them. “I’m going to say things that your pastor’s not able or willing to say,” she said. She reminded them that reaching new people is the job of everyone in the church—not someone who has been hired to handle it, and not just a committee of people—and that the same goes for living out the mission of the church.

“Your mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” she said. “You don’t need to figure it out. It’s already been given to us. We just need to put it into action.”

Kotan emphasized the importance of making new disciples, not just growing and forming the ones already connected with our churches.

“We have to turn our eyes outward,” she said. “We have to see the people who are searching, who are hopeless, who are lonely.” The priority is people who don’t yet know Christ, so we should leave room in our lives for building such relationships.

In doing research for the book Get Their Name, which she co-authored with the Rev. Bob Farr, Kotan noted that inwardly focused churches consider evangelism to be getting previously active members of a church to return.

“Laity, listen up: Quit asking your pastor to do that,” she said. “It is much more difficult to convince someone to come back than it is to reach someone new.”

The Revs. Maxine Allen and Siegfried Johnson serve Holy Communion during worship at the Grow By One Summit.

The Revs. Maxine Allen and Siegfried Johnson serve Holy Communion during worship at the Grow By One Summit.

Outwardly focused churches evangelize by reaching new people and building authentic relationships with people they don’t know. She encouraged people to practice sharing their faith story—first within our churches to learn what it feels like, then moving on to others. She also pointed out that a story of one’s church membership, while perhaps easier to tell, does not have the same impact as a faith story.

Kotan suggested asking at the start of a church gathering, “Where have you seen God at work in the last week?” as a way to help people learn to share their faith stories. It helps them begin to look for God in their lives, and makes things personal.

“This is belly-to-belly, eyeball-to-eyeball work, folks,” she said.

Kotan called good deeds “passive evangelism,” and insisted that people must get more personal with mission instead of simply writing checks or donating food and clothing.

“What if the person who needed the warm coat got it from you?” she asked.

Welcoming with purpose

Kotan encouraged churches to examine how they welcome guests.

“A guest is someone honored. A guest is someone we’re looking forward to,” she said, adding that churches need to plan strategically to receive guests while concentrating on the church’s purpose and mission.

She encouraged churches to become known for something meaningful by the wider community—not something like an annual fundraiser. Churches need to play to their strengths. “Find the smoke, and build a fire from the passion of your leaders,” she said.

Circling a church’s resources around focusing on what matters—reaching people for Christ—will help a church move from micromanaging activities to supporting and encouraging its people as they reach out to others in strategic, intentional ways.

“Let’s quit playing church,” she said. “The worst thing you can do is have a millennial come in and you ask them to serve on a committee.”

She cautioned against being a “worker bee” for your congregation when what’s really needed is for you to be a relationship builder—which may require a change in priorities.

Twenty-first century missionaries must remove their blinders and see people in a new way. Kotan told of the relationship she built with a convenience store clerk over her regular stops there; eventually, she found the right time to share her faith story and invite the clerk to church.

“How many times do we go through life and miss those opportunities?” she asked, stressing how important it is for Christians to “have your radar engaged as you go about life” to be ready when the right time to share comes along.

Flanked by the Rev. Dr. Blake Bradford and the Rev. Dede Roberts of the Arkansas Conference Center for Vitality, Bishop Gary Mueller sends forth attendees of the April 30 Grow By One Summit to go fulfill their mission.

Flanked by the Rev. Dr. Blake Bradford and the Rev. Dede Roberts of the Arkansas Conference Center for Vitality, Bishop Gary Mueller sends forth attendees of the April 30 Grow By One Summit to go fulfill their mission.

“Y’all, this is nothing new,” Kotan said of the tips she shared. “This is biblical. But it’s something we must do.”

The Rev. Blake Bradford, assistant director of the Center for Vitality, reminded participants that the CFV is offering two free coaching calls to every church that participated in the summit.

As Bishop Mueller sent those gathered back home to apply what they had learned, he offered a reminder: “Remember the point is not to look better,” he said, “the point is that if we’re doing these things, we’ll be the church God calls us to be.”

Grow By One Summit comments give glimpse of event’s impact

Here are just a few of the participants from around Arkansas who found the Grow By One Summit helpful for their ministry.

On the Core Sessions:

“Profession of Faith is not just something we say to join the church but a ‘GIFT’ we have received. Love the connection made to the way of salvation and grace!” —Rev. Michael Utley, Henderson UMC, who attended Bishop Mueller’s ‘Getting Comfortable with Professing Faith’

“Kay helped reshape my thinking about how to reach out to the community and use common interests/needs to make a connection and provide an opportunity to share the gospel message.” —Rev. Alicia Finch-McCastlain, Pleasant Hill UMC, who attended Kay Kotan’s ‘Building a Bridge Event’

On the Lunch and Learn Sessions:

“Since I am from a very poor, very small and transient populated area the suggestions for teaching meal planning and meal preparation plus money management is an idea that I would like for us to try. We already have a food pantry, but so many do not know any of the basic fundamentals of surviving.” —Winona Worm, Adona UMC, who attended ‘Offering a Hand-up Rather than a Hand-out’

“This was a very informative presentation by an expert presenter. She shared HOW their program began and expanded, and also what was specific to their particular geographic area. Though few of us will be able to replicate what they have done, the specific ideas give us a framework into which we can ‘plug’ our demographics and make SOMETHING work.” —Shari Coston, Grand Avenue UMC Hot Springs, who attended ‘From Backpacks to Baptisms’

On the overall Summit experience:

“I have a sense of renewed purpose and mission in the church. I now know what direction for my leadership in the church to take and I know exactly how to do it.” —Carla Kelley, Perryville UMC

“Took home so many great ideas! Can’t wait to share with our worship team and other church leaders! I liked starting the day with worship and ending with everyone together. The Summit re-energized me and made me excited to continue my volunteer roles in the church.” —Nancy Kossler Smith, Brinkley UMC

“I left the Summit understanding that we must prepare ourselves and our church to be servant leaders…. Non-Christians don’t realize that God is not mad at them but is on their side, pulling for them. I now understand that we must go about making disciples in our everyday lives. We won’t be successful in making disciples if we compartmentalize our lives into a spiritual life, a social life, a family life and a recreational life. Striving to be obedient to the urging of the Holy Spirit and obedient to the Bible’s teaching will give us the abundant life we desire.” —Bill Wisener, First UMC Monticello

Didn’t attend? You can still benefit! Find videos and resources from the Summit here.