Thursday, October 8, 2015

Call For Missionaries

Global Ministries seeks missionaries to serve within the global Methodist connection in a variety of roles and ministries around the world. Global Ministries sends missionaries from everywhere to everywhere. Missionaries vary in age, trade-skills and occupations, and they serve in ministry with others as teachers, pilots, lawyers, agriculturalists, dieticians, physicians, nurses, administrators, accountants, pastors, photographers, journalists, community organizers, and Christian educators – just to name a few.  They desire to learn about and to share God’s love in Jesus Christ in tangible, everyday ways.

 

Mission Personnel of Global Ministries are:

1) Professing Christians who are familiar with and committed to The United Methodist Church and its doctrine, history and polity

2) Able to articulate their call to missionary service

3) Able to demonstrate experience and/or passion in mission and active involvement in the life and ministry of a faith community

4) Willing to engage in ministry with people of different racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds

5) Willing to serve in a context that best matches their gifts and experiences as discerned and affirmed by Global Ministries

6) Willing to connect the church in mission by itinerating and cultivating financial and spiritual support

 

Current Areas of Need are:

Currently, we are seeking qualified candidates who wish to explore a call to mission service with the following gifts and experiences in various regions around the world:

• Experienced agriculturalist
• Health and medical professionals
• Hospital administrators
• Vehicle maintenance specialist
• Boy scout project leader
• Congregational development specialist

 

For more information about missionary service or to apply online, visit Global Ministries’ website: www.umcmission.org/calledtoserve

 

If you know someone these gifts and graces who may have a call to mission service, then please have them contact Global Ministries at missionaryinfo@umcmission.org for details.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Engaging Your Church in Mission

Simpsonwood UMC is a neighborhood church in Peachtree Corners near Norcross, Georgia (a bedroom community of ATL northeast OTP [ha, that's another blog worthy mission story that's a powerful local descriptor re. "outside the perimeter"]).

Simpsonwood UMC has a strong mission movement in their congregation that continues to grow and define the church. This hasn't happened by accident! They work hard every year in a process which involves more people, is action oriented while using committee structures, and is embraced by the church so that it is a movement. They also continue to communicate to everyone so that they enhance a missional church culture and personal lifestyle.

Check out some of their forms and schedule in the links below and think about how you work your mission process every year. This is easy to modify to your church context and works for both small and large congregations. Do notice the mission teams and committees fall under the whole life of the church including the proper relationship with all the committees of the church, i.e. they send their recommendations "up the chain of command" so that church leaders are appropriately involved and have "buy in" with their prayers, funding, and participation. I especially appreciate the sense of alignment to the church priorities and a sense of assessment, so that mission doesn't get caught in the relational or history traps and therefore stuck funding or doing the same things every year. This is an engaging, vibrant, present sense of mission that is worth your review and experimentation.

2016 Mission Funding Request

Funding Request Schedule

Criteria for Funding

Funding Request Template



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Congregational Potential and Next Steps of Faith

With work and personal life issues over recent months I've found it tough to write and publish many updates. The death of my mother-in-law, the travel schedule and jump into fall ministries, and trying to find the balance in my life and for my family has been a challenging tightrope walk. Often I find that when I do write something for this forum it sits as a draft and doesn't escape that flight pattern. The moment passes and I'm on to more pressing matters. These are busy times, with lots of living and learning, and plentiful opportunities to love God and love neighbor.

A recurring theme for me over the last year as I've taken on my job/s with the Church has been "How do I best serve a congregation?" Sometimes, or is it often, that has meant explaining to clergy and church leaders that I'm not a salesperson, nor am I an institutional informant, but that I can best serve as a conduit between church and Church (and Church and church). After 25 years serving the local church I understand that a congregation has a life, a history, and a certain trajectory. Over the years I've seen that it is often very helpful to have some outsider to the congregation who is available to assist the church. I know that each day is a new day in following the way Jesus has shown and in living into the fullness of the Body of Christ, so there is a certain potential and possibility for both the congregation and for someone like me! How incredibly fortunate I am to have experienced this with congregations in Georgia, the U.S., and around the world. So, I now bounce between congregations as I serve both church and Church.

Due to my experiences over the years, and the variety of churches and communities I know rather deeply, I tend to have a "big bag of tricks." I don't think in simplistic terms, fad, or program that we'll unleash on every church no matter "where you are" (I'm thinking about a church meeting in a very simple room in Africa and a big steeple church here in the U.S. as I write this).  Life, and faith, are rather more complex and nuanced even as God is at work in the Kingdom in the great variety of locales. Yet there are some principles with worship, discipleship, outreach, ministry, and the culture of an organization which seem rather consistent. How fun to plunge deeper into church and community with a contextual sensibility of Good News for the locale! So, with years of experience in congregations in areas of discipleship, programming, and development of the whole life of a church, I'm finding myself useful at the intersection of a missional perspective and an outreach orientation. I'm helping congregations figure out how to escape being a closed system organization before they are so locked in that they feel doomed to finish out the organizational life cycle with ICU and death in the near future. I'm beginning to think of this more as a resurrection ministry as congregations come to life through greater love of their own community. What a joy to help churches experience Easter and Pentecost as an organization!

More stories to come as we craft this new day of the church, and the Church, together...





Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Closed System or Open System Congregation: Your Church Upgrade

I have the true honor and opportunity to experience many congregations in my work these days. After 25 years serving as clergy in a specific congregation and community I now experience many congregations in a given week. Instead of only serving a church I now serve the Church.

Let me confess it's a strange thing to often be a visitor, an outsider, a guest in a church!

I don't have the relationships, the historical or experiential context, the shared language, or the connection that the average person in attendance has to the congregation. I don't get the "insider jokes," I'm often lost in the building/campus/whole experience, and some-to-many of your customs/traditions baffle me (dwell on this because the reality is I'm really a church "insider"). This isn't all negative though it is common to the experience. Beyond "the show" of worship with the goals, timing, and normal expectations of staff and church leaders I find that as a visitor I'm much more aware of the total context of my time in a church. I'm more aware of the "vibe" I get in a place- the emotion, energy, and feel I get for the congregation at large. I'm most aware of whether average church folk seem to care that I'm present or even engage me in interaction beyond the most basic of greetings. Does anyone say anything to me beyond the usher/greeter and that often awkward imposed greeting during worship? Or is everyone going about their business, their job, and I can come or go or not without a notice? Is it that no one in the church really knows one another, so that you don't know if I'm visitor or member, or is there something more at play? Often church folk seem to be enjoying their reunion with one another and rather oblivious to the potential new members of the church family who are looking for some sort of connection and interaction as they hope to be surprised by God & God's people. Sometimes I make eye contact with someone else who is "lost" or even get into conversation with them as we are the two obvious odd birds in the room.

In many respects I'm becoming more aware of "closed system" churches and "open system" churches (if you've never thought about your congregation in this way it is definitely worth your time and attention). Where a closed system is isolated from its environment an open system allows or encourages interaction and a sense of import and export. As illustration of the concept you might think about the difference between an aquarium and the Atlantic Ocean. There are plenty of other examples as systems thinking has broad applications.

This is one of those things that some of us either suspect or know to be true of churches. Said another way, many churches are closed groups long before they are permanently closed.

The occasional few churches will have an organizational structure and church machinery to attempt to be open. Usually it's a pastor who will identify one of us "newbies" and attempt to pitch us a life line. A small number of churches will have an organic approach to all of this- an engaged, mobilized church culture of every member active in a ministry of invitation and welcome. This takes ongoing attention and persistence. These few churches also seem to be the ones that are operating as church well beyond merely an audience participation strategy with paid staff to do the work with visitors and guests, and are more engaged as a whole church in all the members active in a caring and welcoming approach that seeks out "the other." Do note this is representative of a depth of church culture and mission and ministry which is operating at a high level of discipleship, equipped laity, and shared focus in mission and ministry. They seem to know and act on their reason for being the church/Church and it's not about their needs/consumption of  Good News. Such a church- and the members in substantive numbers- claim the place of helping others in honest, authentic, real ways find their place in the Body of Christ in that church. This is refreshing, powerful, transformational ministry at it's best which has impact on the visitor and guest as we are pulled into the spirit of the community of faith.

Of course, many of our churches operate as an "insider's club" with little to no expectation of the community or visitor/s showing up. We forget how to build relationships outside the church. Perhaps our church operates as an island within the community in such ways that creates isolation and separation.

But we all know that an aquarium left alone will create a toxic environment and soon die. The same is true for a church which lacks the inputs and openness that gives life, sustainability, and renewal.

How's it going in your church and community? Who can best assess the health and well being of your system- are you an aquarium or an ocean and how is the flow between the church system and your community going? What would it look like for your congregation to mobilize the vast army of "people in the pews" and shift your church culture so that everyone is part of the active invitation and welcoming team? What might it look like if all of the ministries in your church are oriented toward opening up the congregation to the community- worship, discipleship, age level ministries, outreach, prayer, etc.- as a bridge between church and community?

This would take some effort, some real work, as our natural human inclination is toward setting patterns and habits that quickly lead to closed systems/groups/organizations. What was an open system in one decade, or generation, quickly gets codified. The young adult class from 50 years ago is now full of people in their 70's & 80's yet still called young adults. The contemporary music of the 70's might still be sung in worship as an alternative to the typical organ selection. The people you reached well from the neighborhood 20 years ago may all live in suburbia now, but that's still the tribe/group you reach in the community despite the changes in the immediate neighborhood of the church building. A particular ministry team that formed 15 years ago is still together and there is little to no room for anyone new or to spin off new teams. Perhaps the clergy only have time for serving inside the church organization and don't have the time or freedom to serve in the community (fascinating contrast here between Methodist clergy who were once upon a time appointed to serve a state/region/town as circuit riders and are now appointed to a congregation. It's a distinctive difference worthy of another blog sometime). Is your church oriented toward yesterday, today, or tomorrow?

While most organizations may benefit from a closed system or two it is a death sentence if the whole system becomes some stable/set so that no one, or nothing new, can be added to the group dynamic. It may be that undefined reason why new folk never "check out" your church, or perhaps show up a time or two and don't return due to not seeing they are wanted or have a place. If all the seats are already taken there's no need to return.

In my experience with the Church it appears that closed system churches are the number one problem today. In many respects this is a problem of theology and action, of churches built on organization that is a generation or two behind, of evangelism, outreach, and discipleship not informing the whole of church life, and a laity that is often captivated by status quo in a community that then impacts the reach and effectiveness of a church. I think what we are seeing today, and in the next few years, is the natural consequence of closed system churches which have run their course.

But there is a better way and many churches are finding new opportunities with Good News as the church truly opens itself to the community.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Kenya UMC August 2015 Trip, Part 2

After experiencing WMEI and the event in Meru (see previous post), I traveled with Kenya UMC District Superintendent Paul Matheri back to Nairobi on Monday, August 10. We had the North Georgia Annual Conference Bridge team arriving sometime after 8pm and needed to pick them up so they could overnight in Nairobi prior to travel the next day to Naivasha northwest of the capital city. The Bridges are select United Methodist and Methodist conference-to-conference partnerships offer opportunities to both learn about Methodism around the world and to redefine mission in ways that best support a vibrant, global United Methodist Church. This particular team was a stellar group from North GA including 3 conference officials, a District Superintendent, 3 pastors, 2 spouses, and a clergy spouse who is a mission leader in his church and an engineer with significant experience in clean water projects.

By the time the whole team cleared the airport, we got the vans in place and loaded up, and made the trip to the Rosa Mystica Spiritual Centre (a Christian guest house run by nuns- simple, nice accommodations with food and very reasonable) and enjoyed a few hours rest prior to breakfast and orientation and worship in their chapel. I enjoyed waking up to a new day with the nuns singing "hallelujahs" at dawn. Then we loaded up the vans and were on our way. Along the journey we stopped at a high viewpoint overlooking the Great Rift Valley. My head was spinning as we thought about the history of the place.

I'm already noticing a certain trend in speech as many, many people are excited for our visit and we often hear the phrase, "Feel at home." The people, the climate, the food, and the opportunities to love God and love Kenyans as we love ourselves make it easy to "feel at home."

During the week we say a number of UMC churches and communities, experienced much of the culture and church life, and began building relationships with this part of the UMC family which has become rather isolated due to episcopal failures in accounting and accountability. I can't share all the stories or insights here (much of that is still "percolating" as I get over the jet lag and return to "normal"), but the team and I were impressed by the calling, the spirit, and the persistence of the churches and their lay and clergy leaders despite all of the challenges. If you are in North Georgia and want to know more I, or one of the team including our leaders of Rev. Tonya Lawrence or Rev. Bernice Kirkland, would be glad to talk with you or your church more about what we experienced.

Tuesday afternoon we visited a slum community called KCC. That's short for Kenya Cooperative Creameries, the employer that folded and left the workers without employment, and we had an immediate immersion into slum life in Kenya. But the good news is taht the United Methodists are there as they have a ministry called Panua: Partners in Hope. Panua is the Swahili word for "expand" and they express this UMC related ministry with a focus on orphans who are the eldest sibling caring for the younger children and needing employment and the skills to be self sufficient. In September 2010 the 3 year pilot program began with 160 households representing 470 orphans, children, and youth. They currently focus on empowering 16-22 year old orphans who lead their family. They have levels of training and apprenticing as they take in 70+ new young adults per year with a graduation in 3 years from the program. In addition to mentors they also have peer groups. They see the transformation in this for individual, family, community, and church and desire to expand this model into other cities and UMC churches.

Along the way there were many new understanding of the culture. At one point someone said that in African culture there is a love of visitors as they believe visitors come with gifts! Now this is something of a challenge to international mission as we are trying to get away from an overemphasis on funding and pushing deeper into the giftedness of relationship and partnering. While funds might still be exchanged all parties must learn how and when to do this well as a way of building self sufficiency and sustainability.

Here's KCC:










Other things we heard:
  • the UMC in Kenya is growing, and often growing in the toughest places with folk who are overlooked, are IDP's (Internally Displaced Persons), and are in slum areas.
  • the pastors of UMC Kenya are volunteers. They serve churches renting property, receive no income or reimbursements, and are often using their own funds from their paying job/s to help the church with some flow of funds.
  • there is a great need for support and the larger connectional church to be an encourager and strategist along with the Kenya UMC as they are finding strong response despite limited resources. We heard of the negative impact of the United States UMC's that support independent churches and non-profits which are not working in coordination with the Kenya UMC. There is confusion and concern why other UMC's -churches, clergy, laity- wouldn't be supportive of the UMC family in Kenya.
  • Kenya UMC has focus on what seems to be a hallmark of Methodism in history and current practice around the world- evangelism (outdoor meetings, door to door visiting, visible presence and partnering in community), community development including empowering women, serving children and orphans, emphasis on education including developing schools, and transformational ministries, plus the vibrant worship and focus on discipleship which are necessary for Methodist Christian growth.
  • need for more pastoral education and church leadership for laity.
  • The majority of pastors can't even travel to annual conference to be ordained (most don't own cars, must take public transportation that may take as long as two days to travel through the 6 countries of the East Africa conference depending on the location, and would also lose the salary of their job while away). 
  • Since they don't receive church salary they also don't receive any church pension.
Powerful quotes heard during the week:
  • "We suffer from those who come for projects and not the church."
  • Pastor Moses said, "When people are empowered they can do great things."
  • "After the post election violence people fled, and were scattered, but similar to scripture they shared the gospel along the way." "God is able to turn the victim into victor."
  • "You have come to walk with us and to work with us."
  • "If you miss the way you need to go back to the junction."
  • Regarding the impact of Bishop Wandabula's accounting improprieties and the impact upon Kenya UMC as his salary has been reinstated, but the local UMC congregations and ministries still go without any assistance: "You feed the father, but allow the children to die."
  • And, "When two bulls fight the grass suffers."
Enough words for now. I'd highly recommend your own personal trip to experience Kenya UMC and learn about the global connection and possibilities of our denomination. Here are a few photos of the week.

 Trinity UMC Naivasha was called "the Vatican" of Kenya UMC and one of the few buildings owned by the conference (could be long discussion here about any UMC church, clergy , or laity in the U.S. that understands the historic "trust clause" and normative accountability of using UMC giving structures versus giving funds, time, or in kind gifts to non-UMC churches or to non-profits, but that may best wait for another blog).




Kenya UMC District Superintendents meet with North Georgia UMC conference group.
 
Visiting a church and a few of the members. All of their chairs had been stolen from their simple building. Inside the church we learned more, met with members, sang and prayed. 



Another church visit. There were others, but I ran out of batteries and cell phone power on these long days!



Safari Saturday at the end of the week. Note "safari" is Swahili for "journey." Fun discussion about our safari with Jesus and one another every day no matter where we are!






Last Sunday in Kenya, August 16, included worship with Rev. Bernice Kirkland preaching and enjoying Moses translating. Our North GA team also included: Tonya Lawrence, Mike Selleck, Byron & Duwanna Thomas, Darryl Kirkland, JoAn Kinrade, Olu Brown, Robert Saunders, and yours truly. This crew was such a fun, insightful, talented group of individuals that quickly came together as a team. Once again I learned of the power of a team of disciples in following Jesus and how much better, and more effective, and more impactful, that is than an individual, solitary following of Jesus (worthy of another blog as the "lone ranger" way isn't how we can follow Jesus or be the church). Any of this exceptional team can tell you more about their experience in Kenya. 



On Sunday we also spent a little time with Deacon Jerioth. She serves the Naivasha District and has responsibility with all of the churches to prepare new church members, prepare people for baptism, prepare people through confirmation, and oversee discipleship.  

I was doing what I typically do on such trips, and wandering around taking photos during worship, and standing toward the back of the sanctuary where I could participate in worship while also capturing the story. There was a little boy on the back row, and throughout the worship he kept his eye on me yet with a playful engaging expression. When I took photos or videos he wanted to see! And also help!! I kept pointing him back toward worship as I soon realized that he enjoyed the interactions, but didn't speak any English. He would sing, and dance, and make sure I was doing my job throughout the couple of hours we were in worship. Toward the end of the proceedings, it was now close to 1pm, he went to his mom and got a small crumpled bag that had a couple of pieces of bread. As he walked toward the sanctuary door, and was passing me, he reached into the bag and broke of a good piece of bread. Then he did the unexpected. Instead of feeding himself, he lifted up his handful of bread for me! I said "thank you," and encouraged him to eat it with hand motions even as I gave the sweet boy a hug. 

After worship I asked about him and his family and his name. Turns out he's a PK, a pastor's kid, and well known for his sweet disposition and inquiring, engaging nature. Meet my friend Blessing! I hope that you'll get to meet him, and his family, and his extended UMC family sometime soon. You'll find in the relationship more blessings than you can ever imagine! 


Kenya UMC August 2015 Trip, Part 1

I have just returned from an incredible adventure in Kenya as I experienced the United Methodist Church, and some of the larger Wesleyan family and east African context, there from August 6-16, 2015. It’s an amazing thing to leave the United States, take a 7 ½ hour red-eye flight to Amsterdam, have a few hours layover in Europe, then take an 8 ½ hour flight to Nairobi. So, in less than 24 hours the traveler from Atlanta arrives at 8pm Kenya time after the flight through 7 time zones and touching 3 continents.

That first night was spent at the Methodist Guest House in Nairobi with the Friday drive to Meru with Mount Kenya and the mountain range in view. Rev. Gatobu Mathamia picked me up at the airport. Yes, I couldn’t say his name either! I didn’t know him, nor had his photo, and vice versa. But we eventually found each other and had a good trip on Friday as we got to know each other, I fought jetlag while asking many questions, and ate some great food along the way while also getting an immersion into Kenya traffic and driving. He also told me about his name. I think I’ve got this order correct (did I mention I was jet-lagged & Gatobu has a thicker accent- like me- so that it took us some time to get into synch?!). Gatobu told a story of his birth and that his grandfather, a shepherd with a large mixed herd of livestock, was taking care of the animals in the afternoon that Gatobu was born. Gatobu means “shepherd” in his original language. Muthamia recalls the time when the grandfather's family were migrating from one location to another and beckons to the family name. Of course, now as a pastor, Gatobu says he will bring many into the fold and into a new place.

I greatly enjoyed my Friday-Sunday in Meru, about 6 hours northeast of Nairobi, joining the concluding days of a World Methodist Evangelism Institute emphasis on evangelism held at Kenya Methodist University. I’ve heard of their work from years, but have known it more from a US perspective. What an amazing experience to join the United Methodist, Methodist Church of Kenya, Nazarenes, Salvation Army, and Free Methodists who had gathered from Kenya and the region. The sessions included large group lectures, small group seminars, and 2 outdoor crusades at the nearby town crossroad. We also experienced an overnight stay with a church family and preaching at their church.

While at the WMEI training I learned from a “lost boy” of southern Sudan who lost all of his family, but is now a married adult living in Kenya and pastoring a UMC church. I heard from a pastor who lives in Somalia and serves the underground church there. I learned much about the difference between the MCK, a 100 year old church out of the British Methodist tradition, and the much younger and under resourced UMC which is only 15 years old. It was said that while 80% in Kenya say they are Christian that often that is in name only. There was a lot of discussion about the church moving from being a colonial structure and approach to being more indigenous and contextually effective. Much of the discussion was on a mix of big event and relational evangelism which would reach people and create a momentum.  There was rich discussion about Kenya becoming a mission sending country not only to reach their own country well, but to also reach the region, and Africa, and the east African diaspora around the world. I heard stories of a church on the move as IDP’s, Internally Displaced Persons, have been key to some of the growth of the church in Kenya and east Africa. I learned much about the outreach and effectiveness of the UMC in establishing churches in the slums and toughest places.

The WMEI training was important in the information and practices which it shared and reinforced with expectation that clergy will teach and model in their church and community in ways which will help laity and other church leaders in a region to continue sharing their witness in contextually powerful ways. I heard repeatedly that a great impact of this historic event was bringing the Wesleyan family together. Typically they operate separately, are often in competition, and at times even adversarial in their approaches. This gathering reinforced that they are all part of one family and gave plentiful opportunity to interact and know and appreciate one another. Further, there was exploration of ways they might blend their voices together for greater impact. Certainly the shared work in music, testimony, and preaching for the outdoor crusade on Saturday and Sunday afternoons reinforced the potential to work together in reaching a community.

Some of this experience in conversation and relationships also exposed the huge contrast between an established century old church with strong structures, funding, and leadership education with the young UMC congregations which have experienced 15 years of tough beginnings, 2 episcopal leaders with significant problems which have isolated the conference from the larger UMC (here's the most recent info on the situation with Bishop Wandabula), and the challenges in general of developing a UMC conference across 6 countries. UMC pastors aren’t paid by the church, typically work one or more jobs, have limited education and training in church ministry, and have many challenges related to daily life. In Kenya UMC alone they have 12 districts, 113 UMC congregations, and only own 5 buildings as it is necessary to rent. Even during the weekend of the WMEI event, one of the UMC churches was kicked out of their rental unit on Saturday afternoon just prior to a visiting preacher and crowd expected on Sunday morning! Imagine having to call all of your congregation with the bad news, struggling to find a location for Sunday, and then needing to call everyone again about the new location. Or consider being the preacher hanging out at a coffee shop on Sunday morning waiting to hear the location where the church will gather and you will preach!

I spent Saturday night in the home of Isaac and his family. Think of a modest, well kept, cinder block home of a government worker in community development with two older teens who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine and two younger children away at a strong elementary school and you may have the idea. It was a powerful contrast to cross the street on Sunday morning and visit with Isaac’s elderly parents who live on a farm and live in an older style compound that seems typical in Kenya and much of Africa. I preached at Mathangane MKC on Sunday morning where Isaac is chairman of the board. They had almost 80 children in the Sunday School and around 200 in worship. We enjoyed some of the milk tea prior to worship, started worship around 10:15am, and concluded a little after 1pm. While the clergy and worship leaders slipped off into a room for lunch the laity continued meeting on some matters of interest and importance.  


Now, this WMEI experience was strong in information and conversation, but the actual practice of having an outdoor crusade was powerful. Imagine the setting at a crossroads with all of the traffic, with marketplace and stalls lining the streets, with many people walking and riding and passing through. Now think of an outdoor worship that has intention of getting your attention, causing you to stop and check it out, and inviting your notice and participation. Think of outdoor crusade as spectacle and invitation. Think of music that invites you to join in with the singing and dancing. This is worship in the pubic square which expresses power and transformation. Visualize prayer and healing for the people of the community and for yourself. This is also a chance to make visible claims in the center of the village about who you are and the God you serve.





This is just a quick snapshot of my Friday-Sunday (August 7-9) experience in Kenya!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Plan Your Mission Celebration Now!

My current job configuration is 60% with North Georgia on the Connectional Ministries staff with emphasis in mission & outreach, and 40% with Global Ministries with focus on helping more churches and districts across the United States do Mission Celebrations (my job could be a discussion for another day as I see this as a great pairing that is worth duplication). In both capacities this is the time of year to evaluate what churches have done in the past year, and to make dynamic plans for the next year of ministry.

I find many mission events across the United States seem to cluster in either the fall or winter/early spring months. There are a few churches which offer these in late spring or summer, but those seem to be exceptions to the general rule (though they may be smart as they can often get the preacher or teach they want and aren't scheduling a year or two out in order to get their first pick). Late September through early November, and mid January- March seems to be the busy season for mission events. Throw in a few more mission Sundays in late April or perhaps an open Sunday in May and that gives you an idea of how many churches might be scrambling for mission personnel on a perhaps half the Sundays in a given year.

Of course, Mission Celebrations can take on a variety of configurations or approaches to match your people and their availability and interest. Many churches are finding reward in thinking about a mission event and offering some layers of interest. This is similar to what you might think of as options on a college campus as you might wisely offer some discussions or training ranging from introductory to more advanced/experienced. How does your mission event build on the past and challenge for the future? How do your sermons/teaching/discussions help a congregation build on their place in the Kingdom of God? How does your local, national, and international mission weave together in ways that are most useful to God and to people?  

I often speak in terms of partnering, tailoring, coaching, or customizing when discussing where a church is in the mission of God. How are your people following Christ in both the everyday individual mission and together with others as the community of faith as the Body of Christ? This is some of the beautiful complexity and variety available in mission as we seek to pair a church with the very best ways they can share a witness of the love of God and neighbor. Such customization gets into:

  1. Who the church is and who/what is available for the mission of God? 
  2. What might we cut out?  that is only project oriented, or not good use of funding, or not the type partnership we desire, or relational because we know the missionary or organization and not strategic, or maybe our church folk are tired and we want to narrow down from a "shotgun pattern" of mission that has accumulated over the years to more of a "laser focus" which will go deeper, or perhaps a mission is just not where God wants us (NOTE: these can be tough issues to work through/talk through/pray through and usually churches or committees merely "decide not to decide." An outside consultant like me might be helpful to your committee or team in such instances), 
  3. What is next? Where is God leading us? How do we decide the next steps of mission for the entire church? How do we think through engaging everyone in the congregation in their next steps of faith and the mission of God? 
  4. How do we get everyone in the church to take a "next step" in the mission of God? How might we define our church as a community servant with this step? This will also review what existing resources and partners are available through the community and through our connection of churches. This is often overlooked and is somewhat like finding that box that has been hidden in your home closet or garage of the "forgotten things" that are just what you need. 

These are just a few examples of the type strategic approach that can elevate the mission of a church and help create a very dynamic Mission Celebration.

Many UMC congregations run on a program year that is built somewhat on a hybrid of the school calendar and the UM conference calendar. I hope as pastors and mission committees work on the year ahead that many congregations and campus ministries will consider a Mission Celebration as an exciting option that might create a dynamic Sunday or long weekend experience. The next couple of months will be the ideal time to get into discussions as I'm available to assist you in your program design and recruiting just the right personnel for your event.

I can serve as your "one stop" shop to help in connecting with Global Ministries leadership and missionaries. We'll work with any size congregation, at any experience level of mission, as well as with district, conference, campus ministry, etc.  We can assist you with an event for any age or stage as you think about connecting your church or district in mission. Any topic or country or mission concept you find at the Global Ministries website can be offered in your location! FYI, for 2016 we've already got one major event scheduled at a UM campus, and talking with one UM conference about being in every one of their 8 districts while making adjustments which will customize for the various locations. Our agenda is to partner well as we are "Connecting the Church in Mission" so that congregations are effective in local, national, and international mission. See the link for a little more information.  I will receive your email if you send a note through the "Contact Info" link or if you fill out the "Request Form." Let me know how we can best bring Global Ministries to your church.

Consider a Mission Celebration as you do your church planning and consider your next steps in the missio Dei.




Monday, April 27, 2015

Nepal

Debra Tyree, of the UMC's Global Praise, shared some ideas on Facebook that might be useful to you in your church or ministry:

NEPAL: The images are heart rending and we are drawn to pray. One of the repeated images I have seen has been of the Tibetan Prayer flags waving in the background at a expedition camp. As one way of praying with the people of Nepal, consider creating a prayer wall with your faith community. The Tibetan prayer flags are flown with the belief that the wind will take these wishes for the world everywhere. We know our own prayers blow with the breath of the Holy Spirit and are gathered with the prayers of all of God’s people, especially with the people of Nepal this week. You may want to “Google” Tibetan Prayer flags to get pictures to show to people to help them connect to the images they have seen on the media. Ask them to write their own prayer, draw a picture, share just one word, or other responses on a colored sheet of paper. Tape them on a wall or hang a string across a window/wall and tape the flags to the string. This could be hung near a frequently used entrance or in the worship space to serve as a reminder to during the weeks ahead.

Paul Neeley responded to her post and shared these ideas on Nepalese music and art.


Mission Ideas: Church of the Community

I enjoyed worship Sunday at a very missionally oriented church. They exemplify an old, historic congregation that has taken, and continues to take, big risks which has helped them to take on a vibrant new role in the community. They seem to be a church that has embraced their humanity and weakness, points by word and deed to the way of Christ, and actively seeks to serve their community.

During worship they use a variety of community images to reinforce who they are and where they are. I like this one as they reinforce a primary community identity of the service oriented church.


They are a few years into a new location with 18 acres. This centerpiece uses an old table from the previous historic location and incorporates a mahogany cross from Belize which represents a partnership of the last 3 years with the Belmopan High School



Villa Rica UMC is a congregation I'd lift up as a model if your congregation is interested in church ministry that has moved to a new location, has used that to redefine itself as a community asset, recognizes their successes and failures as they have found their niche in their town, and has strong impact in the community which is attractive to this generation of families and to young adults who favor faith in action that makes a transformational difference.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Congregational Mission and Connectional Mission

No matter what you might say about their doctrine or polity the Southern Baptists have historically had a strong missional impulse. Despite their congregational nature they found ways to work together for greater impact. This has origin in the 1790's with William Carey and the Baptist Missionary Society. Over time the independent society approach was Americanized and took on denominational form, with the expected theological and doctrinal focus, as the 19th Century Baptist efforts experienced the roller coaster one might expect when you think of the efforts of getting many churches and clergy to work well together (review this if you desire more details in synopsis form).

Still today the SBC continues their "cooperative program" as a way to focus and unify congregational polity churches in mission as they know you can do more as you combine the efforts, prayers, funding, gifts, skills, and involvement of many churches together.

So, even a religious group with congregational polity knew that joining together in consolidated praying, funding, and serving would yield the most results. After all, many can do more than one congregation or a few partners.

Methodists, and United Methodists, both in doctrine and polity, have every reason in the world to work together in a connectional way of ministry and mission.

But, what have we become?

In too many congregations, in too many places, United Methodists have either totally ditched their mission engagement (maybe we are just too institutional, or overly concerned about "our" congregation, or waiting for our congregation to die, or think "mission" isn't our thing?), or if they are active have become independent in mission. How ironic if we "United Methodists" have become congregational! While our interest has been to engage our church members in mission too often we have created a new way of doing mission in smaller ways, with too few partners, and so separate from denominational efforts with sister churches that we've minimized our impact and effectiveness.

More than ever we need to create a strong church/Church with strong missional engagement. We need each other. We need all of our UMC congregations involved in Global Ministries. In that unity and focus we may find a resurrection.

We have that "vehicle" for global mission as our church is on the move in exciting ways. But I find many people just don't know the story, how we need each other, or know the urgency or opportunities available.

60% of Global Ministries is funded by apportionments and the rest through "second mile giving."

More than ever I'm curious how we might work better together as the church for greater impact. I'm interested in going deeper into connectional mission as a way to follow Christ  and love God and love neighbor (nearby & around the world) as I pray, participate, and fund mission.

I want to be part of a great team, and help build that sort of team, and need you and your United Methodist congregation to help create the best days of connectional mission.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How Big Is Your Team?: Reflections on United Methodist Connectional Mission

Most of my clergy career has been spent serving in a congregation. For over 25 years I've served in 4 different states and in churches ranging from rural to urban. I've also worn my "clergy hat" beyond the congregation and served in district and conference capacities. While I certainly had a theology of church and Church, I confess I have only recently grasped in deeper ways the incredible opportunity of being a global denomination.

This confession should be taken rather seriously as I'm rather individualistic and free minded in my thinking. I tend prefer the church in action rather than the church in unending committee meeting and discussion. I'm a Watergate child. I don't trust institutions very easily. I can recall many church conversations where I'd complain that an institution is too slow. Or too complex. Or too removed from reality. Or inattentive to the congregation. Or even an impediment to a congregation prone to action.

This isn't to say I'm provincial, or operating out of a  particular theological or "soap box" perspective. I've always liked the action oriented mission crowd, so found myself falling in with the folk who like to make a difference in the world and put faith into action. So over the years I have been involved in international mission, and continued to make myself available to serve the church and the Church, and in big ways and small ways have tried to be a "team player."

If you are open to being a "team player" for God and your church you can never tell where it will lead you.

So, now I've recently taken on a different role and serve on an annual conference connectional ministries staff and part time with our denominational mission agency. Long time clergy friends either laugh as they call me "bureaucrat" or run the other way as they suspect I want something from them.

Really, all I want is for everyone to "play on the same team."

The reality is that as I've moved into a place where I go much deeper than the annual "sales pitch" for mission I'd hear at a clergy meeting at district or conference I'm realizing how disengaged many of our congregations have been in United Methodist mission. And I wonder if that is part of the reason for our decline in the United States.

I admit I'm rather shocked at everything I didn't know about our United Methodists mission!

I thought I had a good variety of long term mission partnerships in a dozen countries with 20 years of international immersion. Turns out I was still in the shallow end of the pool.

How could I have been in so many meetings over the years and not gotten the implications of my involvement, or lack of it, and the impact that has both on congregation and the Church around the world? What churches and clergy do, or don't do, in these regards has real consequences!

How did I miss that if I'm lukewarm toward my denomination, in my active involvement and support that, it has impact both on my following of Christ and my leadership and development of laity?

How have I missed that there is a powerful international movement of Methodism that still needs the U.S. churches to be partners, supporters, and encouragers despite what might be happening in our particular congregation.

I admit I'm, to use the great old Methodist phrase, convicted in these regards.

It would be- and this is akin to heresy for anyone who is a real fan and supporter of their favorite college football team- like saying you are a fan of the University of Georgia (or name your team) but when it comes down to it not being fully invested and supportive and saying any team is as good as any other.

How did I miss that it is stronger to be part of my global team and there is much to learn and experience beyond my congregation and people like me?

This is equally as ironic to imagine we have the skills and capabilities to know best, do best, and really do no harm while making a lasting difference for Church and Kingdom of God. I can barely manage a small piece of this in communities and churches I've spent a lifetime in. Throw me in a different culture, country, or context and who knows what I'll do.

I've spent the last couple of days with my part time work with Global Ministries attending meetings as Mission and Evangelism works on all the various elements requiring their attention. Now, I've been in congregational mission conversations in very active, enthusiastic churches, for over 2 decades. But I've never been at the table with such talented, called people with expertise in ethnic and cultural issues, contextual mission, best practices, administrative excellence, and an everyday passion for their work as individuals and a team committed to advancing the work of The United Methodist Church in mission.

Imagine being at a table with 20 people from a dozen countries, most able to speak multiple languages (when you barely speak one!), who pray, talk, think, and work on mission every day.

It's staggering really!

I was blessed to sit in on conversations Monday that discussed missionaries and placement locations on 5 different continents. They discussed various ethnic groups who were being reached. They discussed various ministries as they considered church development and community development. They considered those things that had proven effective in ministry in certain places, as well as those practices or personnel who had not done as well. They talked about partnerships, and funding, and "next steps." My team, which I hadn't always claimed or supported, are exceptionally gifted, knowledgeable, passionate missionary people.

Imagine being in a conversation where there is so much said in each sentence, shared quickly in conversational style, among 20 of the sharpest people you know, and you'll get a sense of how I felt Monday. They were often, literally, speaking another language. It was akin to sitting at the feet of the most brilliant preacher or teacher you know that says so much in any one thought that you hang on to every word and find yourself thinking back through the powerful phrases. I found myself repeatedly scribbling notes thinking, "I didn't know that." "There are Methodists in that country." "I want to know more about that and will need to study more." "Talk to ________ later about that."

As I sat, in awe of the global work of our United Methodist Church, I was impressed by the work and the incredible team/s who help us to be in mission in these days.

And, I had a disturbing thought.

It turns out that for too long I had too small a team in mission. I had discounted my team and too often gone an independent route, or perhaps even worse, affiliated with organizations that weren't part of my team. At times I may have even been party to aiding mission organizations and churches working in the neighborhood of Methodist or United Methodist churches in other countries.

Now, before you argue "It's all good for God's Kingdom" (a topic for another blog) just imagine how you and your congregation would feel if outsiders from another country rolled into your town and spent a week on a "mission project," or a year or years of funding and support, of a competitor. Please feel that pinch and seriously consider how you would feel. And know this is my confession, so my primary hope in sharing is that you might learn from my mistakes.

These are some of the many impressions which struck me in a profound way Monday.

Sure, I always had my U.S. church based team, and I had UMVIM, and I had the host/receiving missionary or Methodist/United Methodist conference. All powerful, committed, competent teams. But I didn't realize there was a much larger, accomplished team engaged in this tough work day after day. Somehow I forgot that I had at my fingertips some denominational resources, my larger team, which I'd either overlooked or forgotten.

Well, truth be told, I knew, but I bypassed them.

I, and my congregation, thought we'd have more control if we pushed forward. I assumed we could do things more quickly and effectively. I didn't want to wait on anyone else or have anyone, or any group, hinder what I thought was best.

But I forgot we are on the same team.

I forgot that if my congregation did work in an international country, and the Methodists or United Methodists didn't know about us, how offensive that would be (unless I imagine for a moment how we'd feel if a church from another country came into my town to "do mission" and operated in similar fashion).

I forgot how my denominational mission agency could multiply our funding, our effectiveness, and minimize our mistakes. I forgot they could help with building more churches for a mission cause. I feared they would want to control, but it turns out they want to be good stewards and maximize the prayers, funding, and participation. I forgot about the power of connectional mission and lapsed into congregational mission.

It turns out that rather than being a great team player and team builder I was fracturing the impact, diminishing the efforts, and pursuing a course of action we at a congregational level could control and feel good about, but...

As I sat around the table today and heard African perspectives, and Asian insights, and European ideas, and Latin American dreams I realized my team just hadn't been big enough to do what God wants of us and what we had always yearned for in mission.

Now, I know, some clergy and churches who practice a more congregationally based approach to mission will chastise me for so quickly having drunk the Kool-Aid. But, in all of the best sense, my experience with Global Ministries is like those very best experiences I've had- at congregation, district, and annual conference levels- when United Methodist conference well. There is a power and presence of God, a guidance of Holy Spirit, and a renewed vitality of the Body of Christ when we listen, and learn, and act together as a team unified in this missio Dei. There is a wisdom and effect in connectional mission which I am eager to re-discover and to energize with GBGM and with congregations all over the world.

Perhaps you and your congregation will want to be part of this journey as we renew a United Methodist approach to connectional mission which revitalizes congregations all over the world, which shares a good witness in word and deed of the Good News of Christ, and which launches more congregations as people are transformed in discipleship. I'm realizing that to be "connected in mission" is good thing as God draws together a team large enough to reach this incredible, diverse world.

I'm gladly claiming my team!  


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Great Mission Ideas: Children & Mission Training Event

How do you inspire, resource, network, & encourage leaders in children's ministry as they develop children in missionally living? #slsk2015 #ngumckids








Friday, April 17, 2015

Great Ideas in Mission

Here's what I found at Grayson UMC that you might enjoy borrowing. 



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Plan Now For Your Mission Celebration!

As a church gets into Easter season, which soon gives way to Pentecost and summer, it's time to evaluate what you've done in mission and ministry in the past year and plan for a new year.

This is an important, and too often overlooked, practice that can help you improve the effectiveness and quality of your efforts. It's a great time to compare notes that you've taken after all the experiences of the past year. You certainly don't want to wait until it's time for that event again and try to recall what you all said you needed to remember that next time! Nor do you want to keep on doing the same routine with subtle to nonexistent changes that no one really notices, and more importantly, that has no impact.

For United Methodist churches the clergy and committees do have resources available, but sometimes it's a matter of knowing the right resource and tapping that at the right time. For missions and outreach we have expertise and tools for local, national, and international mission. I can help you and your committee access all of the resources of our General Board of Global Ministries. I find this is a vastly underutilized resource by many UMC congregations. It's as if we've forgotten that we have this national and global network at our finger tips! I'm here to help you with that.

One of the best ways to move forward in mission is through a special event. A Mission Celebration can be a great way to re-energize a congregation, campus ministry, or other ministry around mission. It can be a time of inspiration, of education, or of service, or a great combination of all these elements and more. Some key ingredients for a successful Mission Celebration include:


  • Establish goals for your Mission Celebration tied into the "next steps" that your congregation and members need to take in mission. This should aim for solid challenge steps for every member and all ages. Assessment of where you are and where you are headed is key to this. 
  • Build your theme and event elements around these next steps. Your aim is to engage church members and make mission accessible for their every day life. How do you advance the mission movement in your congregation, community, and with your mission partners?
  • Secure the very best speakers, teachers, and missionaries that you can that will help your church move forward in the missio Dei. Did I mention I can serve as your "one stop" help in this as we tailor the UMC Global Ministries resources to your event?  
Beat the rush as the next couple of months are the best time to secure speakers, trainers, and missionaries for your mission event. It is generally wise to have your personnel line-up set at least 6-9 months before your event. If you are targeting one of our most sought after speakers, like Thomas Kemper, you might want to plan on a year or more in advance. But it can be done if you work your big mission event well and give yourself and your team plenty of time in the process. As you do this, you will find greater impact from the mission focus as you broaden involvement and get the right people who can help your congregation take another step in following Christ in action.   

Plan now for your winter-spring 2016 mission celebrations! And call on me to help you collaborate with GBGM to pull in mission leadership from around the globe.

What Your Church Needs Are Patrons

I live in a bedroom community of Augusta, Georgia. This first full week in Augusta the region hosts the Masters golf tournament and everything changes in our metro area. The Masters is one of the four major championships in professional golf and is a sight to behold and experience.

Many locals leave town as the world arrives. If you aren't working the tournament, or in the service industry, you might be a family that rents their home out for the week to someone coming into town for the tournament. Traffic picks up substantially in the 5-10 mile area around the Augusta National. Even our language changes.

There is a lot of talk for a few weeks about patrons.

Those who attend the tournament are called patrons. This isn't a word typically used in everyday conversation. It is a different, old word, that speaks of an active, regular supporter of a venture as they give their energy, time, and funds to an effort. In our area it seems to be reserved, almost exclusively, to describe Masters guests. The patrons pay for a ticket and the chance to attend the tournament held by the private club. They have the opportunity to become part of the tradition, of the history, of the current drama and excitement found at this masterpiece of Bobby Jones, Clifford Roberts, and Alister McKenzie (and the score of leaders since it's inception who continue the heritage).

But there are expectations. There are rules. There are traditions that one must personally bring to life and continue.

No cell phones.
No cameras on tournament days.
No large bags or purses.
No collapsible chair with armrests.
No buying, selling, or trading tickets on or near tournament grounds.
And there is more.

Of course, the Masters experience is so much more than just a "do not" list. The patrons, such a strong descriptor that signals they are much more than a spectator, pay for their Masters badges and that allows access to history in the making. The patron becomes part of both the tradition and this exciting chapter of the story.

The patrons know the golfers, the great stories of old, and the best vantage points for the current drama.

The patrons partake of the pimento cheese sandwiches and souvenirs and the people watching.

The patrons certainly know about green jackets.

The patrons urge on the players, and in some intriguing ways, become central to the story as they are pressed up into the action. At times the lines become blurred as there is a Sunday competition for children, a Par 3 contest on Wednesday, and long time volunteers who are characters of the Masters.

The patrons know of Amen Corner and Butler Cabin, of Berckmans Road and on Rae's Creek, and are generally eager to help others experience the wonder of the course and the tournament. You can feel the anticipation in the air, on the grounds, in the crowd.

The Masters golf tournament is often spoken of as "a tradition unlike any other" and the patron is part of that legend. The patron gets swept up in the vital role of the patrons.

This time of the year, in Augusta, Georgia, and perhaps in other places, everything revolves around golf and the patrons. The truth is that the patrons bring the game as much as the golfers do!

As I think about this excitement and tradition, I wonder how other organizations might cultivate their patrons.

This could be a challenging task if transferred from an annual event to a weekly patronage. But, then again, I know Augusta National leadership well enough to know that they work hard at their task 52 weeks a year.

Specifically related to my world of work: I wonder, in this week after Easter, how most churches would be transformed if members became patrons. It would take some effort, expectation, focus, and prioritization. Cultivating patrons is different than cultivating guests or paying members. And I wouldn't think of this narrowly as one or two moneyed individuals who pay the bills. Instead, I'm thinking of the engagement of time, energy, funds, and the whole of the congregation in the life of a church. It certainly seems to me that we can learn some things and create new, exciting realities if we grow a church culture of patrons. In my experience of following Christ, this could be a natural, helpful corrective that enlivens church life as we help folk find their place at this intersection of tradition and history in the making.

So, as you stare at a dogwood, or have occasion to walk the Augusta National or watch on TV, imagine with me what it could mean for a congregation- for your congregation- to cultivate a culture of patrons.

Possible questions for discussion with your church or ministry leadership:

  • What are your expectations- in membership and stewardship- of everyone associated with the church and how do you communicate that?
  • How do you share the tradition while expressing what is happening today? What is your shared language?
  • What are the priorities and associated timeline for your organization? Does everyone have a job/place/relationship in those priorities?
  • How might a culture of cultivating patrons differ from what you are doing now?
  • What helpful changes might you make in developing an action plan to create patrons?



Monday, April 6, 2015

Mission as an Annual Conference Movement

I really appreciate the way our North Georgia Connectional Ministries leaders and communication team work together. It is so easy to fall into habit and patterns that create individual ministry areas that don't play well and work well together. What can happen easily in a congregation can really take on a life of its own when you are talking about 930 congregations! Check out this dynamic in the NGUMC April Snapshot.

Mission Case Studies: LDS in Madagascar

It's interesting to see how other religious groups view outreach. Of course, most religions tie mission efforts very specifically to the growth of their particular church and denomination. This analysis reviews a decade of mission in Madagascar and points to lessons learned and strategy for the next phase of work. I highlighted sentences of particular interest as I think about mission and strategies which seem consistent anywhere in the world with any religious group. It is also interesting to wonder if we might think this way about Africa or Asia and fail to look at the opportunities in the United States in a similar way. Of course, some groups do operate in this consistent style no matter the location. 

I found this online here and share the whole article as it is a brief synopsis:

LDS Outreach Expansion in Madagascar
Author: Matt Martinich
Overview
The LDS Church in Madagascar has arguably experienced the most rapid national outreach expansion of any country in the past decade.  In 2002, the Church reported no wards or branches outside the capital city Antananarivo yet by early 2012 the Church operated wards, branches, or groups in 12 additional cities, towns, and villages.  This essay chronicles the progress of the LDS Church expanding outreach in Madagascar and identifies opportunities, challenges, and prospects for future growth.  A comparison of LDS outreach expansion in Madagascar and other African countries is also provided.
Background
In 2005, the Church organized its first branches outside Antananarivo in Antsirabe, Fianarantsoa, Fort Dauphin (Taolagnaro), and Toamasina (Tamatave).  In 2009, the Church formed a branch in Mahajanga.  Since 2010, the Church has created branches in Sarodroa, Anjoma, and Manandona and groups in Ambositra, Ankazobe, a few villages nearby Manandona, Moramanga, and Toliara.  The number of cities with an LDS congregation increased from one in 2000 to five in 2005, approximately seven in 2009, and 13 in early 2012.
Successes
The Church has accomplished several impressive outreach expansion feats.  In less than a decade, the number of cities with an LDS presence increased from one to 13.  This represents one of the greatest outreach expansion achievements for the Church in the twenty-first century that has been unmatched in any other country as no other nation had only one city opened to proselytism a decade ago and today has close to as many cities with LDS congregations operating as Madagascar.  The Church has opened multiple large cities to proselytism throughout the country even if these previously unreached cities were geographically distant from cities with established LDS congregations.  In most countries, the Church restricts outreach expansion to cities within close proximity of locations with an established LDS presence to minimize the demands of long distances on the often already large administrative burdens taken upon by mission leaders.  In Madagascar, the Church has effectively dealt with these difficulties without any noticeable impact on the quality of missionary performance and ecclesiastical accountability for new converts.  Several small towns and villages in remote, rural communities are opened to missionary activity with groups or branches established whereas the Church in most African nations has no presence or a tiny presence limited to a handful of small towns and villages.  The establishment of multiple congregations in rural areas demonstrates some of the most significant progress to date as 70% of the national population resides in rural areas and the rural populations of most African nations are almost totally unreached by the LDS Church.  Outreach expansion has also occurred within lesser-reached communities and neighborhoods of the most populous cities.  Within the past decade, the number of wards and branches in Antananarivo tripled from six to 18 and the number of branches in Toamasina increased from one to five. 
Rapid outreach expansion would not be possible if the Church had not developed a reasonably high level of self-sufficiency in local church leadership.  The Church has maintained reasonably high standards for the organization of branches by requiring groups to sustain self-sufficiency in local leadership for a period of at least six months before a branch is formally organized.  Many outlying groups and branches have maintained prebaptismal standards that mandate regular church attendance for an extended period of time before consideration for baptism.  Many group leaders have seriously investigated the Church for a long period of time before joining the Church and have demonstrated faithfulness in following the recommendations given by mission leadership to progress toward become a branch.  This in turn has reduced convert attrition and improved the functioning of congregations in meeting their local needs with little or no direct involvement from full-time missionaries.  The Church in most African countries has not come close to replicating the recent prolific outreach expansion in Madagascar due to lower levels of local leadership sustainability in established church centers that siphon full-time missionary resources to adequately meet administrative and ecclesiastical needs.
Opportunities
Some of the most populous cities remain unreached by the LDS Church.  Five cities have over 50,000 inhabitants and no LDS congregations (Antsiranana, Ambovombe, Antanifotsy, Mananara Avaratra, and Amparafaravola).  Long distances from established church centers appear partially responsible for no LDS presence in these cities today.  All five of the most populous unreached cities present excellent opportunities for introducing an official church presence as tens of thousands are concentrated in a small geographic area. High population density permits the Church to extend outreach with fewer mission outreach centers.  Mission leaders capitalizing on high receptivity in cities already opened to proselytism appears another contributing factor in no LDS presence in these cities today.
Many who populate larger cities originally relocated from towns and villages in rural areas.  The Church has the opportunity to reach these individuals who may later return to visit their home villages and share the gospel with family and friends.  Success in retained converts sharing the gospel in their home towns and villages results in a natural expansion of LDS outreach that is self-perpetuating and independent of foreign full-time missionaries.  This process appears to be one of the driving forces for outreach expansion in rural communities today as the Church has not appeared to initiate any missionary activity in rural areas which had no previous contact with the Church from the friends or family.
The most populous cities in Madagascar continue to present excellent conditions for the Church to localize church congregations in individual neighborhoods that are lesser reached or distant from meetinghouse locations.  Some of the most populous cities have only one LDS congregation, such as Fort Dauphin, Mahajanga, and Toliara.  Opening additional groups or branches in each of these cities closer to the homes of members can accelerate growth and accelerate outreach expansion.  Antananarivo has ten times as many people as Madagascar's second most populous city.  The LDS Church has yet to take greater advantage of expanding outreach in lesser-reached communities.  With 18 wards and branches, the average unit has over 100,000 people within its geographical boundaries whereas the average branch in the second most populous city (Toamasina) has 52,000 people within its geographical boundaries.  Missionaries report that receptivity in the largest cities appears fairly consistent and continues to be high, suggesting that the Church can anticipate ongoing rapid outreach expansion in the most populous cities where mission resources can be easily and efficiently distributed.
There remain scores of medium-sized and small cities within close proximity of Antananarivo without LDS outreach.  Soavinandriana, Arivonimamo, Antanifotsy, Faratsiho, Betafo, and Ambatolampy each have over 20,000 inhabitants and are located nearby or between Antananarivo and Antsirabe.  One of the more distant communities from the city center of Antananarivo with an LDS presence, Sabotsy Namehana was opened to missionary work in the late 2000s and experienced steady growth resulting in the group maturing into a branch by 2010.  Few surplus leadership resources in operating wards and branches within Antananarivo pose the biggest obstacle to capitalizing on prime opportunities for outreach expansion in these easily accessible locations.  Notwithstanding this challenge, local leaders and missionaries can mobilize to investigate and test the waters of the scores of lesser-reached and unreached communities that circumscribe Madagascar's most populous city.  Intermittent proselytism campaigns in which local leaders hold cottage meetings, organize service projects, and distribute church literature in lesser-reached neighborhoods, suburban communities, or rural villages within their geographic jurisdiction foster self-sustainability in church growth and efficiently utilize limited resources available for spreading the gospel to additional locations.
In addition to the scores of urban centers within close proximity of Antananarivo, there are hundreds of villages in rural areas that present good opportunities for church planting and growth.  The Church has experienced excellent growth and self-sufficiency in rural villages with LDS congregations such as Manandona, Sarodroa, and Anjoma.  Distance from established church centers and infrequent contact with full-time missionaries has required local members to learn administrative tasks and exhibit commitment to follow church teachings and keep commitments in order for additional visits and guidance from mission leadership to continue.  The Church has demonstrated flexibility and resourcefulness in finding places to hold church meetings in these rural communities, which has included constructing tents and makeshift structures from available materials.  Although the recent introduction of the Church into rural communities has been encouraging and impressive, only a handful of villages have been reached.  The degree of success and progress achieved in these villages may be representative of the potential success that could occur in other unreached villages.
Challenges
Reliance on foreign missionary manpower to open additional cities constitutes the primary barrier to national outreach expansion.  With the exception of a few groups or branches in small towns or villages, the Church has assigned full-time missionaries to every location prior to the organization of a branch.  The number of Malagasy members serving missions remains too small and relatively insignificant compared to the over 20 million inhabitants of Madagascar and thousands of cities, towns, and villages which remain unreached by the LDS Church.  To effectively expand outreach without drawing upon limited worldwide mission resources, the Church will need to retain youth converts, provide missionary preparation, and educate local leaders in the methods and process for recommending members to serve missions.
Due to the lack of native members serving missions and limited numbers of missionaries assigned to Madagascar, purposeful national outreach expansion efforts headed by local leaders, mission presidents, and area leaders appear to primarily occur after active members relocate to additional areas.  Few, if any, cities have had missionaries assigned which previously had no known Latter-day Saints.  High receptivity, isolated members in many unreached cities, and limited mission resources dedicated to Madagascar have deterred mission leadership from opening cities without members as it has been impractical to assign missionaries to a city without church members when there are other locations with small numbers of Latter-day Saints who request the establishment of the Church in their city, town, or village.  This reactionary approach does not appear to have stunted LDS growth potential in recent years due to these favorable outreach expansion conditions, but limited mission resources and reliance on foreign missionaries to staff the full-time missionary force remain persistent challenges as the Church relies on a series of fortuitous circumstances for the Church to open additional cities to missionary work.  Notwithstanding favorable conditions at present, growth potential in the 1990s and early 2000s was significantly diminished due to missionary activity restricted to Antananarivo.  If LDS leaders had assigned missionaries to additional cities and coordinated with local church leaders to augment the number of members serving missions, the Church in Madagascar could possibly have been established in every major city and most medium-sized cities by 2010.
Remote location and distance from established LDS outreach centers presents challenges for opening additional locations to missionary work.  Travel to rural villages can be difficult and time consuming.  Many of the most populous unreached cities are located in the most distant areas from mission headquarters.  Mission leaders travel by airplane to visit some areas due to distance such as Fort Dauphin. 
The administrative burden on the mission has grown enormously with the opening of additional cities.  The time and effort to continue to expand into additional locations while simultaneously meeting administrative and ecclesiastical needs in member districts and mission branches will require close collaboration with senior missionary couples and mission presidency counselors to prevent burnout or decline in leadership quality.  If these needs are not promptly and proficiently handled, a decline in the rate of outreach expansion may result and be compounded by convert retention challenges.
The Church has faced challenges finding locations to hold church services.  Meetinghouse allocation presents the greatest difficult in urban areas as it is more difficult to find substitutes for meetinghouses when sufficiently large rented spaces are unavailable.  In Toliara, missionaries reported in early 2012 that the fledgling group had outgrown their current meetinghouse facility but that it would be likely several more months before a larger meetinghouse could be secured.  In Manandona and Sarodroa, the Church has held meetings in large tents outdoors as no buildings were available for lease.  Meeting meetinghouse needs in rural communities exact fewer challenges as church services can be held outdoors or in makeshift structures until a permanent building can be constructed.  
Convert retention challenges in some of the largest cities have siphoned missionary resources for reactivation and administrative duties.  Distance to church meetinghouses, reduced standards for convert prebaptismal preparation, and the over-involvement of full-time missionaries in heading finding efforts and local church administration constitute the major causes for current retention problems in some congregations in Antananarivo. 
Comparative Growth
The Church in Madagascar experienced the most rapid national outreach expansion within the past decade of any country in the world.  Other countries which experienced substantial gains in LDS outreach expansion were primarily in Africa.  In Mozambique, the number of cities with an LDS presence increased from three in 2001 to 10 in 2011.  During this same time period, the number of cities or villages with a church presence increased from one to three in Tanzania, two to three in Malawi, two to seven in Botswana, three to nine in Uganda, seven to 14 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, nine to 11 in Zimbabwe, and 11 to approximately two dozen in Kenya.
Other Christian groups report a presence in nearly every city and often tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of members.  The Seventh Day Adventist Church maintains a widespread presence in Madagascar; virtually every sizable town and city has an Adventist congregation.  In 2010, Adventists reported 29,371 members meeting in 132 churches in Antsiranana Province alone whereas the LDS Church had no presence in Antsiranana.[1]  Other denominations have relied on local members to open new areas to proselytism and start new congregations whereas the LDS Church has relied on mission leaders and full-time missionaries to head these efforts.
Future Prospects
The outlook for future LDS outreach expansion remains highly favorable due to strong receptivity, enthusiasm and vision to open additional locations to missionary activity, and moderate to high rates of convert retention in most locations outside Antananarivo.  Due to the increasing administrative burden on the mission presidency to effectively administer to rapid growth in virtually every area of the country with an LDS presence, the organization of a second mission will be warranted in the short to medium term.  If the current pace of outreach expansion continues, it is likely that the Church will have a presence in every city with over 50,000 inhabitants by 2020.

[1]  "Antsiranana Mission," www.adventistyearbook.org, retrieved 2 March 2012.  http://www.adventistyearbook.org/default.aspx?page=ViewAdmField&Year=9999&AdmFieldID=NMAN