Small-Membership Church Retreat Inspires Many

Date Posted: 5/11/2017

At the fourth annual spring retreat, Bishop Scott Jones talked with laity and clergy about faith sharing in the small-membership church environment.
“It was like having John Wesley in blue jeans,” said a participant of this year’s small membership retreat. Organizer Dr. Dick White, pastor of First UMC Quitman agrees. “Bishop Jones is a master teacher, particularly regarding the Wesleyan Way.”
With over 80 attendees, the 2017 retreat was one of the largest to date, thanks in part to churches like Kelty’s UMC of Lufkin for bringing a group of laity and clergy – and youth. Rev. Cindy Doran says, “From the two churches that I pastor, we had five adults and three of our youth members attend, and it was great to see the different generations of our churches interact and serve together as they sought ways to generate growth in the churches and for the Kingdom.”
“During the discussion periods, and the trip home, conversation between our members focused on Bishop Jones' statement concerning the number of un-churched and non-believers within a five mile radius of our churches. That, along with the challenge to find the needs of our neighbors and be a visible and viable part in meeting their needs, encouraged us to come up with some means to reach out to our neighbors,” adds Cindy.
As a result of the retreat, the youth decided that everyone is in need of prayer and the church should provide the opportunity for prayer to their neighbors. Shares Cindy, “They have decided we need a prayer box that is accessible 24/7 and are currently designing a covered school bus stop and resting area to house that prayer box. We are also scheduling prayer walks for our neighborhoods, a study night at the youth building of the Hudson church and cards with information about our services and ministries for members to have when inviting people to church.”
Youth attendee Kade Lee says, "It was important to me to go to the retreat because I feel like I'm in church because God has a plan for me. Pretty much everything in my life would cause me to never end up in church, but I did. I think God just has a special plan for me, so He worked things out in my life and let me meet my friend Dylon so that I could hear about Jesus. Now that I'm in church, I want to be the one who helps other people find Christ. Mrs. Cindy let us talk about ideas and ways we can reach out to people in the church, and now we are making plans to make some of those happen."
Youth participant Kia Diwalt agrees. "Church is important because it teaches you things that you won't learn anywhere else,” she says. “Since I'm in church it is up to me to make sure other people, especially ones my age, know about church and have the chance to learn about God too. So the Saturday we went to hear the Bishop, he taught us ways to help do that."
Adds Cindy, “Attending this workshop was a wonderful experience for everyone involved and an excellent introduction to some of the things the church and community face every day for our young people. I know they enjoyed the extra attention from the Bishop, who was eager to acknowledge their willingness to get up early on a Saturday! It was a great ‘eye-opener’ for us on behalf of those around us and the duty we have as Christians and as the church to reach out to them in the name of Jesus Christ.”
“We had to relocate the retreat from Lakeview to Perrite Memorial UMC at the last minute,” shares Dick, “but it was a blessing in disguise because the new location landed us more folks from the East District and even as far away as Houston, since it is easy to get to Nacogdoches from many locations.”
Rev. Rick Tate, pastor, FUMC Onalaska enjoyed his experience at the retreat. ”I am an Associate Member/Deacon who has been serving as a pastor of small churches in east Texas for over 27 years. I have been emphasizing some of what was shared including the fact that the members themselves are the evangelists, and it is their role to befriend and invite the unchurched so that they too may hear the gospel and come to know Jesus Christ. We have included the unchurched in our community on our prayer list in our bulletin.” Adds Rick, “It has been my experience that the key to making of disciples is found in relationships formed through having open hearts and minds and doors."
Following the nominations process and vote at Annual Conference, Dick will pass the retreat baton over to the successor elected next to the Small Church Membership Committee at Annual Conference. “As I recall, the earliest retreats for small membership churches took place mid-week and included only clergy, but four years ago we expanded them to include laity and moved them to a Saturday and that has been a winning combination,” Dick adds. “I look forward to hearing what will be planned for 2018.”